Monday, 27 June 2016

A Couple of Sea Monsters

Though surrounded by water, we’re not known for our sea monster. But we’ve had a few.
In early December 1875, an Irish Times reader had a very close encounter with a “most extraordinary monster of the deep” in Fodera, near Loop Head lighthouse, in County Clare.
According to the Times: “Its head and neck resemble a horse, and of a reddish hue; it has short, round ears, and flowing mane, and from the poll extended two branching horns like that of a stag, with eyes glaring and protruding.”
It made towards our witness, who – wisely - immediately moved to a new vantage point, further from the water - and the creature. And not a moment too soon: the creature “rose high out of the water and plunged with such force as to cause the water to fly so far and in such quantities as to drench the observer to the skin, he standing 40 feet back from the water at the time.”
The sighting lasted 40 minutes. At intervals, the beast would rear out of the water, allowing our witness a good look at its form. In addition to its stag and horse-like features, “it was observed to have the tail of a porpoise and two large fins from the shoulders, and oh the breasts were two large fatty lumps, which shook with every motion of the extraordinary creature. It then shaped its course westward, still keeping its head and neck well elevated. Its bulk far exceeded that of the largest porpoise ever seen on the coast.”
At 2pm on Wednesday, 21 June 1899, a very different but no less strange creature appeared off the coast of Cushendall, County Antrim, about a mile out from the village’s beach.
The “monster” was brownish and fifty feet in circumference. It had a head, 12 feet in circumference, that resembled an elephant’s; and two fins that were nine feet in length.
Like everyone else at the beach that day, it appeared to be there to relax, and was unperturbed by the growing crowd of spectators. And after a couple of hours of “floating leisurely about,” it headed out to sea in the direction of Belfast.
But the day could have ended very differently.
Amongst the crowd was a visitor to the area called Andrew Ross, who tried to convince some of the men “to go out armed with rifles and butchers’ knives.” Ross believed that “a little blood-letting at the neck of the monster would paralyse it.”
Fortunately, the local fishermen vetoed Ross’s plan.
The Irish Times, 10 December 1875 and 24 June 1899

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Golden Light Over Belfast

At 8:20pm on Wednesday, 25 October 1967, Stanley Mills spotted a golden light in the sky over Belfast. He was walking along the Knock Road with his friends, Noelene Harry and Joy Lindsay, at the time. And as he pointed out the light, it split into two: a pale green light and a pale orange light.
According to Mills, the lights appeared to be part of a triangular-shaped object. A fast-moving triangular-shaped object. “As we watched, the object was about 500 feet above us, and flying at something like three times that of a normal civilian aircraft – at least 1,000 miles an hour!” he said.
“The lights seemed to merge into a bright golden light again as the object disappeared, giving the impression of spinning or revolving through the sky.
“Before it disappeared we saw a second set of lights at about 300 feet coming on a flight path from north to south directly crossing underneath the first object.”
Within five minutes of their sighting, Mills and his friends were at Knock police station, making a report.
At 8:45pm on the following night, Joe Maguire saw an object “like two saucers on top of each other.” Joe was on the Falls Road, on the other side of the city.
“It was surrounded by square lights with a bright light at the front and a red light underneath,” he said. “It was travelling at a height of about 300 feet and made a fair humming sound.”
The object appeared to land in Falls Park, so Joe went to investigate. He found nothing. Neither did the police when they searched the park later.
Apparently this was Maguire’s second UFO sighting – he’d seen a similar object two months before. But his most recent sighting - and that of Mills, Harry and Lindsay - followed a very heavily publicised incident in England.
At 4:00 am on Tuesday, 24 October, two Devon police officers chased a flying cross in their patrol car. Travelling at 80 miles per hour, they got within 40 yards of the object before it disappeared.
The incident caused quite a stir and prompted the MP for the area, Peter Mills, to table two questions for the Minister of Defence.
(1) In view of the fact that an unidentified flying object has been seen in the Okehampton area, will he make a full statement on the circumstances of the report and what are his plans to deal with a possible recurrence of this flying object?
(2) In view of the fact that a flying object in the Okehampton area was described as a star-shaped cross, larger that a conventional aircraft, will the Minister confirm that this is either one of our own aircraft or an unidentified flying object?
“I think the Minister ought to help clear up this business as to whether or not we are looking at our equipment or machines from another country or, indeed, another planet,” said Mr Mills.
The incident and the publicity it generated triggered a series of similar sightings across the UK. Might it have primed the good people of Belfast to see UFOs? The editorial in the Belfast Newsletter of 25 October 1967 – the day of the Knock Road sighting – provides a clue.
“The report that an unidentified flying object was chased by a police patrol in the south of England last night at speeds of up to 80 miles an hour will make doubting Thomases think again. Although, as ever, the quarry got away, the testimony of two officers, fully familiar with the laws of evidence and skilled in reporting accurately what they see, is a powerful reinforcement of the argument that flying saucers really do exist. In coming forward they are brave men. How many, one wonders, have seen just as much and said nothing – for fear of ridicule?”
Belfast Newsletter, 25 & 26 October 1967
Belfast Telegraph, 26 October 1967

Sunday, 12 June 2016

SOS Mysteries

At 11am on Sunday, 30 March 1958, a radio enthusiast in Rush, County Dublin, heard the following:
“… ship sinking fast. Nobody aboard can swim … Bearing four-and-a-half miles north-east of the Kish lightship …”
The enthusiast contacted the civic guards, who contacted Howth and Clogherhead lifeboats. Within minutes, two lifeboats were in the water.
The distress call had also been picked up by Seaforth radio station – a maritime radio communications station – and a trawler in the English Channel. The trawler notified the maritime radio station in The Hague. Both The Hague and Seaforth alerted all shipping in the Irish Sea.
Soon, two British coasters, a French naval vessel and an Irish Air Corps aircraft joined the lifeboats.
But when they arrived at the location given in the distress call, they found only calm sea and a strange fog bank. There was no sinking ship - and no wreckage.
The searchers concentrated on this fog bank. And though the ships searched “every square inch of it,” they found no evidence that a ship had sank.
The search continued until 4pm, when Howth civic guards issued the following message: “Call off search. Message was hoax.” Seemingly, two 12-year-old boys had got on board a trawler in Howth Harbour and had some fun with the radio.
“This sort of thing happens quite often,” said Dr J E de Courcy-Ireland, honorary secretary of the Dun Laoghaire branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. “Here in Dun Laoghaire we had four calls last year.”
There’s no reason to doubt the hoax explanation for this incident. But the mysterious fog bank at the location given by the boys was quite a coincidence.
Later that same year, there were a couple of incidents that weren’t so readily explained.
On Sunday, 5 October 1958, it was reported [I have no record of how it was reported] that a ship was on fire, 6 or 7 miles east of Tuskar Rock lighthouse. Rosslare lifeboat was launched, but the crew found only darkness when they arrived at the location given.
A ship called Ribble Head was in that area at the time. And four days later, Ribble Head picked up another distress call. It was an SOS in Morse code, repeated three times, with a 45 second dash after each repetition of the message.
Ribble Head attempted to find the origin of the signal, and Land’s End Radio asked all shipping in St George’s Channel and the Irish Sea to keep a lookout.
But nothing was found, and no ships were reported missing.
The Irish Times, 31 March 1958 & 10 October 1958

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Kinawley Meteorite Mystery

On Tuesday, 13 February 2001, at about 6pm, a call was made to the emergency services to report the crash of a small aircraft on Benaughlin Mountain, near Kinawley in County Fermanagh.
Soon, police officers and soldiers were deployed in the area, while a helicopter fitted with heat-seeking equipment searched from the air.
However, nothing was found, and the police were able to establish that all local aircraft were accounted for. The search was called off at 10pm.
The general consensus amongst the emergency services was that the call had been a hoax.
But other’s came forward: people, from both sides of the border, who believed they had seen a plane crash. “I saw a dot at the front and a trail of smoke leading down an angle towards, the mountain. I know what I saw,” said one witness in Kinawley.
And a garda officer in County Cavan said: “A couple has reported seeing something burning in the sky, travelling south in the direction of Kinawley on Tuesday night.”
There was also a report that Erne Hospital in Enniskillen had been put on standby after being notified that there were two passengers on board the plane.
The additional witnesses gave the authorities cause to consider whether they’d been hasty in calling off the search. And so, the search was resumed on Wednesday, 14 February.
But Dr Bill Napier, an astronomer at the Armagh Observatory, was quite confident that the witnesses had seen a meteorite. “It is quite common for people who see a brilliant shooting star to think it has just disappeared behind a hill or something,” he said. “The thing might be 100 miles up. It’s a simple illusion. These things will cross the sky quickly and to the uninitiated they look like some sort of falling aircraft.”
However, Dr Napier was hedging his bets. He also said that he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the witnesses had indeed seen a falling aircraft.
On Friday, 16 February, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the Northern Ireland police force at the time) announced that the search had been called off. No aircraft had been found.
And that was that.
However, ten years earlier, in the same area, there were reports – again from both sides of the border – that a missile had been fired. Witnesses heard an explosion and saw two vapour trails in the sky.
At the time, an army spokesman confirmed that there had been an explosion, and that army helicopters had been operating in the area, but he denied that a missile had been fired.
No further information was given at the time.
The Irish News, 14, 15 & 17 February 2001
Belfast Telegraph (online edition), 14 & 18 February 2001

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The Gaslight Ghost

At midnight each night, in 1950, a ghostly figure would appear on a wall on the side of a house in the centre of Monaghan town.
Without fail, as the Cathedral clock struck twelve and the streetlights were extinguished, the monk-like figure would appear. A crowd would gather and watch, until it disappeared with the first light of dawn.
According to one story, a stone from a “despoiled” monastery had been built into the house, and it was on this stone that the spectral monk appeared.
But there were hundreds of other “explanations” and stories, thanks to a competition run by a local newspaper.
However, the solution to the mystery was soon found. When the streetlights were extinguished at twelve o’clock, one pilot light was left on. This light reflected off a window and cast a shadow of another lamp on to the wall in question. The cowl of this lamp became the monk’s hood.
The Times seemed to lament the loss of such a novel attraction, even though it meant that the people of Monaghan could finally sleep at night.
The Irish Times, 8 April 1950