Irish Deer

Mystery deerlike HOOFED Mammal of Ireland. Physical description: Large, black deer. Distribution: Irel and.

Significant sighting: A bl ack deer was hunted by ancient Irish tribes who used its skin for cl othing and its meat and milk for food. Centuries ago, a human body was found in gravel under 11 feet of peat and compl etely cl othed in antique garments of hair, said to be that of the l egendary deer.

Possible explanations:

(1) Surviving giant Irish deer (Megaloceros giganteus), which stood 4 feet 6 inches—5 feet at the shoulder and carried enormous antl ers that attained a span of nearly 12 feet and weighed up to 100 pounds. Irish deer skulls found at Lough Gur, Limerick County, in 1846 seem to have been tampered with by humans; however, this coul d have occurred at any time during the recent past. Evidence exists elsewhere that this huge deer persisted beyond its extinction in Ireland 10,500 years ago, in the Late Pleistocene. Fossils on the Isle of Man have recently been dated at 9,200 years ago. See also Schelch.

(2) By contrast, some of the Irish skulls may actually belong to Moose (Alces alces) that formerly existed in Ireland.

(3) A large, black-coated variety of Red deer (Cervus elaphas) might have been hunted by the ancient Irish.

Sources: Letter from Countess of Moira, in Edward Lhuyd, Archaeologia Britannica (Oxford: Bateman, 1707); H. D. Richardson, Facts Concerning the Natural History, &c. of the Gigantic Irish Deer (Vervus Giganteus Hibernicus) (Dublin: J. M'Glashan, 1846), p. 25; Philip H. Gosse, The Romance of Natural History, Second Series (London: James Nisbet, 1861), pp. 46-52; Karl Shuker, In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (London: Bl andford, 1995), pp. 167-169; Silvia Gonzalez, Andrew C. Kitchener, and Adrian M. Lister, "Survival of the Irish El k into the Hol ocene," Nature 405 (2000): 753-754.

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