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The Rabbit (Coinín) --: 
Up to forty years ago, the rabbit was on of the most common animals in Ireland. In 1954 a terrible disease was introduced by the Government in Ireland, called myxomatosis, to cut down on the numbers of rabbits in the country, as the farmers were all complaining about all the damage they were causing to their crops. As a result of introducing this disease deliberately, thousands of rabbits died. This disease is spread by fleas, which live in its fur. It was developed in Australia in the 1950’s as the rabbit population was causing awful problems for the farmers over there. Today their numbers are beginning to grow again very slowly. You can often see them playing in the fields when you are out for a walk in the country, late in the evening. In some countries, like France, people eat rabbit. I have never eaten rabbit but people have told me that it tastes very like chicken.

Rabbits are found in many parts of the world. It is believed that the Normans in the 13th introduced the rabbit into Ireland. They are often confused with the hare but are in fact considerably smaller. Rabbits are furry animals with long ears and short fluffy tails. They have shorter legs than hares and they do not walk or run as other animals do. They move about by hopping on their back legs - these are much larger than their front legs. They have very sharp front teeth, which it used to eat its food. The young rabbit is called a kitten and is born blind, without fur and is quite helpless. The male rabbit is called a buck and a female a doe. Young rabbits are born between late January and June in cosy, nests, which can be over ground or in rabbit burrows.  You will not find them on wetlands or on bleak mountaintops. On average ten young rabbits are born per year to a doe. This is a lot of mouths to feed and they depend on plenty of food nearby if they are to survive. 

People are rabbit’s greatest enemies. Millions of rabbits are killed every year. Farmers also kill rabbits to protect their crops. They are defenseless animals and they rarely attempt to fight off attackers. They depend a lot on their keen sense of smell and good eyesight to warn them of approaching danger. Rabbit’s eyes are at the side of its head. They can see things behind or to the side better than the front. They also have a very good sense of smell. Rabbits are very common in Ireland, although years ago disease greatly reduced their numbers. Some rabbits are trained especially to be pets. You will only find these rabbits in pet shops in town. They are usually kept in a hutch {rabbit cage} in peoples back garden. They have to be put in a garage or someplace warm in the winter, as they would not survive the cold winter nights. 

If you ever consider having a rabbit as a pet, be sure you know how to care for it properly. Rabbits feed on grasses, leaves and on the barks of trees and shrubs. Rabbits like hares are vegetarians. They have huge appetites and cause a lot of damage to farmer’s crops. They can also cause a lot of damage to young trees, as they nibble off the young shoots, which mean the trees do not grow properly. If you want to see rabbits, you will have to get up very early in the morning or see them at dusk, just before it gets dark. It is said that five rabbits eat as much grass as a sheep. The rabbit spends most of its life underground, living in a maze of tunnels, usually made by the rabbit’s parents or grandparents. They are often found near they sea, where they make their homes in the soft sand dunes. There are rabbits down in the sand hills at the end of Tramore beach, but I have never seen them. I have seen their droppings, so I know they are there. I like rabbits.  

Stephen Byrne