Pre-Famine History

One of the first written records of grey partridge in Ireland is in the 17th century when they were described as plentiful by the Duke of Ormond. Demesnes have been a dominant feature of the Irish landscape since medieval times and once occupied over 5% of the country. They have had a central role in the development of Irish agriculture, horticulture, sylviculture and field sports.

While the grey partridge may have been plentiful in the midland Counties, the same was not true everywhere. For instance the manager of the new Phoenix Park complained that there’s scarcely a partridge left in these parts owing to excessive poaching by the soldiers of Charles II’s army in the late 1600s.

In 1652 Boate, in his book Irelands Naturall History, noted that in Co. Meath and further northward on the top of the great hills and mountains, not only at the side and front of them, to this day the ground is uneven as if it had been ploughed in former times; the inhabitants affirm that their fore-fathers were much given to tillage contrary to what they are now. It is likely that partridge populations would have fluctuated in proportion to the changing acreage of tillage through the centuries in Ireland.

The partridge is also included in Brownes list A Catalogue of the Birds of Ireland in 1774. No indication is given of status at that time however. In the early 1800s the extensive farming of wheat and potatoes benefited the partridge. However, there was a noted decline in the species following the Great Famine and the widespread switch from tillage to pasture.

In 1853, Watters, in his book The Natural History of Birds of Ireland, described the partridge as occurring in smaller numbers than any of the other game birds and rarely seen in some localities where it was once abundant. The decline was most evident in Co. Meath where the partridge had become rare having been abundant 30 years previously. The partridge is described as indigenous with other examples in this category being red grouse, quail, corncrake, song thrush and blackbird. The Irish game laws of 1860 stated that no one earning less than £40 a year could shoot hares, grey partridge, pheasant, grouse or quail.