What is the National Animal of Ireland?

Have you ever wondered what is the national animal of Ireland? Then you’ve come to the right place. Discover what is Ireland’s national animal, where it lives, and more.

There are certain things that become national symbols for countries such as the national flag, national anthem, and national emblems. But many countries also have a national animal.

Animals have long been used to represent humans, power, and other ideologies, and a national animal is often chosen based on certain characteristics, what they represent, or what it can be identified with.

Be aware that the national symbols of Ireland are not defined by an official act, they are defined by their usage. This is unlike many other countries in the world.

Discover the official animal of Ireland and more about it right here.

What is the national animal of Ireland?

There has been some debate as to what the Irish national animal is.

The extinct Irish Elk, a skeleton of which can be viewed at the Natural History Museum in Dublin, has long been associated with Ireland. Their huge stature and staggering antlers made them perfect candidates.

Since they are extinct, the next candidates were the Red Deer. While not as big as the Elk, the original Red Deer is also extinct in Ireland.

The current population of red deer in Ireland was thought to be related to the original species but is now believed to have been brought to Ireland from Britain by Neolithic people around 3300 BC. The population of the current species of red deer in Ireland is around 100, up from 60, and mostly concentrated in Killarney National Park.

So, the Irish Mountain Hare has since been chosen as the national animal of Ireland.

A picture of a brown male Irish Mountain Hare standing in a grassy meadow on a bright, sunny day
Picture Source: AlanWolfe, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Note that there is no national animal of Northern Ireland.

In case you were not aware, read my post about the differences between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Facts about the Irish Mountain Hare

The Irish Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) is also known as the Irish hare, tundra hare, and snow hare among other names.

They are native to Ireland and can also be found across much of Northern Europe.

They are a large species of hare, growing to 18 to 26 inches in length (45-65cm) and can weigh up to 11.5 lbs (5.3kg).

During summer, the main species has a brown shaded coat. But in preparation for winter, they moult into a white, thick coat. Their tail remains white throughout the year.

The Irish Mountain Hare, which is a sub-species of Lepus timidus, is slightly smaller than the parent species and remains brown throughout the year.

Irish Mountain Hares are herbivores, with a diet consisting mainly of grass.

A picture of a female Irish Mountain hare standing on a grassy surface
Picture Source: AlanWolfe, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Where do Irish Mountain Hares live?

Irish Mountain Hare lives on lowland pastures, coastal grasslands, and salt marshes, as well as in mountainous areas.

Is the Irish Mountain Hare endangered?

The Irish Mountain hare is not considered endangered, sitting in the category of Least Concern on the IUCN conservation status lists.

Why was the Irish Mountain Hare chosen as Ireland’s National animal?

Since both the Irish Elk and Red Deer became extinct in Ireland around 10,500 years ago, the Irish Mountain hare was chosen as it is one of Ireland’s oldest surviving mammals. It is believed to have been an inhabitant of Ireland since before the last ice age.

Does the Irish Mountain Hare feature on Irish money or the national flag of Ireland?

The Irish Mountain Hare has never featured on the national flag of Ireland.

However, it did feature in Irish money pre-decimalisation. It was on the old three-pence piece.

What other birds, animals and fish live in Ireland?

Ireland has a wealth of birds, animals and fish that have made the land and sea their home. Some are permanent residents, while others visit as part of their migratory journeys.

From shorelines along the coast to the peat bogs, the forests, rivers, and even the farm fields, the Emerald Isle is awash with wildlife.

Among the other animals that inhabit the Emerald Isle are badgers, pine martins, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, hedgehogs, seals, and more. And that is excluding farm animals.

Birds that have made Ireland their permanent or temporary home include swallows, geese, finch, magpies, crows, puffins, kingfishers, herons, and more.

And the waters in around Ireland are teaming with fish, including pike, bream, salmon, shark, and dolphin.

And yes, the legend is true, there are no snakes in Ireland thanks to St Patrick.

What is the national bird of Ireland?

The national bird of Ireland is the Northern Lapwing, chosen in 1990. It is a shoreline bird that makes its nest in the grasslands and mud flats.

Some flocks in the north of Ireland are permanent residents, while many of the southern flocks are migratory.

A picture of a Northern Lapwing standing in grass at the edge of some water

Discover more about Ireland’s National Bird.

What is the national fish of Ireland?

The National Fish of Ireland is considered to be the Course Fish category which includes pike, bream, carp, and perch.

The Northern Pike is the national fish of Northern Ireland and is also often considered the national fish of the Republic of Ireland. These are large, carnivorous fish that grow to lengths of 22 inches (55cm).

An underwater picture of a Northern Pike which is the national fish of Ireland

What is the national dog of Ireland?

The national dog of Ireland is the Irish Wolfhound, not the Kerry Blue as is sometimes thought.

The Irish Wolfhound is the largest breed of dog and is quite a gentle giant that is intelligent, loyal, and generally easy-going. They featured on the back of Irish coins pre-decimalisation, on the six pence piece.

Have any animals featured on Irish money or the national flag of Ireland?

Yes, there have been some animals featured on the Irish coins pre-Euro times. These include:

  • The Bull – 5 pence
  • The Salmon – 10 pence
  • The Horse – 20 pence
  • The woodcock – 50 pence
  • Irish red deer – 1 pound coin

Pre-decimalisation, other animals featured on the back of coins included the bull, hens and chicks, and pigs and piglets. No animal, bird, or fish has ever featured on the national flag of Ireland.

A picture of an old Irish £1 coin with the Irish Elk showing, among other old Irish coins

So, there you have it, the Irish Mountain Hare is the national animal of Ireland and if you’ve read this far you’ve also learned what is the national fish, dog, and bird of Ireland.

Read more:

A picure of a brown Irish Mountain Hare standing against a grassy background and text overlay saying national animal of Ireland
by Cath Jordan
Cath is an Irish expat and the founder of Travel Around Ireland. She and her husband both come from Dublin, where the rest of their family remains. They regularly return to the Emerald Isle to explore the country with their son as well as to visit family. Through Travel Around Ireland, Cath shares her local expertise and knowledge with travellers and visitors to Ireland. Find out more about Cath here.

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