A LONG-lashed leopard gazes nonchalantly at a zebra in
the jaws of a lion. A rare harpy eagle has its claws out
for lunch while a lesser-spotted Clonmany corncrake and
whooper swan from Inch proudly hold their own.
It may appear an unlikely menagerie of wildlife, but it
is also a little known fact that Inishowen is home to
one of the top three private collections of mounted
wildlife in Ireland and Britain.
Meet Neil Gerard Doherty -
builder by day and one of the world's leading collectors
of taxidermy in his spare time. Neil, who has more than
1,500 exhibits, opened his exotic collection to the
media for the first time when InishowenNews.com recently
visited his wildlife hideaway in the Clonmany
countryside. Anyone seeing this vast collection is
likely to run short of adjectives, but spectacular,
amazing, unique and overwhelming are descriptions that
barely suffice. It is thought to be the biggest private
collection of taxidermy in Ireland outside of the
The 55-year old contractor and birdwatcher, first began
collecting in 1969 at the age of 14 and distinctly
remembers when and where his passion first began.
"It started in 1965 when I was ten years
old and was visiting an
uncle in Limerick called Willie Shiels. He took me to
visit a neighbouring farmhouse where I saw a pair of
pheasants in a glass case. I thought they were the
nicest thing I had ever seen," he smiled. "I saved my
pocket money and bought my first bird when I was about
14. It cost me £3 and the hobby just grew from there."
Married to Anne with five children, Gerard, 27, Shane,
25, Mark, 23, Barry, 20, and Vivienne, 17, Neil's
collection was, in the early days, housed in the family
home. But it grew so large, he had to move them to
specially-built units at the back of his house. The
animals are housed in three immaculate exhibition
spaces, mounted in polished glass cases hand-made by
Neil with the help of Shane.
So admired is his collection in taxidermy circles, he
often receives phone calls from collectors all over the
world offering to buy a particular one, or tipping him
off about a rare find he might be keen to purchase. But
the local man is so selective and precise about what he
chooses, he is unlikely to ever part with a single
And has he any favourites?
One is a crested serpent eagle mounted in the 1800s by
the world-renowned taxidermist Roland Ward of
Piccadilly, London. His most recent acquisition is an
extremely rare, silver Norfolk hare, marked by a
recessive gene that only turns up every 30-50 years. The
collection includes a vast array of birdlife and
creatures from all over the world including birds of
paradise, albatross, black storks, an African buffalo,
lynx, blue wildebeest and Canadian timber wolf. Rare
Inishowen creatures feature widely too including a
corncrake that Neil found dead on Gortfad Bridge in June
1989 and a great northern diver bird brought to him
after it got caught in a fishing net in Leenan Bay, 18
years ago. While an avid collector, he is not himself a
taxidermist, and leaves the intricate work to the
experts in the age-old craft. But the unassuming local
is also a bird watching expert and, might tell you in
passing, that he often
leads groups on bird watching safari to Africa. One of
his friends, an Afrikaans farmer, recently bought a
35,000-acre farm in Mozambique and Neil is now looking
forward to soon going there on one of his annual trips
Meanwhile, he tells the story of how he left a sea-port
security officer speechless when he was ferrying his
largest piece home to Inishowen through Cairnryan in a
Hi-Ace van four years ago.
"The security man was a bit taken aback when he asked me
'what do you have in the van?' and I replied 'a lion',"
he laughed. For many years, Neil only showed his prized
collection to family, friends and a few select visitors.
However, at a garden party at his home to celebrate his
and Anne's 25th wedding anniversary in 2006, more than
100 of his guests were gob-smacked when they happened
upon the wildlife wonderland in the early hours of the
morning. They persuaded him to open his collection to
the public. Visitors can now go and see this fantastic
attraction at the Inishowen Wildlife Museum not far off
the main road, in Gorfad, Clonmany.