Monday, 16 September 2013

The Otter and The Dobhar chu.

Now following on the theme of water monsters here is a bit of folklore and a few stories about the:

Dobhar Chu. Irish Water Hound.

Although Irish folklore is littered with legendary tales of terrible water creatures there are few as scary as the Dobhar Chu (do-var coo). Considered by some to be the Irish equivalent of The Loch Ness monster the Dobhar Chu is a mythical creature that has lived in the Lakes of Ireland for thousands of years.

The name Dobhar Chu is Gaelic and translates to "water hound." The nickname for this creature — Irish Crocodile — may arise from legends about its huge and ferocious appetite and its speed in and out of the water. It’s thought to be about seven feet long and carnivorous. Some think it was an amphibious predator, half wolf, half fish that lived in Ireland’s lakes and rivers. It is known for its ferocious appetite and love of human flesh.

There are usually two of these creatures and when one is killed its mate will swim up from the depths of the lake and avenge the killing by pursuing its attacker, killing him and often eating him.  This happens because when the Dobhar Chu is about to die it gives off an eerie high pitched whistle to warn its mate.

There have been a number of accounts written over the years concerning encounters with the Dobhar Chu and one account is mentioned in a poem about a woman who was killed by the beast in the eighteenth century.

Roderick O’Flaherty, in his book, A Description of West Connaught wrote about a man’s encounter with what he called the Irish crocodile. The man was on the shore of Lough Mask when he saw the head of a beast swimming in the water. He thought it was an otter. The creature seemed to look at him. Swimming underwater it reached land and grabbed the man by his elbow and dragged him into the lake. The man took his knife from his pocket and stabbed it, which scared the animal away. It was about the size of a greyhound, had slimy black skin and appeared to be hairless.

Old people who know the lake believe that Irish crocodiles live there. They reminisced about a man who was walking with his dog, who encountered one. There was a struggle with the pair against the lake monster when the creature finally went away. When the waters receded after a long period of time, they found the beast’s corpse in a cave.

Another story concerns a couple who lived on the shores of Lough Mask

Grace Connolly was washing clothes at the edge of a lake when she was attacked by a Dobhar-Chu (the custom at the time was that a woman retains her maiden name after marriage).  Her husband, Terence Mcloughlan hearing her cries grabbed a spear he used for fishing and rushed to help. By the time he got to her, she was dead and the Dobhar-Chu was still there standing near her body.

Mcloughlin killed her attacker who screamed before it died, summoning its mate who rose up from the waters of the lake. Mcloughlan jumped on his horse to evade the beast but he soon realised that his horse couldn’t outrun it. He dismounted and ducked behind a wall. As the beast hurled over the wall, he killed it by driving his spear through its underbelly. There is a tombstone near Kinlough that bears a carved illustration of a large otter, impaled by a spear, held by a hand. The first name appears as Grace, but the last one is illegible due to the ravages of the weather. The date on the tombstone is 1722. So it would appear that the grave of Grace Connolly actually exists. If you wish to see it it’s located in Conwall cemetery in the townland of Drummans which is near to KinLough.

 Also and less well known, both the Dobhar Chu and Mcloughlin’s horse are buried in Co. Sligo, not far from Cashelgarron stone fort where they were both killed.

Another report was recorded by Miss Walkington in the 1896 edition of The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Miss Walkington described it as being ‘half-wolfdog and half-fish’. A few months afterward Mr. H. Chicester Hart responded to Miss Walkington’s letter. He said that he heard rumors about a gruesome creature called the Dobhar Chu which is said to be king of all lakes and father of all otters.

The creature is believed to live in many lakes around Ireland. Sraheens Lough, on Achill Island, in County Mayo is where the largest number of, as yet, unsubstantiated modern sightings in Ireland have been. Apparently, a small population of Dobhar Chu live in Sraheens Lough, though it is believed that they are migratory, not living in the lake all the year.

Many sightings have been documented down through the years. Most recently in 2003 Irish Artist Sean Corcoran and his wife claim to have witnessed a Dobhar-Chú on Omey Island in Connemara, County Galway. In his description the large dark creature made a haunting screech, could swim fast and had orange flipper like feet.

“The creature,” reports Corcoran, “swam the width of the lake from west to east in what seemed like a matter of a few seconds.” Corcoran concludes that it finally leapt onto a huge boulder, and before disappearing gave “the most haunting screech”.

So be careful when swimming in Lough Mask????


There is even a religious link to the Dobhar Chu. The first sighting of the Loch Ness monster was said to have happened in the seventh century and it was by St. Columba the Irish missionary. He was said to have challenged and overcome the monster, by using his spiritual powers Columba miraculously saved a man who was being eaten by Nessie.  This story was to give birth to another myth, that tells us that it was for this reason that Nessies offspring came to inhabit the lakes of Ireland to take revenge on the Irish people and avenge St Columba’s actions.

As a matter of interest the modern Irish word for an Otter is Dobhar Chu although Madra Uisce is also used.  The Dobhar Chu may be a relative of the Giant Otter, these are known to grow to over 6 feet in length and can weigh up to eighty pounds. They are carnivorous and have been known to attack human adults and have been recorded at swimming at speeds that exceed nine miles an hour.  They communicate using a variety of sounds depending on the circumstances however if they sense danger they emit a high piercing screech to warn their mate. So fact or fiction, I’ll let you decide.

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