At 6:30am on 14 December 1850, in the parish of Dunboe, County Derry, the family of a “most respectable farmer” watched an unusual brightness above the eastern horizon. And as they watched, “two large vessels of the line” appeared in the brightness.
After a while the ships disappeared, “and the eastern hemisphere became occupied by a grand panoramic representation of two armies approaching in warlike conflict.” As the armies neared each other, an officer from each came forward and engaged in single combat. According to the Northern Whig, “so distinctly visible was the representation, that their actual manoeuvres could be distinguished.”
The entire episode lasted until 8:00am.
Ten years later, on Sunday, 2 September 1860, there was a very similar incident in neighbouring County Donegal. Another family was walking on a hill near Quigley’s Point “when their attention was attracted by a wonderful appearance in the heavens.” In the north, they saw several ships “sailing across the face of the sky from east to west.”
The line of ships appeared to be five miles in length, and they seemed to be “sailing down a river, whose high banks could be made out behind the ships.” Some of the ships were moored close to a “fortress, built on a rock.”
Like the Dunboe event, the Quigley’s Point witnesses were astounded by the clarity of the scene - “sailors pulling at the ropes were made out with ease.” But it was a shorter event, lasting only 30 minutes.
According to the Coleraine Chronicle, these incidents, though “very startling”, were not infrequent along the shores of the northern counties. To illustrate, they recounted an earlier incident.
About twelve years ago we recollect a very curious instance of mirage, which was seen in Lough Foyle [which lies between County Derry and County Donegal]. Some fishermen had been out at night with their nets. The face of the heavens was overcast and black, when the clouds suddenly parted, leaving a bright gap of clear sky in the zenith.
Across this space the astonished fishermen saw some thousands of soldiers pass, rank after rank, and regiment after regiment, and so near did the phenomenon appear that the dress of the officers could be clearly distinguished from that of the men.
It was two hours before the marching ceased, or rather before the clouds closed in, and shut out the scene from view.
- Northern Whig, 31 December 1850
- Coleraine Chronicle, 8 September 1860