The Giant Deer (or 'Irish Elk') lived during the Pleistocene Period of the Great Ice Age. It probably originated in Siberia but migrated westward under the influence of increasing cold. Its range extended over a wide part of central Europe and Asia and the largest concentration of its remains have been found in Ireland, chiefly in the marl underlying bogland. This marl has a high calcium carbonate content, which assists in preserving the bones.
These ancient antlers, many discovered in caves in Counties Waterford, Cork and Clare, have long been a feature of the Irish banqueting hall. Among the most celebrated examples of the extinct Giant Deer were those displayed at Rathfarnham Castle in the 1580s (A sketch is preserved in the National Museum of Ireland and is illustrated in A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, Irish Watercolours, London, 1994, pl. 30).
These antlers were given to Sir Robert Peel (d. 1850) who was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland in 1812. His house at Whitehall Gardens, London was built between 1823/4 by Sir Robert Smirke, who later built Drayton House, Staffordshire for him.