There was great excitement in the museum this Autumn when an enormous crate arrived on the Mall – but what was inside was even more impressive. Receiving donations or objects on loan is a normal part of the work a museum does, but with an object like this, we have to be particularly careful when un-boxing and displaying the item.
The Great Irish Elk (Or Giant Deer) seems monstrous to us now, but this gentle giant was a common feature of the landscape around 11,000 years ago. Despite its most common name, the elk is not actually exclusive to Ireland (Nor is it an elk – but in fact the largest species of deer to ever exist), however, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands have historically been home to rich bogs, in which conditions preserve the remains beautifully all these years later.
The most impressive feature of an Irish elk skeleton isn undoubtedly its enormous and imposing antlers – a featuren that eventually led to its own extinction! From a biologicaln perspective, the bigger the antlers on a male elk, the moren attractive he was to the female of the species. This led ton some selective breeding, where bigger antlers bred biggern antlers, until eventually they got so big that the creaturen could no longer move easily through the thick forests thatn covered the country and could not reach the ground to getn to the vegetation he grazed on.
The antlers are a key feature of museums over the world and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it became popular for noble wealthy houses to adorn their walls with them. Anyone who was anyone in Ireland had a set of their own Irish elk antlers, and even today if you go to historic houses around the country you may come across a few.
This set has been generously loaned to the museum by Pierce Synnott, whose father, David
Synnott (who also collected the fine eighteenth-century porcelain on display in the Bishop’s Palace), picked them up at auction in 1982. Where did he pick them up you may be wondering? Where else, but Adare Manor, the famous manor house which is now a luxury hotel! The antlers once graced the doorway that marked the entrance to this fine house – and they are believed to be the largest set anywhere in the world.
The antlers have now gone on display in City Hall, but as we had no chimney-breast to have them over, they’re now on display over the elevator in this
wonderful Georgian building designed by Waterford’sn own John Roberts.
When un-boxing them, a number of issues becamen apparently, namely, a handful of breaks and somen damage to the antlers. As a result, we have had to call an conservator to make sure they are well preserved forn years to come.
Check in soon for the next part in this series as we follow the antlers on their journey behind the scenes at the museum!