Northern Ireland news

Irish Elk's head and antlers found in Lough Neagh by fishermen

Raymond McElroy with the antlers and skull of an Irish Elk recovered from Lough Neagh. Picture by Philip Walsh
Connla Young

THE skull and antlers of an extinct Irish Elk have been pulled from Lough Neagh after getting caught up in a fisherman's nets.

The rare discovery was made on Wednesday after the fossil was snagged by Raymond McElroy, who is from Ardboe in Co Tyrone.

He said the antlers span of around eight feet from tip to tip.

The fossil was found in an area of the lough between the Co Derry village of Ballyronan and Salterstown Castle while Mr McElroy and another local man Charlie Coyle were lifting Pollan nets.

Mr McElroy last night said he initially thought he had caught a lump of drift wood.

"We thought it was a lump of a tree," he said.

"We wrestled with it for five or 10 minutes and it rose up to the side of the boat.

"I thought it was black oak and then we got an antler in and saw the skull.

"The other fella said, 'that's the devil, throw it out'," he said.

Mr McElroy said he has "never seen the likes of this before".

"We are dumfounded," he said.

He revealed he has already been offered money for the fossil.

"I would like to see it going to a museum," he said.

"If it went to a museum people could look at it."

It is understood that the jaw of a similar animal was found in the same area by fishermen in 2014, which a former curator at the Ulster Museum later said was at least 14,000 years old.

The Irish Elk, also known as the Irish Giant Deer, is believed to have died out in Ireland around 10,000 years ago.

Senior curator of natural sciences at the Ulster Museum Dr Mike Simms said the huge animal was not exclusive to Ireland and was found across northern Europe and as far away as western China.

He said that the animals died became extinct due to environmental reasons as wide grassy plains were replaced by forests after the last ice age.

"It's quite an exciting find," he said.

The recent discovery is similar to one made at nearby Lough Beg in 1953 when a complete set of antlers was also recovered.

The fossil now hangs in the foyer of the Elk Complex, a landmark venue located on the main Belfast to Derry road.

The 'Great Irish Elk' is referred to in Seamus Heaney's poem Bogland.

Dr Simms urged anyone with an interest in the large animals that once roamed Ireland to attend the Ulster Museum's Dippy exhibition, which begins on September 28.

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