Emerald Isle

Irish elk

Ancient treasures and wonders of Ireland, mysterious gems and gold, lost creatures and Irish wonders

The ancient Irish King of the forests

The Irish elk, or more properly deer, was the single largest species of deer which has ever existed. They were slightly larger than the modern moose, but their spread of antlers was vast - up to four meters or thirteen feet across in some specimens! These magnificent creatures roamed the plains and forests of Ireland and Europe before, during and after the last ice age, and were encountered by early human settlers almost to the neolithic age.

With stags weighing over a ton, they stood almost two meters high at the shoulder, with their antlers weighing up to 45 kilos, spread out in a palm-like shape, similar to their closest living relatives, the fallow deer. It is believed the antlers grew as large as they did because they helped with battling other males in mate selection, locking and twisting antlers, and roaring at each other. The larger the antlers, the more intimidating a male was, and hence the more attractive to the females.

Their shoulders and backs were especially powerful to help carry these enormous antlers, and they had very strong neck vertebrae. Such displays of antlerdom came with a price however - they were unable to move easily throgh forests, so preferred to stay in mixed gras and woodlands, since they ate both leaves and grass.

They are generally referred to as Irish elk, although they are deer and roamed as far away as Siberia, but it is in Ireland that the majority of intact remains have been found. As the ice age metled away, conditions were ideal for preserving their antlers and bones - when they died, they sometimes fell into the many new lakes which appeared, sinking to the bottom and eventually being preserved by the growing peat bogs which replaced the lakes.

Sites such as Lough Gur, Howth, and Ballybetagh Bog have yielded hundreds of intact Irish elk skeletons.

It is likely that these giants went extinct due to environmental pressures, as forests spread after the last ice age and peat bogs swallowed much of the grassland.

Ballybetagh Bog is marked on the map below!


Ancient Treasures of Ireland

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