|Posted on June 6, 2012 at 1:20 AM|
THE WATER-HORSES: TERRIFYING AQUATIC ENIGMAS OF THE BRITISH ISLES (BRITAIN AND IRELAND) - PART 1
Compiled, Edited and Illustrated By R. Merrill
Compiled, Edited and Illustrated
By R. Merrill
The notorious water-horses of the British Isles have been responsible for an untold number of deaths over the centuries, and serve as an enduring reminder that nature's predators can come in numerous... and oft times unexpected... forms.
The legend of the Water-Horse is one of the most enduring in the annals of Anglo-Saxon lore. These animal's have been described as being amphibious, horse-like creatures, with a dark patina, which live in the depths of most rivers, lakes and watering holes of the British Isles. The temperament of these creatures has been recorded as ranging between relatively docile to voraciously carnivorous, often erring on the side of the vicious.
Ancient legends of these creatures are often associated with those of their landlocked neighbor, the Loch Ness Monster and its Highland brethren, but many modern researchers believe that the first recorded sightings of these now famous beasts came long before Saint Columba ever set foot in Scotland. According to many investigators, these so-called Water-Horses have been an intergal part of British fauna since before written language.
This theory seems to be supported by the ancient Celtic petroglyphs, found carved on hundreds of stones throughout Scotland and Ireland, depicting what many believe to be these notorious aquatic predators alongside more traditional species, such as cattle, sheep and horses. These pictographs, combined with historical records and eyewitness reports, have led many investigators to believe that there is more than a kernel of truth behind these legends. In fact, the descriptions of these creatures seem to parallel the protocols assumed by the most scientifically rigorous zoological standards of the era.
THE LEGEND OF THE DOBHAR-CHU (WATER HOUND)
The Dobhar-chu (also known as the "Dobhar-Chú", "Dobarcu", and Anglicised as "Doyarchu", "Dhuragoo", etc.) is a creature of Irish folklore and a true cryptid. Dobhar-chu, when roughly translated from Gaelic, literally means "water hound." This distinction clearly separates this beast from the more infamous Kelpies, which have terrorized the residents of the British Isles for centuries.
Also sometimes referred to as "water dog" and "Irish crocodile," the Dobhar-chu is described as an animal that is about the size of a crocodile or a big dog, but resembles a cross between a dog and an otter. It is almost always described as black in color. It either has sleek black fur that fits very snugly to the body, or it has smooth, slimy black skin with no fur at all.
A few individuals are described as having one or more patches of white on them, especially a large patch in the middle of the chest. At least one individual was described as mostly white with two black spots on the ear tips and one in the middle of the back. The hindquarters are bigger than the forequarters and resemble a dog, especially a powerfully-built greyhound. The paws are big in proportion to the rest of the body, just as we would expect in an aquatic mammal. The head is sleek and looks much like an otter's, the neck is long, and the tail is long and slender with a possible tuft at the end.
These creatures have been reported as living in Irish lakes from ancient times. They are highly aggressive towards people and dogs. They attack by grasping prey and dragging it into the water, and they are often a match for the fiercest dogs, especially when they get their opponents into the water. They are often found in pairs. One animal usually stays hidden while the other attacks, but it will appear if the first animal has trouble. If one of these is killed, the other becomes extremely angry and will risk its own life to get revenge, suggesting that these animals may have monogamous pair-bonds of exceptional strength.
Since the sightings describe the Dobhar-chu in a fairly consistent way, it could represent a real animal. Some cryptozoologists say it could be a new species of giant otter. Others favor the view that it is a variety of baby Loch Ness monster (or rather, a baby lake monster of the same type, since Loch Ness is in Scotland). Another possibility is that it represents a link between seals and their landbound ancestors. Evolutionary theory maintains that seals are most closely related to the bear family and the dog family. According to this postulation, there was probably a primitive ancestor of modern seals that looked much like the Dobhar-chu.
Regardless of what it might have been, the scarcity of modern sightings seems to indicate that the Dobhar-chu, if it ever existed, is probably extinct today. The location in which the largest number of modern sightings has taken place is Achill Island, located just off the western coast of Ireland in County Mayo. The lake called Sraheens Lough is supposed to have a small population of Dobhar-chu, but these creatures seem migratory, not occupying the lake all year.
A MESOZOIC MYSTERY IN MAYO?
The "Dinosaur" of Achill Island
If rumors of prehistoric saurians lurking in the remote depths of Africa and South America may seem at least possible, then stories of a dinosaur running about on an island off the coast of Mayo county would be a bit much for even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's imagination. Nonetheless during the early 1960s, aside from the usual gathering of holiday tourists, the mist shrouded mountains and dense forests of Achill Island were playing host to a visitor seemingly "out of this world." In a strange saga that became headlines for newspapers across the country, the locals of Achill Island found themselves in the midst of an unforgettable mystery. While a scientific bureau was busy searching for a plesiosaur in Loch Ness, some islanders were claiming Achill had its own fugitive from the Age of Reptiles.
Achill Island holds a reputation as popular summer retreat with its picturesque mountains and beautiful beaches. But during the 1960s this western island became known for something else: an amphibious monster. Stories and sightings of strange creatures were up to this point by no means anything new to Ireland, but until then there was little in regards to "hard evidence". At least, that is, until a Dundalk businessman brought forth a startling Polaroid which for some was hailed as proof that Achill Island was home to nothing less than a living dinosaur. This would become one of the most interesting (and suspicious) episodes amongst the ongoing saga of Irish Lake Monsters.
The majority of cases reviewed so far tend to involve a single sighting standing over pre-modern traditions of past (if not legendary) encounters. With Achill however, we have what's sometimes referred to as a "flap" or a series of proximal reports within a short span of time. News of a strange beast haunting the outskirts of Achill Sound created a decent amount of excitement for the townsfolk. Some of whom would find the names of friends and relatives becoming echoed in papers across the country. Much of the attention was no doubt due in part to an anonymous photograph that made front-page news.
On the front page of the June 4, 1968 issue of the Evening Herald, a bold headline asks "Camera shot of lake monster?"
A Dundalk businessman, on holidays in the Achill area at the weekend, took this picture. Did he catch the monster with his camera? He used a Polaroid camera and this is an untouched reproduction of the picture.
The accompaning article reads:
The man who took the picture said that yesterday he saw the huge 40 ft. long monster on the side of the lake about 100 yards away and snapped it with his camera.
He later showed the picture of the weird animal -said to resemble a dinosaur- to local people who had never before had any real proof of the existence of the monster.
SEEN BY GIRL
The visitor who wished to remain anonymous, was driving on the main road past the lake. Near Mulrany, 10 miles away he had given a lift to two girls from Mullingar. As they were passing the lake one of the girls drew the drivers' attention to the huge animal on the side of the lake about 100 yards away.
"Despite advice by the girls I immediately stopped the car and took a picture of the animal, and drove off again in a hurry," he said.
"The animal seemed to be about 40 feet long with a head like a greyhound and a long tail," he added.
"When I mentioned the strange animal at my hotel the developed photograph became the center of attraction and I discovered that I had stumbled on something important and proof of something Achill people had been looking for."
Most likely it was the photo that beaconed media attention. Usually the chronological sequence of newspapers involvement in such matters starts with an area or regional paper picking up on local word. After the town or county paper prints a story, larger publications will sometime catch wind of the matter and either reprint the information in abbreviated form or in some cases such as this one, send a reporter to investigate first hand. With that in mind it's likely that there had been a previous article written on the Achill Monster by a separate newspaper. This may seem trivial but all too often stories get crossed and details sometimes become distorted when traveling from one paper to another. Case in point being this first story which is something of a hydra with at least three separate versions in circulation:
The girls, Mary O'Neill and Florence Connaire (the article does not include full names so it is not known where or by whom they were obtained), were in the businessman's car driving along the road when one spotted the beast ON SHORE. The girls were not frightened, they only wished to move on but the driver waited to take the photograph.
In a much different account the girls, now a Mary Callaghan and Bernie Sweeny, were returning from a dance in Keel late one night when they were offered a ride. Right as they were about to enter the car Bernie noticed a black shiny object swimming in the moonlight. She screamed and in a state of fright ran down the road away from the car leaving Mary and the driver clueless. When Bernie finally pointed to the lake the motorist only saw a rippling ring on the surface.
In what appears to be a sensationalized variation for the previous one, Bernie's fright is the result of a big, shiny, black monster running towards her. She takes off fleeing down the road leaving a shaken Mary pointing at the lough. The driver only sees something quickly disappearing into the water.
The first version, which is closest to the account cited in the newspaper, would comply with the photograph since it appears to have been shot during the daytime. The other two were either colorful mutations from the original story or possibly related to an entirely separate incident which became confused with the original. Either way, somewhere "Mary" (whether it's O'Neill or Callaghan, the paper doesn't say) was quoted as saying:
"It looked just like a dinosaur. It moved a bit and I would say it was about 20 feet long."
Combining the statements of the driver and these two brief sentences of "Mary," we're only able to gather that the 'monster' was huge, it looked like a dinosaur, with a greyhound's head, a long tail, and it was somewhere between 20 and 40 feet.
During a visit to the National Library in Dublin I was able to view the photograph on microfilm. Though still hazy, certain features were discernable that only became lost in replication. Thus my judgment of the picture is from having had the advantage of viewing a more distinguishable image.
Naturally any photograph of such nature is going to be perceived skeptically but even looking at the picture with an open mind there are several red flags that stand out immediately. Most evident is the strong likeness the head has to the shape of a classic plastic dinosaur toy complete with trademark gaping jaws. If we forgive the artificial likeness then there is still one very big problem: the size. The figure appears to be standing above the lake which would place the beast in a stature compatible with Godzilla. As the majority of the lough is in view then the head by itself would have to be at least 20 feet long. Further incriminating is the ever-so-convenient pyramided "bush" concealing every part of the gargantuan beast except his T-Rex head. (At least I assume it's a bush but at the time of its publication there seemed to be an understanding that it was actually the creature's back.) The figure is most likely a modified toy dinosaur suspended in the foreground yet staged so as to appear as a giant in the background. The picture almost definitely a hoax and a bad one at that.
Beast in the Headlights
The photograph and its accompanying story may be fraudulent but there's no reason why that should damage the credence of other reports. Most notable being a land sighting by John Cooney who was reputed as a sober, honest and trustworthy individual as claimed by the local parish priest and fellow townsfolk who vouched for his sincerity.
According to Cooney, two months prior to the businessman's alleged sighting he had been driving alongside the lough with his friend Michael McNulty when a creature seemingly "out of this world" passed in front of their vehicle. Described as 8-12 feet long and about 2 1/2 feet tall, the animal bore a long thick tail with a head like a greyhound or sheep on top of a long swan-like neck. The observation took place at night with the animal illuminated by the van's headlights before it disappeared into the vegetation.
The Evening Herald article continues:
Two months ago a local part-time decorator, Mr. John Cooney (40), of Achill Sound, was passing in a car on the main road near the lake at twilight when a large animal, similar to the one described by the Dundalk visitor, crossed the road in front of him-going towards the lake. He drew the attention of another man in the car to the animal but they were too scared to pull up.
Mr. Cooney related: "I found it hard to convince people in Achill that I had seen this strange animal which had looked like a type of dinosaur. Now I am glad that the visitor has seen the animal, and can produce proof of it.
[There is no indication that Cooney had actually seen the photograph when this quote was taken. Had he, his reaction would have been interesting as the photo severely contrasts the description and sketch he would later produce for Jan Sundberg.]
A Keel resident said: "The Dundalk visitor showed me the picture which was only four inches, by three inches in size. I could clearly see the animal in the picture and with the aid of a magnifying glass the animal looked to be over 40 feet long. I would not believe it only for the picture."
A local newsagent, Mr. Denis McGowan, Achill Sound, said: "Two years ago a British angler came into my shop in a frightened condition and told me he had seen some strange animal in the lake while fishing there and that he immediately packed up his gear and ran away."
Sightings of the creature in water were reported but only one offered any details. An English angler was fishing off the shore of Sraheens Lough when the calm surface of the lake began to boil and from it emerged a long neck with a small head. With a black shiny body in trail, the creature swam towards the fisherman at great speed. The man reportedly discarded his gear and ran all the way to Achill Sound.
Gay Denver's Land Sighting
Cooney and McNulty weren't the only ones to walk away with a sighting of the animal on land. Three weeks prior to the photograph, while cycling home from Mass, 16-year-old Gay Denver spotted an odd creature along some trees 50 yards from the lake as it climbed up a turf bank near the woods.
"When I stopped and looked through an opening in the rhododendrons, I had a shock. Crawling out of the water came the strangest animal I have ever seen. It was much bigger than a horse, black in colour with a long, slender and sheep-looking head, long neck and tail. It moved like a kangaroo and its hind legs were bigger than the front ones. When the nasty-looking thing entered the beach, I left the area as fast as I could."
Denver felt the photograph properly represented his monster which possessed, "a humped, bumpy back just like that, and a small head."
Apparently, what appears to be a "bush" had been interpreted by Denver as the animal's back. If this is what the photographer was intending for his "dinosaur", then the figure looks as though it were trying to represent the sail-finned Dimetrodon or a bizarre misassembled Stegosaurus. Either way, some sort of quadruped dinosaur with a large arching back. However the photo does not show any sort of long neck as mentioned by Gay Denver and John Cooney.
In 1975 Jan Sundberg of GUST fame visited Achill as an independent journalist. John Cooney described his encounter to Sundberg and offered a sketch displaying a slender bipedal dinosaur-like creature. Sundberg spoke to several locals who acknowledged there had always been a strong traditions of a sort of monster existing within the region.
Cooney's drawing was presented to Dr. Carl Pleijel of the Swedish Natural Museum who was at first uninformed as to its significance. Dr. Pleijel identified the creature in the sketch as a Coelophysis, an early Jurassic carnivore who's size and description to some extent matched that of Cooney's animal. Dr. Heuvelmans felt the comparison was noteworthy enough to spot mention in his Les derniers dragons d'Afrique (Paris: Plon, 1978). Dinosaur or not, the general descriptions surrounding the Achill creature were certainly unique from the more traditional configurations affiliated with Irish water monsters.
What to Make of Achill?
Achill Island had carried previous references to strange water creatures even before the excitement stirred during the early 1960s. In the 1930s Sraheens Lough was reputed as the home of a "water-horse" and even before then strange creatures had been sighted on rare occasions though few details have survived to present times. A water-horse may very well have been responsible for the flap, except that some sightings claim the beast had a long swan shaped neck; a feature foreign to Each-Usiage.
The "dinosaur" theme attached to the phenomena appeared to be present prior to the photograph's publication. I'm inclined to suspect that the Dundalk visitor had heard the stories circulating about the monster and its "dinosaur-like" resemblance and then went about producing the phony image, perhaps originally as a mere joke. The outline of the monster seen on the photograph soon became a sort of indirect local mascot inspiring handcrafts and souvenirs.
The Achill Monster managed to remain an issue for years to come. Sometime during the 1970s a group of foreign students did an examination of the lake and supposedly found strange tracks along the shoreline. And somewhere along the line it was claimed that local farmers were mysteriously losing sheep. Whether either of these alleged instances has any correlation with the supposed presence of a water monster is left to the imagination.
During a visit to Achill Island in winter of 1998 I was informed that at sometime in the early or mid-80s a hoax was conducted regarding an alleged 'monster' on the island. The culprits responsible for this bogus claim were actually said to be members of the Tourist Board who were willing to embrace some rather unorthodox strategies to attract visitors. The plan backfired, I'm told, as parents complained of frightened children. The same instigators would later try another ploy claiming gold had been discovered on the island and even go as far as to stage a mock debate over the radio arguing for and against mining.
On a final note: researcher Gary Cunningham has uncovered references to Achill Island being home to a very unusual form of otter, possibly the same animal as the Dobar-Chu. Could it be that this elusive creature, thought to have gone extinct in the past 300 years, was still living along the thick forests and uninhabited regions of Achill Island?
Some researchers confuse the Doyarch with a creature of Irish fairy lore, the "king otter." Although the two creatures have some characteristics in common, they are not identical. While the king otter was a gigantic otter from the fairy realm who had magic powers, the Doyarchu had anatomical characteristics that made it something different than just a big otter. Furthermore, the doyarchu was thought of as being more like a real animal, while the king otter was not thought to be earthly at all.
Illustration of the King Otter
Some other areas of the world have creatures that sound similar to the Doyarchu, in both physical appearance and habits, and a number of these are given local names that translate as "water dog." For example, the ahuitzotl is described in Aztec legend as a dog-like water monster of small size, with smooth skin, pointed ears, wide paws (like a Doyarchu) and possibly a mass at the end of a tail (like the possibly tufted tail of the Doyarchu). Similar "water dogs" are reported in North American Indian lore, from the Hopi tribe and the Shasta tribe. Some researchers also put into this category a strange creature described by Christopher Columbus in 1503. He supposedly killed this creature in Jamaica.
Could the Achill Monster possibly be a surviving "short-necked" plesiosaur (a pliosaur). The short-necked group looked like large penguins with an extra set of swimming "wings." The pliosaurs were smaller than their long-necked relatives, ranging in length from 9.75 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters). They had relatively short necks (although their necks might still be considered long or "swan-like" if not being compared to their "long-necked" relatives) and larger heads, normally with slender snouts armed with many sharp, grooved teeth. They appeared to have "flown" through the water, much like sea turtles and penguins. But, their paddle-like hind limbs provided additional thrust. These creatures may have been among the fastest reptiles in the Cretaceous seas. However, their large size and inability of the paddles to support much weight would preclude their being able to run or even walk without great difficulty on land.
The matter of the Dobhar-chú is certainly a curious one, even in the ranks of the world's lake monster lore, due to their relative recent history combined with the unsavoury habit of killing, or at least attempting to kill humans. An early account of the Dobhar-chú appears in A Description of West Connaught (1684), by Roderick O'Flaherty. This story, originating from the area of Lough Mask, is recounted here:
There is one rarity more, which we may term the Irish crocodile, whereof one, as yet living, about ten years ago had sad experience. The man was passing the shore just by the waterside, and spyed far off the head of a beast swimming, which he took to be an otter, and took no more notice of it; but the beast it seems lifted up his head, to discern whereabouts the man was; then diving swam under the water till he struck ground: whereupon he run out of the water suddenly and took the man by the elbow whereby the man stooped down, and the beast fastened his teeth in his pate, and dragged him into the water; where the man took hold of a stone by chance in his way, and calling to mind he had a knife in his jacket, took it out and gave a thrust of it to the beast, which thereupon got away from him into the lake. The water about him was all bloody, whether from the beast's blood, or his own, or from both he knows not. It was the pitch of an ordinary greyhound, of a black slimey skin, without hair as he imagines. Old men acquainted with the lake do tell there is such a beast in it, and that a stout fellow with a wolf dog along with him met the like there once; which after a long struggling went away in spite of the man and his dog, and was a long time after found rotten in a rocky cave of the lake when the waters decreased. The like they say is seen in other lakes in Ireland, they call it Doyarchu, i.e. water-dog, or anchu which is the same.
In 1896, Miss L.A. Walkington wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland of a legend she had heard in Bundoran, County Leitrim, of a creature called a dhuragoo, which she said was "half wolf-dog, half-fish". Some witnesses, she said, likened it to an "enormous sea-otter". A few months later, H. Chichester Hart responded to Miss Walkington's letter, and said that he had heard in Ballyshannon, Leitrim, of a creature called the dorraghow, which was said to be the "King of all the Lakes", and "Father of all the Otters". Hart said it was "as big as five or six otters".
Writing in 1990, Dr. Dáithí ó hÓgáin called it the "King Otter", and said that in addition to being larger than common otters, it was pure white with black ear-tips and a black cross on its back, a description that seems to be shared by most actual observers. It is also said to live in water and to have fur with protective properties.
Although there has been some dispute regarding the animal's length, it is believed to be approximately 7-feet from head to tail, and, contrary to its colloquial nickname, not a single report has been unearthed of this creature possessing any true reptilian attributes. This would seem to indicate that the Dobhar-chu's designation as the "Irish crocodile" is more a reference to its speed and ferocity, than to it's apparent genera. Due to its canine-esque description, the Dobhar-chu also seems removed from the various species off water-horses said to populate the British Isles. This has led some researchers to speculate that the creature may actually be an unknown form of large, predatorial pinniped (seal) or rogue super-otter.
Note that the modern Irish word for 'otter' is 'dobharchú'. The modern Irish word for water is 'uisce' although 'dobhar' is also (rarely) seen. 'Dobhar' is a much older form and cognates are found in other celtic languages (e.g. Welsh, 'dwr', water). 'Cú' is 'hound' in Irish (see, for example, 'Cuchulainn', the hound of Culainn). It seems that the identification of the Dobharchú with the fairly shy otter (which can be found at lengths of over 5'6" (1.67m) including the tail) seems to be by default—no other known Irish water creature comes as close to a rational zoological explanation.
Few cryptids are as frightening as the Dobhar-chu, known also to locals as the "Irish crocodile". Recognized for its voracious appetite—with a particular taste for human flesh—the Dobhar-chu is said to be able to travel at incredible speeds, in or out of the water. The Dobhar-chu is also known to attack suddenly, viciously and without apparent provocation. Credited with the deaths of numerous individuals, most of the testimony regarding the Dobhar-chu's lethal nature has been passed on by word of mouth.
A recent social history called Echoes of a Savage Land, by historian Joe McGowan, recounts that on September 22, 1722, Grace Connolly went from her home to nearby Glencade Lake to bathe.
When she did not return, her husband Traolach McLaughlin went to search for her, and was horrified to find Grace's mangled body on the lakeshore with a sated water fiend, the Dobhar-chu, lying asleep among the scattered remains. McLaughlin slew the beast, but immediately another of that fearsome species sprang from the lake and attacked him. McLaughlin and his brother fled on horseback pursued for miles by the monster, but upon reaching Cashelgarran near Benbulben the horses gave out. The brothers placed their horses across the entrance to that ancient fort and prepared to fight for their lives. The Dobhar-chu charged at them with such violence that it thrust its head and forepart completely through one of the horses, and McLaughlin buried his dagger in its heart.
This chilling narrative is only one of many regarding this feral, amphibious beast, and seems to many researchers to be an accurate description of a corporeal being, rather than a figment of the lush, Gaelic imagination. Most researchers point out that the description of the creature's "whistle," at its moment of death—as well as its purported mates response—is more to akin to an eyewitness report, than that of some vague legend.
The story is corroborated by a gravestone found in the Conbnaíl Cemetery in Drummans, Leitrim, and by the carved image engraved on Grace Connolly's (Grainne Ni Conalai's) tombstone in Conwell cemetery, near Kinlough, Co. Leitrim. The carving depicts a strange beast being stabbed by a dagger. Patrick Tohall, writing in an article appearing in the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 78, (1948), pages 127-129, and titled, "The Dobhar-Chú Tombstones of Glenade, Co. Leitrim", says that the stone is dated September 24, 1722, a time which fits in well with the account of Connolly's death.
Tohall, who had 50 years less weathering to deal with, found that:
'Line by Line the text reads:—(1) (Illegible), (2) ??ODY OF (3) GRACE CON (4) N?Y WIFE (5) TO TER MAC (6) LOGHLIN WHO (7) DYD 7BER (8) THE 24TH (9) ANN DMI (10) MDCCXXII. Points of note are: (a) The woman is still spoken of as "Grainne" (not "Grace") around her home; (b) The name "Ter" is obviously a contraction for "Terence", the modern baptismal name adopted to supplant the traditional "Toirdhealbhach." Only recently has the spoken language surrendered to the change, as down to our own time those who signed "Terence" were called "T'ruílach" in this locality. I have heard it so pronounced, exactly as John O'Donovan did here about 1835, when he wrote the names as "T'raolach"; (c) Adherence to contemporary classical forms: the contraction "7ber," for September and the use of the "Possessive Dative" case; (d) the Gaelic custom of a married woman keeping her maiden name—incongruous in the English text.'
According to Tohall, there are two different main versions of the death of a women washing clothes in Glenade Lake. A second tombstone at the south end of the lake was also connected to the tale, but has since vanished. The two accounts seem to have defaulted to the remaining stone, with "strong, local tradition" preferring to connect the more interesting of the two versions.
A woman named Grainne, wife of a man of the McLoghlins, who lived with her husband in the townland of Creevelea at the north-west corner of Glenade Lake, took some clothes down to the lakeshore to wash them. As she did not return her husband went to look for her and found her bloody body by the lakeside with the Dobhar-chú asleep on her breast.
Returning to the house for his dagger he stole silently on the Dobhar-chú and drove the knife into its breast. Before it died, however, it whistled to call its fellow; and the old people of the place, who knew the ways of the animals, warned McLoghlin to fly for his life. He took to horse, another mounted man accompanying him. The second Dobhar-chú came swimming from the lake and pursued the pair. Realising that they could not shake it off they stopped near some old walls and drew their horses across a door ope. The Dobhar-chú rushed under the horses' legs to attack the men, but as it emerged from beneath them one of the men stabbed and killed it.'
The second version describes the killing by a Dobhar-chú of another woman engaged in washing newly-woven cloth in Glenade lake when she was attacked. The boundary of the townland of Srath-cloichrín (Sracleighreen) and Gob-an-ghé (Gubinea) is the alleged location of this bloodshed (I emphasise the word 'boundary', as it denotes a place of liminal status—akin to the traditional importance of such places as crossroads). Yet another variant tells how the avenger Dobhar-chú had a single horn in the centre of its forehead, which it gored the horses with.
Tohall sees the Congbháil monument as being "the only tangible evidence" for the idea of the "King Dobhar-chú," or "Killer-Dobharcú".
Lexicographers of both districts record two meanings for Dobhar-chú (derived from Dobhar, water, and cú, hound): (a) the common otter (Lutra Lutra ) a term now superseded by Mada-uisge in Northern Ireland and Scotland; (b) "a mythical animal like an otter" (Dineen). In Co. Leitrim the latter tradition survives strongly: "a kind of witch that ruled all the other water-animals" (Patrick Travers, Derrinvoney); or used jocularly to a boy along Lough Allen, "Hurry back from your errand before dark, or mind would the Dobhar-choin of Glenade come out of the water and grab you." The best summary of the idea is set out in the records of the Coimisiun le Béaloideas by Seán ó h-Eochaidh, of Teidhlinn, Co. Donegal, in a phrase which he heard in the Gaeltacht: "the Dobharchú is the seventh cub of the common otter" (mada-uisge): the Dobhar-chú was thus a super otter.
Cashelgarron stone fort, near where the chase ended and the Dobharchú met its gory end, still stands today nestled on a height under the sheltering prow of bare Benbulben's head. Both monster and horse lie buried nearby. Bathers are seldom seen in Glencade Lake anymore.
The story itself still survives in local tradition. A local man of Glenade, Patrick Doherty, now deceased, told me some years ago that the chase, which started at Frank Mc Sharry's of Glenade, faltered at Cashelgarron stone fort in Co. Sligo when Mac Lochlainn was forced to stop with the blacksmith there to replace a lost horseshoe. His version differs very little from the ballad. Acording to Patrick, when the enraged monster caught up with them the horses were hurriedly drawn across the entrance to form a barrier. Giving the terrified man a sword the blacksmith advised him, "When the creature charges he'll put his head right out through the horse. As soon as he does this you be quick and cut his head off."
The legend of the Dobharchú (Water hound) stems from that bestial killing of Grainne Ni Conalai at Glenade Lake, Co. Leitrim on September 22, 1722. The details were once well known and the ballad sung at fairs on the streets of nearby Kinlough. Some say she went to the lake to wash clothes; the ballad says she went to bathe. It is no matter. When she failed to return, her husband Traolach Mac Lochlainn went to look for her. He was aghast when he found her body lying by the lake with the "beast lying asleep on her mangled breast"!
The words of the ballad, written around the time of the incident, form part of the legend surrounding an event which excites discussion and controversy to the present day. The ballad, a lengthy one, was skilfully composed by a hedge schoolmaster of the time. An abbreviated version below brings the story vividly to life. Beginning with a description of the locality, it goes on to record the dreadful occurrence:
…And whilst this gorgeous way of life in beauty did abound, From out the vastness of the lake stole forth the water hound, And seized for victim her who shared McGloughlan's bed and board; His loving wife, his more than life, whom almost he adored.
She, having gone to bathe, it seems, within the water clear, And not having returned when she might, her husband, fraught with fear, Hasting to where he her might find, when oh, to his surprise, Her mangled form, still bleeding warm, lay stretched before his eyes.
Upon her bosom, snow white once, but now besmeared with gore, The Dobharchú reposing was, his surfeiting being o'er. Her bowels and entrails all around tinged with a reddish hue: 'Oh, God', he cried, 'tis hard to bear but what am I to do?'
He prayed for strength, the fiend lay still, he tottered like a child, The blood of life within his veins surged rapidly and wild. One long lost glance at her he loved, then fast his footstps turned To home, while all his pent up rage and passion fiercely burned.
He reached his house, he grasped his gun, which clenched with nerves of steel, He backwards sped, upraising his arm and then one piercing, dying, squeal Was heard upon the balmy air. But hark! What's that that came One moment next from out of its depth as if revenge to claim!
The comrade of the dying fiend with whistles long and loud Came nigh and nigher to the spot. McGloughlin, growing cowed Rushed to his home. His neighbours called, their counsel asked, And flight was what they bade him do at once, and not to wait till night.
He and his brother, a sturdy pair, as brothers true when tried, Their horses took, their homes forsook and westward fast they did ride. One dagger sharp and long each man had for protection too Fast pursued by that fierce brute, the Whistling Dobharchú.
The rocks and dells rang with its yells, the eagles screamed in dread. The ploughman left his horses alone, the fishes too, 'tis said, Away from the mountain streams though far, went rushing to the sea; And nature's laws did almost pause, for death or victory.
For twenty miles the gallant steeds the riders proudly bore With mighty strain o'er hill and dale that ne'er was seen before. The fiend, fast closing on their tracks, his dreaded cry more shrill; 'Twas brothers try, we'll do or die on Cashelgarron Hill.
Dismounting from their panting steeds they placed them one by one Across the path in lengthways formed within the ancient dún, And standing by the outermost horse awaiting for their foe Their daggers raised, their nerves they braced to strike that fatal blow.
Not long to wait, for nose on trail the scenting hound arrived And through the horses with a plunge to force himself he tried, And just as through the outermost horse he plunged his head and foremost part, Mc Gloughlans dagger to the hilt lay buried in his heart.
"Thank God, thank God", the brothers cried in wildness and delight, Our humble home by Glenade lake shall shelter us tonight. Be any doubt to what I write, go visit old Conwell, There see the grave where sleeps the brave whose epitaph can tell.'
[For the complete version of the above poem, go to: http://www.sligoheritage.com/history.htm ]
Eye Witness Account by Sean Corcoran,
Irish Times Article Written by Lorna Siggins, October 12, 2009
Karl P.N. Shuker (2003). The Beasts That Hide From Man. Paraview: New York. ISBN 1-931044-64-3
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., p. 683.
Supposedly Mythical Creature Written by Dr. Karl Shuker
Watson, Roland,The Water Horses of Loch Ness (2011) ISBN 1-4611-7819-3
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The Cryptid Zoo: Doyarchu
The Legend of the Dobharchú (Water hound)