Irish Mammals' Names
For the past nine months we have conducted an in-depth investigation into the megafaunal extinctions, that great die-off of large mammals across the world that began in the late Ice Age and continued up until recent centuries in some regions, and which wiped the last true giants from Ireland’s landscape. This is an important topic, and yet one where the thrill of learning about the many colossal mammals that lived in geologically recent times in Ireland and elsewhere is tempered by the grim reality that these wonders are all now lost to the world.
For the coming months, then, it may be a good idea to reorient our focus on to the mammals that do still live in Ireland today, which amount to 24 native species, and many more when you count the non-native species and domesticated mammals, as well as those that live in Ireland’s seas. In doing so, we can begin to appreciate that they are a fascinating bunch themselves, and truly wonders in their own right.
To investigate these mammals of modern Ireland we will approach them from a very specific angle, focusing on the names we have given them – their scientific, English, and Irish names – in the process revealing much about their form and nature, how they are related to one another, how they are perceived by humans, as well as unearthing utterly unexpected connections. No less than the island’s humans, then, whose surnames often reveal deep levels of meaning and history, the names of its mammals are a deep seam of information well worth mining to enrich our understanding of Ireland.
One of the main sources I will be using for this exploration of the names of Ireland's mammals is a book that is now unfortunately out of print: Exploring Irish Mammals by Tom Hayden and Rory Harrington, which was published in the year 2000 and includes excellent illustrations by Billy Clarke. However, copies of this book can still be found in the public library system in Ireland.
In any case, to provide a flavour of the mind-nourishing information to follow in the coming months, I have put together a 10-question quiz that includes some of the tastier nuggets of knowledge that will hopefully whet the appetite for more.