Belfast Telegraph

After thousands of years Great Irish Elk rises from deep to shock fisherman

Raymond McElroy with the antlers and skull of a Great Irish Elk caught in a net in Lough Neagh
Raymond McElroy with the antlers and skull of a Great Irish Elk caught in a net in Lough Neagh
Raymond McElroy with the antlers and skull of a Great Irish Elk caught in a net in Lough Neagh
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

It was quite a shock for Co Tyrone fisherman Raymond McElroy when he landed a 'Lough Neagh Monster' on Wednesday.

Pulling up his net at the side of his boat, the Ardboe man initially thought he had snagged an old piece of wood, but what emerged from the depths was the almost completely intact skull and antlers of a creature that hasn't lived in Ireland for almost 11,000 years.

The remains, of what is commonly known as the Great Irish Elk, span at least 8ft.

"We were lifting the nets in the lough. I thought at first it was a bit of black oak," Mr McElroy said.

"I got it into the boat and saw that it wasn't and I knew from the antlers it was no ordinary deer."

Mr McElroy is hoping for official confirmation his find is a Great Irish Elk and is keeping it at his home in the meantime.

"It came up in the net on the side of the boat," he said. "I was shocked to begin with when I got it over the side and saw the skull and antlers."

He added that he was getting a lot of texts and calls from people who are interested in buying his find but he had not received any official offers yet.

"It's just not a thing that you'd come across every day of the week," said the delighted fisherman.

The find was close to where the lower jaw bone of an Irish Elk was pulled from the water in 2014 and Mr McElroy believes it could be from the same animal.

Now, he said, he just has to figure out what to do with it.

Dr Mike Simms, senior curator of Natural Sciences at the Ulster Museum, is hoping to get a closer look at Raymond's discovery in the near future.

"It certainly looks to be the best preserved find of its kind in my 21 years working here," he said.

"It's rare to see one with both antlers still attached. It's a wonderful find. I'm very much interested in seeing it.

"The official name of the creature as it was is megaloceros giganteus and to call it a Great Irish Elk isn't quite correct.

"It was more of a two-metre tall deer, but it was the biggest animal of its type to have ever existed. It's referred to as 'Irish' as a lot of examples were found. They were widespread at during their time.

"The species would have moved here at the end of the ice age, around 17,000 years ago, but they disappeared from Ireland around 10,500 years ago when forests started to appear.

"They hung on in Russia and Siberia until around 6,500 years ago."

The Great Irish Elk will form part of the museum's new 'Dippy Exhibition' from September 28.

Belfast Telegraph


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