Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Copeland Island Sea Serpent Hoax

In the first week of September 1908, a sea serpent was making frequent appearances off the County Down and County Antrim coasts. It generated some excitement amongst us excitable civilians; and “certain scientific gentlemen” had offered a reward for the capture of the creature.
Many witnesses were writing to the papers with their accounts of fleeting and distant encounters with the sea serpent. But this one, received by The Belfast Telegraph, was a little different.
Before you read on, you should remember that, as The Belfast Telegraph stated when it published the letter, “The writer of the letter is alone responsible for the grammar and spelling throughout.”
Dear Sir
On Saturday the whole island greatly excited when it became known that a large creature, some calls it a fish an some calls it a snake, got stranded in the shoal on Horse Point. John an myself were after having a walk an before we nowed where we were, the water in the shoal commence to be lashed about at a terrible rate as if a whale was in it an wanted out but could not get as the tide had gone down. Him an me went down close to get a better view when we were nearly knocked speechless at what we saw. It started swimming up an down at a terrible rate when it saw us, but it looked that big we were nearly afeared to go near, of course I seen when the tide would rise again it would get away so I sent John home for the gun and to bring the boat round. It took us all our time to kill the beast an it was only after 4 shots he stopped kicking. We then grappled him but try as we might we could not get him to budge so John went and got two other men and the pony and among us all we beached him at last. Dear Sir, he is most awful to look at an a terrible size an length. We got a measuring tape an a 2 foot rule an measured him.
He is nearly 30 feet long and all scaly an about 6 feet round at his upper fins and tapes away to about ½ a foot at his tail. He has 3 big fins two on the back and one on the belly, the tail is like a big fan. His mouth, nose and eyes are after the style of a conger eel, only about 5 times as big an I am sure by the size of it he could swallow a young pig. We have him now beached high and dry and tonight perhaps some of the gents in Belfast might like to look at him or take him away to the museum as I don’t think the like of him was ever saw before in these parts. I am an old man now and have lived here all my life an have saw some queer fishes, Porpoises, Herring, Hoggs, Congers an all the rest, but never any come near this. Any of us will take you over in the boats if you signal from donaghadee pier but if he is not taken away by the end of the week we will have to bury him for feared of the smell.
Respectfully yours,
P.S. I would of wrote yesterday only it was too wild to come ashore.
Copeland Island lies at the mouth of Belfast Lough, where many of the sea serpent sightings had been made. But the editor of The Belfast Telegraph was more than a little suspicious.
Suspicious or not, he sent a reporter. Shortly after arriving on the island the reporter was able to establish two things: there was no one on the island called Andy Emerson; and there was no captured sea serpent.
  • The Belfast Telegraph, 10 September 1908
  • The Irish Times, 11 September 1908

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Phantom City

For centuries, phantom islands have appeared off the coast of Ireland. Hy Brasil is the most famous, but there are others – such as Kilstuitheen and Tír Huidi.
Less frequently, towns and cities – rather than whole islands - have appeared.
In 1864, a city “full of flame, smoke and apparitions of people running to and fro” appeared in Galway Bay. And a walled town appeared at Youghal, County Cork in October 1796, returning in March 1797 and June 1801.
The following, relatively recent, sighting took place off the west coast of Ireland on Sunday, 9 August 1908.
From Ballyconnelly, a town on the wild Connemara coast, some miles beyond Clifden, comes a strange tale which reminds one of the Spectre Island of which Gerald Griffin sang. Last Sunday evening a small town, well studded over with houses, was observable on the sea about six or seven miles westward of Ballyconnelly. Hundreds gathered to witness the enchanting spectacle, which they state was composed of houses of different sizes and varying styles of architecture. Here and there was a dismantled dwelling, as if even this strange land of sunshine on the crest of the western ocean had been the scene of misery and devestation. The crowd gazing anxiously out on the ocean from the shore, wondered if their eyes had not betrayed them, but they had all seen the vision in the broad daylight only a few miles from the shore, and they regard the legend of “Hy Brazil” as no longer an imaginative story from the region of fables. [1]
  1. This incident also appears in New Lands. Fort has the incident taking place one week earlier, on 2 August 1908, and lasting for three hours. His source is Country Queries and Notes.
  • Charles Fort, The Complete Books of Charles Fort, (Dover Publications, New York, 1974)
  • Roderic O’Flaherty, A Chorographical Description of West or H-Lar Connaught, (The Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1846)
  • The Irish Times, 15 August 1908

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Strange Nocturnal Visitations in County Down

After reading Nigel Watson’s UFOs of the First World War, I felt compelled to check for additional Irish sightings from this period. I found a couple of ho hum mystery aircraft sightings. But delving back a little further, I found this: 

For some time past the peasantry who occupy the Bright hills near Downpatrick have been thrown into a state of excitement and alarm owing to the nightly appearance of luminous flames, which travel in different directions through the air. 
The lights, which are of a large size, have been attributed to different causes. Some theories have been put forward that the peculiar lights were auroral phenomena, the forerunner of some impending disaster. 
The news of these wandering lights has spread abroad, and hundreds of people from Downpatrick, Killough, Ardglass, and the neighbouring towns gather at the historic Castle of Bright to witness the marvelous sights. Curiously enough, since the King’s death, many anxious eyes have watched in vain for the nocturnal visitations. 
The lights, which are oval-shaped, were first observed in a field in Ballygilbert, along a rampart which forms one of its sides. For several nights they travelled in different directions around the field, and seemed as if confined to its environs. 
By this time interest became acute, and later hundreds gathered to the scene of observation to behold the lights travelling with lightning rapidity in different directions over a radius of several miles, to the terror of beholders. After travelling through space for almost an hour the lights would ultimately meet, the concussion causing the emission of bright sparks, which shot up into the air. 
Up to the present the cause of the mysterious lights is unknown. It is difficult to realise the commotion that they have caused, and the enormous volume of interest manifested by the inhabitants of these districts, who have watched the weird lights with consternation and surprise.
Source: The Irish Times, 18 May 1910

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Wrath of the Weasels

As we now know, weasels [1] have funerals for their dead (see ‘A Weasel Funeral’). In 1953, Irish Times columnist J. Ashton Freeman asked readers if they had witnessed this phenomenon. The following letter came from Mary McAuliffe, of Newmarket, County Cork.
“Dear Sir, Myself and my sisters go every evening for the cow, about ten minutes’ walk, and near a gate leading to a cornfield. We used to sit down near the gate and listen to the birds singing. As we were nearing the place last Sunday we saw a dead weasel on the road.
“We were getting a stick to turn him over to examine him, when out came five big weasels, and dragged the dead weasel into the hedge. We stood, and as we passed the weasels followed us a few yards. So we ran.
“Daddy said he thought the weasels must have thought that we had killed the other weasel, but it must be that a car killed him. We got a great fright, but saw no weasels since on our way for the cow.”
And what did Ashton Freeman make of Mary’s story?
“I believe every word of this, and I’ll tell you why. No child who was inventing a story, and had heard of the so-called weasel’s funeral would have stopped at the point where the letter does. No, a false account would have finished off with full funeral rites.”
But are weasels really capable of vengeance. Mrs Clark of Ballina, County Mayo, believed so. According to her letter:
“… some men were cutting a meadow one day when they found some young stoats and killed them. Some time later, one of the men observed an old stoat come up and spit into a can of buttermilk the men had for drinking. The man at once threw away all the buttermilk. He said that had he not seen the stoat spitting into it, and had they drank the milk, they all would have been poisoned.”
Ashton Freeman received a number of letters from children who had received more direct retribution.  In each case, the child had saved a rabbit from a weasel, only for the weasel to return with a gang and set about the child.
But what should you do if you find yourself on a weasel hit list? Strangely, we must turn to Oscar Wilde’s mother (aka Lady Jane Francesca Wilde) for advice.
“Weasels are spiteful and malignant, and old withered witches sometimes take this form. It is extremely unlucky to meet a weasel the first thing in the morning; still it would be hazardous to kill it, for it might be a witch and take revenge. Indeed one should be very cautious about killing a weasel at any time, for all the other weasels will resent your audacity, and kill your chickens when an opportunity offers. The only remedy is to kill one chicken yourself, make the sign of the cross solemnly three times over it, then tie it to a stick hung up in the yard, and the weasels will have no more power for evil, nor the witches who take their form, at least during the year, if the stick is left standing; but the chicken may be eaten when the sun goes down.”
1. It should be noted that - to the best of my knowledge - there are no weasels in Ireland. However, in many parts of the country, particularly in rural areas, stoats were - and still are - referred to as weasels.
1. The Irish Times, 11 July 1953
2. Lady Wilde, Legends, Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, (Dover, New York, 2006)