Discovering What’s the National Animal of Ireland: A Cultural Emblem Revealed

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Curious about what’s the national animal of Ireland? Look no further. Ireland does not have an official national animal. However, the Irish Mountain Hare is often considered the unofficial emblem due to its deep roots in traditional mythology and its widespread presence across the country. This article explores the role of the Irish Mountain Hare in Irish culture, while also delving into other national symbols that together weave the rich cultural tapestry of Ireland.

Key Takeaways

  • The Irish Mountain Hare is regarded as Ireland’s unofficial national animal, celebrated for its cultural significance and presence in Irish folklore, despite the country not having an official designated national animal.

  • Irish national symbols include the Northern Lapwing as the national bird and the Course Fish group as Northern Ireland’s national fish, alongside the sessile oak as the national tree, reflecting a wide respect for biodiversity and natural heritage.

  • Ireland’s identity is also shaped by its musical and culinary traditions, with the Celtic harp and Irish dance being national symbols, and Irish whiskey and stout, alongside dishes like Irish stew, bacon and cabbage, and the full Irish breakfast, serving as key elements of its cultural heritage.

Exploring Ireland’s Unofficial National Animal

Irish Mountain Hare in natural habitat

Ireland holds a distinctive position among nations with its unique national symbols. While the country does not officially have a designated national animal, the Irish Mountain Hare has leapt into this role, revered for its cultural importance and mystical presence in Irish mythology. Whether it’s bounding through the heathland or gracing the pages of ancient tales, the Irish Mountain Hare, often referred to as the Irish national animal, is a symbol that truly captures the spirit of Ireland.

The Irish Mountain Hare: A Symbolic Creature

The Irish Mountain Hare, a creature born from Ireland’s rugged landscapes, embodies more than just an animal; it’s a symbol. Indigenous to the Emerald Isle, this hare has been part of the country’s landscape for millions of years, leaving its footprints on the moorland, pastures, and coastal grasslands. Its significant role in Irish culture and folklore coupled with its widespread distribution across the nation has led to its recognition as a national symbol, a creature that truly represents the heart of Ireland.

Wildlife Conservation Status: Protecting the Mountain Hare

The Irish Mountain Hare holds a significant place in the grand spectrum of Irish wildlife. Despite its unofficial status as a national animal, the conservation of this remarkable creature is taken very seriously. As per the ‘Least Concern’ conservation status, the Irish government has undertaken measures to monitor and improve the species’ conservation status in accordance with the EC Habitats Directive.

Supporting this commitment are the legal protections that the Irish Mountain Hare enjoys. Since 1930, the Game Preservation Act and the Wildlife Act have provided cover for this symbolic creature, extending to the preservation of its habitat.

The estimated population of the Irish Mountain Hare stands at approximately 7.66 hares per square kilometer in the Republic of Ireland, a testament to the success of these conservation efforts.

The Irish Hare: Mythology and Folklore

Irish Hare in Mythology

Transitioning from the tangible to the mythical, the Irish Hare takes on a legendary persona. This symbolic creature has left its indelible mark on Irish mythology and folklore, enhancing its reputation as a national symbol. From tales of extraordinary abilities to associations with the moon and the enigmatic Otherworld, the Irish Hare dances through the pages of history, leaving readers in awe of its cultural significance.

Legends of the Hare: From Myth to National Pride

The Irish Hare is more than just an animal; it’s a narrative interwoven into the very fabric of Irish culture. The legends surrounding the hare have shaped the country’s national pride and identity. From tales of the hare as a mystical being capable of traversing different realms to stories of its association with the Celtic god Cernunnos, these legends have helped elevate the hare to a position of national reverence.

These stories have permeated the national consciousness, contributing to the sense of unity and identity among the Irish people.

The Hare in Modern Culture: Stamps, Coins, and More

The Irish Hare has made its mark on modern culture, featuring prominently on stamps and coins throughout the country. These cultural artifacts serve as a tangible reminder of its status as a national animal. From a series of stamps issued in 1980 to the inaugural Irish coins introduced in 1938, the Irish Hare has been commemorated time and again.

This representation serves as a testament to the hare’s cultural significance, encompassing associations with:

  • mystery

  • positivity

  • prosperity

  • feminine power

This Irish national card game is a unique way to represent Ireland and reflect its identity.

Ireland’s National Bird and Fish: Feathered and Finned Companions

Northern Lapwing, Ireland's national bird

Ireland’s national symbols aren’t confined to land, they also inhabit the sky and plunge into the waters. The Northern Lapwing, with its distinctive crest and sweeping wings, holds the title of Ireland’s national bird.

Meanwhile, beneath the shimmering surface of Ireland’s lakes and rivers, the Course Fish, a group that includes species such as roach, bream, and perch, constitutes Northern Ireland’s national fish. These feathered and finned companions further enrich the diverse tapestry of Irish national symbols.

The Northern Lapwing: Ireland’s Official National Bird

Ireland’s skies are graced by the Northern Lapwing, the country’s official national bird. Chosen in 1990 by a committee of the Irish Wildlife Conservancy, this bird, known scientifically as Vanellus vanellus, symbolizes Ireland’s respect for its diverse avian life.

The Northern Lapwing is indigenous to the country, favoring damp, well-grazed meadows and open farmlands, particularly in areas with open water nearby. Its unique presence and role in Irish culture make it an integral part of the country’s national symbols.

Freshwater Friends: Ireland’s National Fish

The waters of Ireland teem with a diverse range of aquatic life, among which the Course Fish holds a special place. Comprising species such as roach, bream, and perch, this group of fish represents the national fish of Ireland. Found in the country’s rivers, loughs, and canals, the Course Fish is a symbol of the rich aquatic biodiversity that Ireland is proud to protect and preserve.

The Forests and Fields of Ireland: National Tree and Land Mammals

Sessile Oak, Ireland's national tree

Ireland’s verdant landscapes cradle an array of natural wonders, including the country’s national tree, the sessile oak. Alongside this majestic tree roam significant land mammals, the red deer and the extinct Irish Elk, both of which are deeply ingrained in Ireland’s heritage.

These symbols of the forest and fields, including the national flower, underscore Ireland’s commitment to biodiversity and its deep-rooted connection to its natural environment.

Sessile Oak: Rooted in Tradition

The sessile oak, Ireland’s national tree, stands as a symbol of tradition and strength. Its roots run deep into Irish culture, dating back thousands of years to ancient Celtic and Druid traditions. The Druids held the oak in high regard, associating it with wisdom and strength, and their reverence for this tree has been woven into the fabric of Irish society.

Today, the sessile oak continues to be celebrated for its robustness, longevity, and role in providing habitats for numerous species.

Majestic Mammals: Deer and Elk in Irish Heritage

Moving from the leafy canopies to the forest floor, we encounter the majestic mammals of Ireland. The red deer, with its imposing antlers and graceful stride, holds a significant place in Irish culture. The extinct Irish Elk, though no longer gracing the landscapes of Ireland, lives on in the country’s heritage and is often depicted in Celtic art.

Both these creatures, with their strength and grandeur, have played important roles in Irish heritage and are often associated with the country’s national identity.

Celebrating Ireland Through Music and Dance

Celtic Harp, Ireland's national instrument

Music and dance form the pulsating core of Irish culture, echoing the vibrant rhythms of the country’s rich heritage. The Celtic harp and Irish dance are deeply rooted in Irish tradition, serving as the country’s national instrument and dance.

From the melodic notes of the harp to the lively steps of the dancers, these cultural expressions capture the spirit of Ireland and its people.

Rhythms of the Emerald Isle: National Instrument and Dance

The Celtic harp, with its distinctive shape and enchanting sound, is Ireland’s national instrument. Its history stretches back over a thousand years, with its image gracing ancient manuscripts and stone crosses. The Celtic harp is more than just an instrument; it’s a symbol of the nation and its culture, representing Ireland’s rich musical heritage. Today, it continues to hold a significant place in traditional Irish music, underscoring the country’s love for music.

On the dance floor, the vivacious energy of Irish dance brings to life the spirit of Ireland. The origins of this dance form can be traced back to the dancing of travelling Irish dance masters in the 17th-18th century, rooted in ancient Celtic and Druid traditions. Today, Irish dance encompasses a diverse range of styles, including traditional sets, solo dances, and performance routines, all of which capture the dynamic spirit of the Emerald Isle.

The Spirit of Ireland: National Drinks and Dishes

Ireland’s essence is encapsulated in its national drinks and dishes, each narrating a chapter of the country’s abundant culinary heritage. From the warm comfort of traditional Irish stew to the hearty satisfaction of a full Irish breakfast, and the timeless pairing of bacon and cabbage, these dishes offer a taste of Ireland that is as diverse as it is delicious.

Complementing these savory delights are Ireland’s national drinks, Irish whiskey and stout, each with their own unique origins and traditions.

Toasting Traditions: National Spirit and Beer

Irish whiskey and stout are more than just beverages; they are iconic symbols of Ireland’s spirit and tradition. With origins dating back to the 12th century, Irish whiskey is widely recognized as the place where whiskey originated. This ‘water of life’ has evolved over the centuries, with its smooth and warm character capturing the essence of Ireland in every sip.

On the other hand, stout, with its characteristic black color and robust flavor, became a traditional Irish beer when the original Irish stouts, known as porter, were brought over from London approximately 300 years ago.

Savory Staples: A Taste of Ireland’s National Dishes

While Ireland’s beverages warm the spirit, its dishes satisfy the palate. Irish stew, full Irish breakfast, and bacon and cabbage are the nation’s staple dishes, each offering a unique taste of Ireland’s culinary heritage. Irish stew, acknowledged since around 1800, is a substantial dish symbolizing the country’s gastronomic legacy.

The full Irish breakfast, a hearty meal to start the day, and bacon and cabbage, a classic Irish dish, both represent the country’s love for simple, hearty, and flavorful meals.

Symbols of Sovereignty: Flags, Anthems, and Patron Saints

Ireland’s national symbols, including northern irish state symbols, extend beyond animals, birds, trees, and gastronomic delights. They also extend to tangible signs of sovereignty, including the tricolour flag, national anthems, and patron saints. These symbols represent the country’s unity, identity, and protection, serving as a constant reminder of Ireland’s rich history and the values it upholds.

The Tricolour: Unity and Identity

Ireland’s tricolour flag symbolizes the country’s unity and identity in a potent manner. With its green, white, and orange stripes, it represents the country’s Catholic and Protestant communities and the peace between them. This flag, which first flew in the 19th century, serves as a testament to Ireland’s journey towards unity and independence, and stands as a symbol of the country’s commitment to peace and inclusivity.

Anthems and Allegiance: Music That Unites

Just like any other nation, music plays a pivotal role in uniting Ireland. The national anthems of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, “Amhrán na bhFiann” and “God Save the Queen” respectively, play a significant role in showcasing the country’s allegiance and unity.

These anthems, with their stirring melodies and poignant lyrics, evoke a sense of patriotic pride among the Irish people, serving as a musical expression of their national identity.

Saintly Symbols: Patronage and Protection

Patron saints like Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid, and Saint Columba offer spiritual guidance and protection in Ireland. These saintly symbols are revered figures in Irish culture, offering comfort and inspiration to the Irish people.

Their stories and teachings, deeply woven into the cultural fabric of Ireland, continue to resonate with the values of faith, perseverance, and service that are central to the Irish ethos.


From the swift Irish Mountain Hare to the melodies of the Celtic harp, from the hearty Irish stew to the tricolour flag, Ireland’s national symbols weave a vibrant tapestry that tells the story of this enchanting nation. They encapsulate the country’s rich heritage, diverse culture, and the spirit of unity that defines the Irish identity. Each symbol, whether it’s an animal, bird, tree, instrument, dish, or flag, is a unique piece of Ireland’s story, contributing to the country’s character and charm.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the official national animal of Ireland?

The official national animal of Ireland is the Irish hare, also known as the mountain hare. This unique animal is exclusive to Ireland and has been present in the country for millions of years.

What animal is known in Ireland?

The Irish hare is known as Ireland’s national animal and is the only native lagomorph on the island. It has been present in Ireland for millions of years.

What is the national animal of Ireland stag?

The Red Deer is the national animal of Ireland, being the only deer indigenous to the island.

What is the national bird of Ireland?

The national bird of Ireland is the Lapwing, also known as the Northern Lapwing, a shorebird with a distinctive crest of feathers. It was declared the national bird in 1990.

What is the national bird and fish of Ireland?

The national bird of Ireland is the Northern Lapwing, and the national fish is the Course Fish. Both hold symbolic significance for the country.

About the author

Originally from Scotland, Colin now resides near the beautiful seaside town of Portstewart on the Causeway Coastal Route. By day he works in IT and by day off he spends much of his time travelling around the Island with his young family, writing about his experiences for many sites both locally and nationally.