Saturday, 28 January 2017

Black Puma Pelts for a Few Bawbees

Black panthers and pumas have been roaming Northern Ireland’s countryside since the mid-1990s. They’re very real, say the authorities, and were released by a mysterious collector. He’s been at this for some time, if there’s any truth in this story from 1937.
The Whig’s editor questioned the story because there were no reports of the cat’s “depredations.” Today, when we may have as many as seven big cats here, there are very few reports of depredations. That doesn’t stop the PSNI and the USPCA believing the cats are still out there.
It was only a few days ago that we heard rumour of a Black Puma having been shot in Co. Armagh – an incredulous rumour be it said, but curiosity caused us to make some inquiries. The story is that the animal was shot out in the open, then skinned and the skin sent off to Glasgow, from whence came the determination of species and a certain cash payment for a very fine pelt – something in the neighbourhood of three pounds.
So far so good – very good for him who slayed the animal – but the point arises as to how an American wild cat came to be wandering about in Co. Armagh, and why none of its depredations had been reported? We know there is a Black Puma in the Belfast Zoo, and a more wicked looking creature it would be difficult to find, though at the same time he is not unhandsome. Being safely behind bars he could not be the Co. Armagh animal, and nobody in the county had ever heard of anyone keeping a captive B.P. as a pet. However, there he was, but, strange to relate, there are no stories of sheep killing or dog slaughter: a puma has to live, and one may be quite sure he would speedily and frequently find his prey. Well, he simply did not, and the identity of the animal (unfortunately now unsupported by any tangible evidence) topple to the ground. There is little doubt that the victim was simply a good old black tomcat which had gone wild, as this undependable feline frequently does. On such occasions cats become larger, fiercer, and of finer coat, especially in winter; it is merely a case of reversion to type.
We have known of many such cats – big handsome fellows, living chiefly on field mice and birds. There were a couple of which we retain a lively recollection that lived in the innermost recesses of a store in a fishmonger’s shop. Curiously enough, they never ate the fish or trussed fowl, preferring to exist by their own prowess among the rat and mice population; pretty good proof of their reversion.
What is difficult to understand in the case of the Armagh “Black Puma” is any Scot parting with quite a few “bawbees” for the pelt of an Irish tomcat! Strange, but seemingly true.
  • Belfast Telegraph, 25 September 2003
  • Northern Whig, 12 March 1937

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Baffling Lights at the Boxer's House

The following story appeared in the Northern Whig on 30 March 1936. I like it because, though it's no Amityville Horror, I feel it perfectly illustrates the Irish determination to get out there and experience the weirdness - whatever it is - as it's happening. 
Aughamullan, which is on the shores of Lough Neagh, and the most populous townland in Dungannon Union, has become a centre of attraction by reason of the fact that in a house, now vacant, mysterious lights appear nightly.
When a “Northern Whig” representative visited the farmstead neighbours spoke with awe of the strange happenings.
James Herron, the nearest resident, said the former owner, Michael Quinn, who resided alone, visited his house about a fortnight ago and got a bag of turf which he carried home. Mr Herron’s son, Patrick, accompanied the old man, who was suffering from a severe cold, to the end of the laneway leading to the house. Next morning, when passing, he heard moans from inside the door of the farmhouse. He found Quinn lying, still clutching the bag of turf, and the old man died a few hours later. After the funeral lights appeared nightly at the two front windows, and seemed to move from the kitchen to the room and back again. He had seen the lights in the middle of the night.
At this point the story was taken up by Bernard McStravock, the local blacksmith, who is also a neighbour. Bernard said upwards of 400 people now assembled nightly to watch the lights. On Friday night several young men volunteered to search the house. As they approached the lights went out and a thorough search inside was made without discovering the cause. When they went back to the road the lights again appeared, and were brighter than ever.
A passing motorist put forward the theory that the lights were the reflex from the lighted windows of neighbouring houses, and all windows were blinded with meal bags, but it made no difference.
McStravock added that he was not personally uneasy about the lights, but the womenfolk were becoming alarmed. Quinn, he said, was a sturdily built man, had always loved a “scrap,” and had been in the ring in several parts of England and Scotland in his earlier days.
McStravock and others accompanied our representative to the house, which is mud-walled with thatched roof. The furniture is still there, and the kitchen dresser contains the usual quantity of delph and ornaments.
On Saturday night over 500 people again congregated at the little farm, which contains four-and-a-half acres. At 10pm, a bright light suddenly appeared in the kitchen window and resembled a spotlight. It was seen to move to the other front window, suggesting someone going about the rooms. Neighbours again thoroughly searched the building without result.
  • Northern Whig, 30 March 1936

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Phantom Plane Crash

At about midday on Thursday, 31 October 1935, Mr A Moore, of Hillside, the Rock, Newcastle, County Down, was at home when he spotted an aeroplane flying towards the coastal town from the direction of St John’s Point. He pointed it out to his daughter. And as they watched together, it crashed into the sea.
According to the Northern Whig: “Suddenly it quivered twice, rose, and turned towards Newcastle as though the pilot was seeking to gain height to reach land, and then abruptly nose-dived into the gale-lashed waters.”
Mr Moore called out to his son. They examined the sea through binoculars, but could not see the aeroplane. Mr Moore then contacted the police.
The police contacted Killough coastguard station, as it was closest to where the plane appeared to have crashed, who contacted St John’s Lighthouse; but they hadn’t seen the crash. Eventually, the volunteer-in-charge at Newcastle coastguard station was contacted. He ordered out the lifeboat.
According to the volunteer-in-charge: “It was out for more than five hours, returning at 6:20pm. Not the least sign of any wreckage or anything else was found.”
Despite a gale and heavy seas, the lifeboat was aided in its search by two Scottish fishing boats. And though they searched until it was dark, they too found nothing.
Mr Moore and his children weren’t the only witnesses to the crash. According to an account received by Killough coastguard station, the plane appeared to have come from Belfast, and passed within a few miles of their station. However, no one at the station saw or heard it.
It was the same at St John’s Lighthouse. No one there saw or heard the plane, despite two of the crew being at the top of the lighthouse cleaning the windows at the time of the crash.
In some accounts, the witnesses reported seeing smoke and flames before the plane crashed.
Unfortunately, there’s no record of where these other witnesses were positioned. When a coastguard made house-to-house enquiries along the shore, from St John’s Point to Ballykinlar, no one recalled seeing or hearing the plane – or the crash.
The day after the crash, an aerial search was carried out. Nothing was found. And a police investigation found there were no missing aircraft.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a simple case of misidentification, but there were a number of eerily similar incidents in the 1930s.
At 3:40pm on Wednesday, 10 June 1931, the sound of a struggling aeroplane engine drew the attention of holidaymakers in Poole, Dorset. After it had their attention, it crashed into the sea. A number of witnesses reported the incident to the harbour master, who later said: “All the eye-witnesses were positive that the machine actually entered the sea. I at once went by speed boat to the spot they indicated, and searched a wide area. I only abandoned the attempt to trace the ‘plane when the heavy seas began to swamp the boat. I found no wreckage at all. The machine was a two-seater biplane, and was meeting with very heavy weather when it was seen from the beach.” Following the search, the aerodromes were contacted; but no aircraft were missing.
 At 2:30pm on Wednesday, 14 October 1936, two men reported seeing an aeroplane dive into the North Sea, about 1 ½ miles from the village of Lybster, in Caithness, Scotland. A search of the area was carried out by boat, but no wreckage or evidence of a crash was found. As well as the sea search, Wick coastguards contacted the Scottish aerodromes, but all of their aircraft were accounted for.
On 29 October 1937, a Brighton publican watched as an aeroplane in flames dived into the sea, about three miles south of the Palace Pier, and disappeared “in a cloud of smoke.” He took a boat to where he believed the plane entered the water. He did find an oil patch. Subsequent checks by Shoreham Airport failed to find any missing aircraft.
An incident on Thursday, 15 September 1932, was a little stranger. The crew of the St Nicholas Lightship, based off Lowestoft, Sussex, saw a plane come down in the North Sea. According to the master of the lightship, the plane sat on the water for a time with its engines running before it exploded. The explosion was followed by the appearance of two white lights.
A lifeboat and a number of tugs arrived and carried out a search of the area, but nothing was found. Needless to say, no aircraft were reported missing.
  • Belfast News-Letter, 11 June 1931, 15 September 1932, 15 October 1936 & 10 October 1937
  • Northern Whig, 1 November 1935