Walking into the Front Hall of Westport House, one is captivated by the beautiful architecture of the Richard Cassels’ barrel vaulted roof with the coffered ceilings and mesmerised by the Sicilian marble cantilevered stairs. The staircase draws the eye up towards the gentle pink hue cascading over the marble statue of the Angel of Welcome at the turn of the stairs.
There is so much to take in when entering the House that one of the more incredible artefacts, indeed the oldest artefact, in the House could almost be overlooked: the rather large animal skull hanging over the fireplace. It is only when you take a breath to look around the capacious space that you are struck by the immensity of the skull.
This is the skull of the now extinct Irish Elk (Megaloceros giganteus) although it can be called the Giant Irish Deer or Giant Irish Elk. They would have part of the prehistoric wildlife that roamed Ireland before Neolithic man got as far as our green Isle. The Irish Elk can also boast the largest antlers that have ever been recorded on animals from the deer species – up to 12 feet across and weighing up to 90 lbs (40kg). Its hard to imagine that these antlers were shed annually. The Irish Elk male could weigh up to 1,500 lbs (680kg). The females were smaller and lighter and had no antlers. The Irish Elk possibly dates as far back as the Pleistocene Epoch era (around 2.6 million years ago).
The Irish Elk that is displayed in Westport House was discovered in a bog outside of Westport around 170 years ago – the Irish bog minerals preserving the antlers keeping them intact. It has been thought that our Elk would have measured around 11 feet tall and his body would have been the width of the antlers – such an impressive beast and one that conjures all kinds of images of the magnificence of the Elk roaming the vastly wooded area of the Irish land. Our Elk has been dated between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.
The above photo taken from “The Decorator” dated 22nd October 1915 shows the newly painted Main Hall and the style of the décor is very much in keeping with the Elk Head over the fireplace with the various animal skulls that were displayed. Much of these animal trophies are now on show in the basement of Westport House but the Elk Head is in still in its prominent position as one of the first artefacts on show as you enter into the House.
We are currently returning this room to its previous condition as all was packed away to facilitate the removal of the windows and the ongoing exterior works. Again, this is another example of how importance the restoration works are to the conservation and preservation of the incredible Front Hall in wonderful Westport House.
Copy with thanks to Kathryn Connolly, Supervisor at Westport House. Photo credit to “The Decorator” a painter’s magazine from 22nd October 1915 edition and Jim Hurley’s article on the Independent.ie.
If you have been enjoying our blogs, we wanted you to know that there are just 2 weeks left to enjoy Restoration Tours of Westport House. You will will need to pre-book as there will be limited numbers and intimate group sizes of no more than 15 people. Visitors will be met at the Construction Site Gate at the Old Bridge by the house at the tour start time. The guided element of the tour will take place outdoors where a guide will outline the core body of works taking place to protect the exterior of the house. You will then be invited in to the house to visit the main floor of the house and see the interior works. You can expect to learn more of what you’ve been reading in these blogs on the tour and in fact, Kathryn will be hosting many of the tours. The entirety of the tour will take place on the ground – I’m afraid that we will not be able to take you up on the scaffolding for obvious health and safety reasons. After the tour, you will be escorted back to the bridge gate to exit. Closed toe shoes are required and high vis vests and hard hats will be supplied for your use during the tour. Duration will be 60 minutes and the cost will be €13.50 per person. All tours must be pre-booked online at shop.westporthouse.ie. We hope to see you here soon.