Monday, 29 August 2016

Dirigible or Celestial Visitant?

At 7pm on Friday, 6 May 1910, some fishermen working on Doagh Island, County Donegal saw what they believed to be a foreign steamer coming from the North Atlantic. The “steamer,” which was blueish-grey, was moving quickly towards the mainland – about a quarter of a mile from their position.
The fishermen, believing it was going to crash, followed it. But they didn’t find a crash site where the craft had made landfall. No. The craft was floating over the land, moving “with a dipping motion, at an average of about 20 feet above sea level.”
The fishermen were now close enough to get a better look at the object. They described it as “being in the form of a torpedo boat, but larger and broader, and carrying with it a steam-like vapour which prevented detection of its exact shape.”
The object headed towards the townland of Legacurry. As it passed over the beach, an explosion was heard. Later, three boats were found to have been badly damaged. Though no one saw how the damage happened, the mystery craft was blamed.
The object continued in the direction of Malin town. As it neared the town, another explosion was heard and steam was seen rising from a field. There were cows in the field and one was found to have been badly injured. Again, the strange craft was blamed.
In total, the mystery craft covered travelled 10 miles over land.
But what was it?
“Coastguards, to whom the affair had been reported, fancy the object may have been a dismantled dirigible, but the country people hold to the view that it was a mysterious celestial visitant.”
The above story was taken from The Dublin Daily Express. The same incident was reported – almost word for word - in The Irish Times. The Times did add that the object was believed to be “in some way connected with the appearance of Halley’s comet," and that it had also visited Culdaff Bay before travelling back out to sea.
The Dundalk Examiner, however, despite continually referring to Legacurry as Legaburry, really put some meat on the bones of this story.
Importantly, the paper described the sounds the object made. For example, as it neared Legacurry, “the residents of the village, hearing deafening noise overhead, rushed out of their houses in a state of consternation. It is stated that the noise did not resemble thunder so nearly as it did the roar of a huge waterfall.”
According to the Examiner, the explosion at Legacurry, as reported by The Irish Times and The Dublin Daily Express, was followed by “a dull thud, as if of a falling substances.” Later it was found that “part of a mud bank had been furrowed as if with a gigantic plough for over twenty yards.”
And when the object reached Malin, the people there described the noise it made as “a tremendous sound like that of a violent hail storm.”
In terms of what the craft was, the Examiner was firmly with the coastguards, who believed that the object “is one of the great dirigibles that were some time ago lost in the North Sea.” According to the Examiner, a dirigible’s trailing anchor could have been responsible for the “ploughing” on the mud bank and the damage to the boats.
Not everyone was buying it. The Examiner account ends: “The fishing population speak of the visitation as being of quite an unearthly description, and pray they may be spared a recurrence of it.”
  • The Dublin Daily Express, 11 May 1910
  • The Irish Times, 14 May 1910
  • The Dundalk Examiner, 14 May 1910

Monday, 15 August 2016

The Fairy Hurlers of M___

Hurling, played with a stick called a hurley (a cam├ín in Irish) and a ball (a sliotar), is about 3,000 years old. 
Though it’s the national game of Ireland, Lady Wilde has recorded that the fairies hate the game “and they often try to put an end to them by some evil turn.”
However, according to a letter in the Irish Times in November 1891, there's at least one place in Ireland where this isn’t true.
The following tale may appear very strange, but it is, notwithstanding the doubts some may express, an authentic fact. I was sitting one evening in a tradesman’s shop, and amongst other topics the conversation turned to hurling. We discussed the merits of the various matches we had heard of, and were unanimous in declaring the hurling club of M___ as unrivalled by any other in the annals of the game. I was soon told that the dexterity attained by those players in the use of the “hurley” was due more to the help of the fairies than to any special superiority of their own. Now this was a startling hypothesis to a disbeliever in ghosts and fairies, but yet everyone in this place can tell you this story. It is about two years since a great match was held between M___ and another club not a hundred miles from where I write. A great number of spectators were assembled to see the play, and ranged themselves around the square inside where the hurling was to go on. The players were on the ground, and were preparing for the fray, when the attention of all was diverted by hearing a number of boys shouting out at the top of their voices – “Look, look, who are they,” and more to the same effect. All the sightseers rushed to the ditch, and at the distance of about two hundred yards saw a number of men – and diminutively small ones too – come trooping over one of the ditches of an adjacent field. Breathlessly the multitude watched their elfish proceedings as they went through all the formula of the game. Some of them wore a dress the exact counterpart of the M___ hurlers, others wore the dress of the M___’s opponents. At last the fairy game commenced, and after continuing for five minutes with the usual varying fortunes of the games of opposition, suddenly those in the M___ dress by one coup swept their opponents before them, and then with a fierce rush swept the ball through the goal, when, like the fata morgana the whole scene melted away, leaving the speechless on-lookers breathless with wonder. Then arose such a buzz of excitement as had never been heard there before. All agreed in declaring the players to be the fairy hurlers of M___, who appeared thus to predict the victory of the party who they had mysteriously come to represent. Then the match of the day came, off and true to the fairy prophecy, the M___ hurlers won the day. It has always been the same from the memory of the oldest inhabitant. The fairy hurlers always come to foretell the victories of the club who they so generously patronize, and a sorrowful day it will be at M___ when the fairy hurlers come to predict the downfall of the champions whose faithful prophets they have ever proved themselves to be.  --- W.F.K.
1. Lady Wilde, Legends, Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, (Dover, New York, 2006)
2. The Irish Times, 28 November 1891

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Blue Baboon and The Leprechaun Dressed in White

On Monday, 20 April 1908, the following story appeared in the Irish Times:
In North Westmeath, especially Delvin district, an odd story was told on Friday. It runs that a strange creature has been observed for some days in the district of Killough, which is between Killucan and Delvin. Several persons, mostly children from the school, are reported to have seen it, and they describe it as a little creature resembling a man of dwarfish proportions clad in a red jacket, and suiting the traditional description of a leprechaun. The most peculiar thing about the matter is that it is stated that as soon as one of the school children called the attention of a comrade to the creature the informant ceased to see it, whilst the informed could clearly observe it. The reported appearance has caused much conjecture and not a little excitement in the district. Many are inclined to regard the creature as a monkey escaped from the care of some travelling organ grinder, and if it can be observed at close quarters it may prove to be such. However, the more fanciful are inclined to invest it with a far more mysterious and uncanny character.
According to a reader in Ballymahon, there was indeed a monkey on the loose in Westmeath.
I read in your issue of the 20th inst. an account of a strange appearance which was seen last week by some children and others in South Westmeath. The appearance was that of a small man in a red cloak – in fact what common superstition pictures a ‘leprechaun’ to be. Allow me, through the medium of your paper, to offer a probable solution of the mystery. A week or so ago what is described in the circus posters as a ‘blue baboon’ escaped from a travelling circus and menagerie, which was then in Westmeath. A monkey, and especially a baboon, could easily be mistaken by inexperienced children for a man, even in broad daylight.
Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any other references to an escaped “blue baboon”. But, as plausible as this theory was, it didn’t stop the leprechaun sightings. On Saturday, 16 May, the Irish Times reported:
The mystery grows around the “leprechaun” which is stated to have been seen by several of the school children of Killough, Co. Westmeath. Last week the little creature is reported to have made several appearances in the district, and these are much discussed by the people. It is understood a school teacher has closely questioned the children about the matter, and they adhere to their stories, and declare they have seen the leprechaun and minutely describe its appearance and conduct. On one occasion some of the children pursued it to a moat hard by a churchyard, where it disappeared. Its clothing is described on most of its appearances as that which tradition gives to it, but on one occasion lately it was seen sitting under a hedge. In place of the red and green clothes and grey stockings it was clad altogether in white, and played on a small harp, from which sweet music was called forth by the touch of tiny fingers. The matter has naturally given food for much gossip, wonder, and speculation in the district.
The Irish Times, 20 & 24 April and 16 May 1908