The people, mammals, places and things that make Dublin special.

A gang of lads.
Shy, reserved, quiet.
Just chewing the cud.
Sure, every now and again there is a bit of jostling.
Just like you would expect from a group of healthy young males.
But there’s one thing you would not expect.
And that’s the complete lack of interest in the women across the way.
It’s almost like an old country ballroom.
Men on one side.
Women on the other.
But come September, that will all change.
Scents will be donned. Fights will be had. Women will be chased.
Another generation will be born.
So Phoenix Park Ranger, Terry Moore tells Dublin.ie as we cruise through a blustery Phoenix Park in his Park Ranger jeep.

Image courtesy of Dave Dowling

Terry has been working here for 10 or 11 years.
A job he loves.
“No complaints. It’s good to work outdoors. You meet all sorts of people. All walks of life. You see the seasons change. I tell you, I’ve done a lot worse.”
As we pull up alongside a gang of young bucks, Terry says he particularly enjoys one aspect of the job. “In addition to my normal ranger duties, I’ve been the deer keeper for the last 7 to 8 years.” Terry fills me in on the history of the fallow deer we see roaming the Phoenix Park. Like St. Patrick, the deer were shipped over from Wales by the Duke of Ormonde in 1662. And the park itself was set up as royal deer hunting park.

The red deer you find in Munster, around Killarney, are indigenous.
And the others are the Japanese Sika – also introduced by an aristocrat.
In the case of the Sika, it was Lord Powerscourt.
In addition to animals, the various lords brought over a number of plant species, some of which became particularly invasive.
The rhododendron situation in Killarney National Park being a recent example.

Sounding a bit like West Side Story, Terry tells me the two gangs:
“The bucks occupy the east side of the park and the does occupy the west side.”
And it sure sounds like it’s a buck’s life.

“The bucks move in around September for the rut, the mating season. So they show up once a year and then depart, and the female is left to do all the work.”
So what do the stags do all day?
“They just hang out – sleeping and eating. They have a three-chambered stomach. So like cattle, they chew the cud. They graze, sit down and regurgitate what they have eaten,” Terry says.

Phoenix Park Ranger Terry Moore. Image courtesy of Dave Dowling

And while there’s a bit of antler sparring going on in front of us, Terry says that’s pretty much in jest.
Things get more like late night Temple Bar during the rut.
“The real battles you will see during the mating season. You will see them clash antlers with all the power and might that they have. It’s fairly explosive and some of the battles can last for up to 20 minutes. All just to establish dominance, to show who is the alpha male.”
And like some of their human counterparts, the female will go for the alpha male if she wants to spread on the best genes.
While the human stag parties seem to favour venturing out in their shirt sleeves, the young bucks in the park will start to change into their winter coat.
But it seems both human and animal share a common love for overpowering scents.
“The bucks secrete a lot of wax and they urinate in the ground in holes, trying to get themselves as smelly as possible to attract the females. It’s their natural pheromone, their own musky scent. Just like the lads’ aftershave,” Terry says.
Then the females get pregnant.
“They are pregnant for eight and a half months. Then all the fawns will be born and then the whole process will start all over again. Just like it has been for 355 years,” he adds.

Phoenix Park, Dublin - Fallow Deer

Given their fecundity and the absence of natural predators like wolves, a cull is necessary.
“If you have 100 does, you will have 80 or 90 fawns the next year. So culling is the only way we can manage them efficiently,” Terry says, adding that he has firearm training.
The culling is generally in the order of 15% of the total population.
And what happens to all that venison?
“They all go to a game dealer. And back into the food chain,” Terry says.
It’s very nice meat, just like steak.
“It’s low in cholesterol, low in fat, high in protein. And of course it’s all organic,” he adds.
It sells for an average of around 2 euro a kilo and a mature fallow buck could be between 80 to 100 kilos.
So there’s a fair bit of money in it.
But Terry says that poaching is not a problem in the Phoenix Park.
“It’s too busy. There are too many people around.”
With that, the rain comes lashing down. So we bail. Leaving the deer to idle the day away.

If you’d like to know more about the Phoenix Park, visit phoenixpark.ie

Kevin Barrington is a poet, multimedia artist and a regular on the open mic scene around town. Kevin is also an award winning advertising copywriter and blogger. He gets his adrenalin from cycling around town or out to the 40ft for a swim.

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