The British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club

Irish Lake Monsters

Artist's depiction of the monster of Lough Ree. Copyright Orbis Books.

Testimonies from priests and other members of the cloth regarding an unknown water creature have been legion at Loch Ness, but the great Scottish loch is not alone when it comes to sightings by men of God. In 1960 three priests were indulging in a bit of relaxation at Lough Ree in County Meath, Ireland when their enjoyable afternoon of fishing and stimulating conversation came to an abrupt end. Fathers Richard Quigly, Matthew Burke and Daniel Murray almost dropped their rods in shock when one of the priests spotted a large black animal swimming up the lough a mere 100 yards away. For a second the creature sank below the surface then rose again in the form of a loop. A quick approximate measurement by the priests left them with the impression that the animal was six feet long from its head to the end of the coil.

The head and neck were only 18 inches long compared to some of the other animals in lakes elsewhere. Hardly a giant, but unusual enough to be distinguished from known local inhabitants like otters, the animal was certainly something the priests were completely unfamiliar with. The subsequent testimony of the three men of the cloth was covered in the Irish newspapers and treated with a fair degree of respect in view of their lucid and straightforward retelling of the event. After their sighting the priests went to visit long-time lough resident Colonel Harry Rice who had written about the possibility of a monster in the local rivers in his book Thanks for the Memory. Sir Harry thought of the monster as a legend until he was confronted by the most convincing accounts from the priests' own lips.

The sighting was a catalyst for others to come forward with their own stories of beastly encounters in Lough Ree. In rapid succession a postman, a recreational fisherman, two English tourists and two net fishermen came forward to describe the anomaly that was making its presence felt in Lough Ree. Precedence for there being a monster in Lough Ree was already well established from ancient times. St Mochua of Balla's biography contains a reference to a stag, which took refuge from a group of hunters on an island in the lough, and describes how none of the hunters dared follow for fear of being devoured by a fierce monster said to live therein. The Saint himself is supposed to have emulated his Scottish counterpart St Columba by bringing a monster in one of the Connaught loughs to submission.

Further accounts of the monsters known as Pooka and Piaste have surfaced and several have been the objects of attempts to capture the beasts. Enter the dashing Captain Lionel Leslie the head of two expeditions which set out to secure a specimen. Captain Leslie and his team set five pounds of gelignite in Loch Fadda in October 1965, the site of an incident of monster surfacing in 1954. Miss Georgina Carberry and several companions were out fishing when a long-necked monstrosity swam at them with an open mouth which appeared to be white on the inside. Wisely stepping back, the observers watched as the animal dived, then resurfaced and displayed two humps behind the head and neck. The experience so distressed Miss Carberry that the poor woman suffered from nightmares for weeks after. In a bid to bring the creature to the surface Captain Leslie and his crew detonated the gelignite and within seconds a large blackish object rose from the depths making a terrific disturbance on the lough. The enthusiastic splashing meant it was impossible to make out details from the object, but there was no doubt it was very real indeed.

Two years later Captain Leslie's team stretched a net across the lough in a bid to snare the beastie, but nothing was caught. They expedition moved onto Lough Nahooin where another monster had appeared weeks earlier to farmer Stephen Coyne. The lough is really nothing more than a pond approximately the size of a soccer field, so it would seem catching a beast there should have been a piece of cake.

Two members of this team were experienced monster hunters from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. David James who founded the Bureau and Dr Roy Mackal who had helped to raise funds for the Bureau as well as inventing the famed biopsy dart for extracting monster tissue samples were recruited to lend their expertise. Despite this aggregation of distinguished hunters and a variety of very useful pieces of monster attracting equipment the beast refused to show and the affair was a failure. More Loch Ness researchers were invited to join the 1969 expedition which covered three loughs: Nahooin, Shanakeever and Auna in a curtain of netting. The nets were constantly catching on water plants as they were being dragged and the weather began to play up so once again the mission was not accomplished.

In the summer of 2006 a BCSCC field trip took place at Loughs Shanakeever and Auna, in Connemara, County Galway. Having read of the efforts of Captain Leslie, James and Mackal, our investigators elected to look at the practicalities of how a classic lake monster could possibly survive in these lakes. We had been apprised of the relatively small sizes of the loughs which are less than half a mile apart. However, nothing prepared us for just how small the loughs were when we arrived. To be generous, these loughs are nothing more than glorified ponds and how it could be conceived that a classic lake monster lived in them is imponderable.

Lough Shanakeever

When we arrived, the loughs were being fished by anglers who seemed completely oblivious to the monster legend. A grayish object had been seen in Lough Shanakeever by a farmer named Tommy Joyce, sometime in the 1960’s and Air Commodore Kort of the Royal Netherlands Air Force had claimed to have seen a creature with a pointed back in Lough Auna in 1969. Coyne’s described his creature as looking like the back of a foal and on having seen how small Lough Shanakeever is, that is probably what he actually saw. In assessing the opinions of the other witnesses to Air Commodore Kort’s sighting in 1969, we note that some witnesses thought the object might have been a fish while others said they thought the object was a female otter swimming with two of its young on its chest.

Some have argued that Lough Auna is too far away from the sea for large otters to have made their way into its waters, but it actually is not a huge distance from the town of Clifden which happens to be located right by the sea. Clifden is just ten minutes or less from the loughs and it is perfectly conceivable that a mammal that is adapted to living on land could easily have to come to live for a time in this lough. From perusing the sightings record, it is possible to deduce that the creatures inhabiting Loughs Auna and Shanakeever were no more than otters in transit. In fact the sightings in the entire Connemara area – including Loughs Nahooin and Fadda - tend toward a mammalian animal rather than a classic serpentine creature that is reported from many lakes the world over.

Lough Auna

The otter theory is a plausible one and an oversized otter may also be the animal behind the legend of the Dobhar-chu which is said to be an aquatic animal like a sleek hound. A dobhar-chu was alleged to responsible for the death of Grace McLoughlin in the 18th century and the dispatching of this beast by the poor woman’s husband makes for exciting reading. McLoughlin’s grave actually depicts an image of the dobhar-chu, thus adding a dash of credibility to the legend.

The BCSCC also investigated another nameless lough by the village of Renvyle which is adjacent to the sea. We came to know about this lough from a conversation we had with the owners of a guesthouse in Tully. They said that some years ago, visitors had claimed to have seen an unknown creature in the lough, but no one had seen it since. The guesthouse owners were like many Irish people we met on our travels who expressed incredulity at the notion of there being unknown lake creatures in Ireland. They looked at us as if we had just told them that the moon was made of green cheese. We ultimately investigated the nameless lough and concluded that as it was just mere yards from the sea, anything from a seal to an otter could have gotten into the lough and if one was not familiar with the animals, one could easily mistake them for an unknown creature. There was certainly nothing stirring in the lough when we examined it.

The BCSCC has only just scratched the surface of the Irish Lake monster mystery, but like our own intrepid member Nick Sucik - who has also explored bodies of water in Ireland – we will return to Ireland to take on the larger Loughs such as Ree, Muckross, Derg and Brin who have their own very interesting lake cryptid legends.