Snapshots recall dramatic transfer of deer from park to island

Deer run: The red deer being transported to the island in 1980.
Pictures courtesy of the Irish Deer Commision

A SERIES of dramatic photographs showing deer being transferred from Killarney National Park to Inishvickillane Island has captured the imagination of a new generation of Kerry people who might not have been aware of the operation over 40 years ago.

In 1980, a decision was made to translocate a number of native red deer to the 200-acre island which was in the ownership of former Taoiseach Charles J Haughey and his family since 1974.

Over the dozen years that followed a total of 13 deer were transferred by air to the island and, by 1991, the deer population on Inishvickillane on the Blaskets had reached approximately 40 as island life proved very favourable.

Air affair: The chopper carrying the deer crates in full flight

Similar introductions had been attempted in Galway and Cork but both operations failed.

In An Fiadh Ruadh, his excellent book on the transfer, Joe Murphy noted that within two years, the population on Inishvickillane had escalated to almost 70 animals which prompted a decision to carry out the first cull on the herd, as close inter-breeding was identified by the poor quality of some of the animals.

Damien Hannigan of the Irish Deer Commission, who recently released the photographs on social media, said that lack of seasonal feed played a major part in the decision making and it was also decided that once the cull was completed, new blood would be introduced, once again from Killarney.

Leap of faith: The deer arriving on Inishvickillane

The end of the transfer programme came after a lone stag, which was among the last red deer to be translocated from Killarney to the island, was found washed up on shore at Hog’s Head near Waterville.

“It is unknown if the stag had attempted to swim the eight-mile stretch of sea to return to the mainland or if it was forced off the island by another stag,” said Damien.

Island life: Inishvickillane proved very favourable

“The victim had his antlers removed to ease transportation which also left him defenceless against attack. When unarmed the best defence is to just run,” he added.

The red deer population on Inishvickillane in 2006 was estimated to be in the region of 100 animals and the control of the herd is now managed by private deer cullers on order of a special State licence.