The Gigantic Irish Deer (Megaloceros giganteus) also called the giant deer or Irish giant deer, is an extinct species of deer in the genus Megaloceros and is one of the largest deer that ever lived.
The animal was never exclusively Irish – nor, for that matter, was it an elk – but Ireland was the early treasure-house of its fossil skeletons and antlers, impeccably preserved in lake-mud beneath the bogs. It was first recorded as a fossil in 1697 (long before dinosaurs were known), and it featured in fierce debates about extinction and the impact of Noah’s flood.
Giant deer had clearly evolved from smaller forms, but the usefulness of bigger and bigger antlers evaporated – so it was argued – because they tangled in trees or dragged the stags down into the mud of bogs and lakes.
The image of drowning stags had been nourished over centuries by the finding of more than 100 antlered skulls in lake sediments at Ballybetagh Bog, 15 kilometres south of Dublin. They have made up the bulk of the remains collected in the National Museum.
Whatever happened in Ireland, human hunters probably also played some part in extinguishing this great animal across the steppes of Europe.
Photo: The Gigantic Irish Deer at the British Museum