You Better Watch Out
Dangerous animals in Ireland? Come on, you must be kidding... but not all wildlife, and even domestic and farm animals, are without dangers. In fact, a farm animal is the one most likely to kill you.
So, let's take a look at animals in Ireland and the associated dangers they bring with them, in alphabetical order. And let's look at some useful hints on how to avoid becoming a victim as well. And what to do, just in case, when wild Ireland attacks.
Ireland has a lot of feline pets and a feral cat population reaching crisis level. Cats you encounter may or may not be used to interacting with humans, so don't assume they are all cuddly kittens. On the other hand, it is quite safe to assume that they are not infected with rabies.
A cat will usually hiss, spit, flatten its ears, and make itself as big as possible before actually attacking, with the attack being the option only when cornered or protecting something (food, kittens, etc). Just put some distance between yourself and the cat in a calm way. If you get bitten, clean the wound with water, then see a doctor and refresh (if needed) relevant vaccinations (tetanus).
Cattle, especially bulls, are big, heavy, and surprisingly agile once dragged out of their usual bovine ruminations. And even though most will have no horns, their hooves and sheer mass can be very dangerous indeed.
Death by cattle may well be leading the statistics regarding fatal incidents of human-animal encounters in Ireland, and it happens to professionals on a disturbingly regular basis. Cattle become agitated first, signs being snorting, a scratching with hooves, lowering of the head—if you notice this, it is time to head away. Take the shortest possible route for a safe exit but try to walk rather than run—you really don't want to stumble. Unfortunately, you will only notice agitation when you are quite near most bovines, so prevention is better than cure; simply stay away. Avoid trespassing on grazing land and if you absolutely have to, stay near the edge. If you just get bowled over, nurse your bruises and pride. If you get trampled, you better get checked for fractures and internal injuries.
Bambi the killer? No, but Bambi's parents can become deadly foes to humans. Normally shy and retiring, all this changes seasonally. During the mating season, male deer will become aggressive to any competition. And female, as well as male deer, are very protective of their young, even attacking with ferocity. If you spot deer on a hike, they will the give you a slightly disinterested look at a few hundred paces, and at 50 paces or so they will move away. If they don't, and especially if there are young deer in a group, they may be contemplating a first strike. Backtrack or move around them in a wide circle. Never try to "Shoo!" them away. First aid is the same as for cattle attacks, though the danger from a full-grown deer's antlers might be multiple stab wounds, necessitating a tetanus shot (or a few stitches).
First things first. Currently, there is no rabies problem in Ireland so being bitten by a "mad dog" is not as potentially deadly as in, say, India or China. But dog bites can be painful and carry infections. That said, most Irish dogs are quite friendly or at least uninterested. Exceptions are, however, always possible, especially if you stray into their territory or if their owners have mistreated them or even use them as a weapon. Though "dangerous breeds" (starting with Alsatians) are regulated in Ireland, these regulations are regularly ignored by many people.
Barking alone signals nothing, but when snarling and bared teeth combine with flattened ears, this canine means business. Get out of the dog's (perceived) territory, but in a calm way and never by running because this might trigger a hunting impulse. Avoid eye contact, but keep observing the dog with your peripheral vision. Don't shout and don't wave your hands about. Basically, accept the dog's claim and otherwise "ignore" it. If you get bitten, clean the wound with water, then see a doctor and refresh (if needed) relevant vaccinations (tetanus).
Flipper or Fungie, dolphins are often regarded as man's best maritime friend— intelligent, caring, sociable. So much so that "swimming with dolphins" is a highly prized experience. Provided the dolphin is willing to participate If you see a pod of dolphins with young ones, there is a danger. Also, if a dolphin is swimming toward you enthusiastically, he may be on attack course. Swim away as calmly as possible, ignoring the pod. Or just float about. If you come under attack, curl up into a ball as far as possible—dolphins usually go in for full head-butts into the soft underbelly. As to getting away from an attacking dolphin by out-swimming him? Good luck. You may get scratches and bruises and may want to clean up and then consider a tetanus shot. If you are head-butted by a dolphin in the belly or groin, better get checked for internal injuries... after finding somebody to drive you to a doctor or hospital because you will be out of action.
Insects sting or bite for two reasons—in self-defense (as bees do) or to feed (as mosquitoes do). While the bite or sting may not cause any harm in itself, proteins, poisons, and "painkillers" (to stop you noticing the feeding insect) come into play. This then leads to mild swelling and itching in most people but can cause life-threatening conditions in others. Bees, wasps, and hornets can often be heard before they are seen; just keep calm and avoid threatening them (slapping, stepping on a nest). Midges and other blood-suckers can be seen hovering in "clouds." Just move away, best in the direction you came from, keeping calm. In the rare case of a massive attack by bees or wasps, cover your face and throat as best as you can. The painful, itchy swelling after an insect bite or sting can be treated with cold water or special antiseptics. Ask for a "stick" or similar in a pharmacy. And don't forget to remove any stings still in the skin. If you have multiple stings and are starting to feel woozy, short of breath or hot, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Jellyfish and the Portuguese Man O' War
The most passive of all aquatic creatures might be the most dangerous to many swimmers—they float about, waiting for prey that they can stun and kill with their tentacles (though in the case of the complex Portuguese Man O' War this description is very naive). Contact poison makes for very painful and lasting burns. If you see loads of jellyfish on a beach and the wind is coming inland, assume that there are loads more in the water. Unless you are wearing goggles, you don't really see them when swimming, only in shallow water when standing up. Jellyfish float, so move away with the current; you will be quicker. If you find yourself surrounded, try to pick your way through them toward dry land without coming in contact with the tentacles. The most important thing is to break contact. If you have tentacles adhering to you, get rid of them, obviously not by using your fingers (unless you are wearing protective gloves); use a stick or something similar.
Seals are, by and large, indifferent to humans not feeding them fish. For them, we are a curiosity, a species not proficient in swimming, let alone diving, that becomes boring after a short while. After which they go off and hunt for food again with sharp teeth and strong jaws, combined with speed and agility, and perception problems—for a seal anything smallish that flaps about spells "snack." Warning signs are seals swimming about—that's it. A seal surfacing near you will most likely be just catching a breath, having a short look and then will disappear again. The most dangerous part is when you flap your hands (or feet) from a boat or pier to attract attention. See above—"snack." So in the water, keep calm. And outside the water, don't offer your limbs as a tasty meal. Treat seal bites like dog bites.
Jaws it ain't. Sharks in Irish waters are generally peaceful creatures of a smallish size, with one exception, that being the basking shark. Which is still peaceful, but a leviathan. You may see a basking shark breaking the surface like a huge log. Underwater, you will only see it if you are wearing goggles and are already quite near it. If it swims toward you, all you might see is a huge, gaping mouth gathering small organisms. Don't panic! The basking shark is not out to get you and will swim around large obstacles. Let it pass, then take a breather. The highest danger from an encounter is in the human having a panic attack, leading to further complications. Usually a hot cup of tea, a biscuit (cookie to Americans), and a sympathetic ear to listen to your "brush with death."
You tend to not see them until you feel them. Weever fish usually nestle into the soft sand near the low water mark, waiting out the tide, which is exactly where swimmers step on them and occasionally sit down on them. Ramming the spikes of the weever fish into soft flesh is a very painful experience. So try to shuffle rather than run through shallow waters at low tide. Weever fish don't attack, you step on them. If the weever fish notices you, he'll get away. If you notice him, it is through the pain. At that moment, it's too late to get away. Clean the wound, see a doctor, and get a tetanus shot.
X-Files Territory: Alien Big Cats
Just because it does not officially exist does not mean it is not there. Tingle your inner Fox Mulder with the thought that big cats may be roaming the Emerald Isle. Not massive moggies, but pumas and similar beasts. There are repeated sightings of them, and they may be escaped or released animals from traveling shows or private collections. They are aptly named Alien Big Cats, or ABCs for short. To be precise, if you spot a big cat, you are potentially in danger. And it is more likely that the big cat spots you first and goes into hiding. Despite many reported ABC sightings in Ireland and loads more in the U.K., there has not been a single case in which humans were attacked. So unless you stumble off a ledge right onto an ABC, getting away usually seems to be the cat's first thought. Should you be the first human attacked by an ABC, curl up in a ball and hope not to die. Play dead. Sell the movie rights. First aid in most ABC encounters is a stiff whiskey. After an attack (however unlikely that is), seek medical attention instead. If you can.