A new species of fossil starfish has been discovered in the Maam Valley of Co. Galway.
The fossil has been named 'Crepidosoma doyleii' in honour of Dr Eamon Doyle, geologist for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark and Clare County Council, who found it.
International researchers from the USA, UK and Holland describe the find as an ophiuroid starfish, commonly known as a 'brittle star', which first evolved around 500 million years ago and have survived relatively unchanged to the present day.
Professor David Harper of Durham University, and co-author of the study, said: "The remote areas of the west of Ireland continue to yield some exceptional fossils with a significant impact on understanding of the history of life.
These unique specimens of fossil starfish from the Silurian rocks of Connemara are a key piece of evidence in the hunt for past life in the ocean that covered Ireland, some 435 million years ago.
"We owe a great deal to the painstaking efforts of Dr Eamon Doyle who combed these distant mountains for fossils during his PhD studies at University College Galway."
Dr. Sarah Gatley of the Geological Survey explained why the find is so important for the area.
She said: "This discovery by Dr Doyle in the area of the Joyce Country aspiring Geopark highlights the need to protect our geological heritage.
"It underlines why the Geological Survey support the three UNESCO Geoparks as well as the aspiring Geoparks in Ireland."
Dr Doyle said: "I am delighted with the honour afforded to me by these eminent international palaeontologists.
"I wish to thank Clare County Council and the Geological Survey for their support and I look forward to presenting some new fossils from the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark in the near future."
The specimens are housed in the National Museum (Natural History) in Dublin.
The study was published in the latest issue of The Irish Journal of Earth Sciences, published by the Royal Irish Academy.