Puma or St Bernard?
January 1999 began with Northern Ireland’s police force - at that time the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) - reporting that a “large puma-like cat” had been seen on two occasions near Aughnacloy, a small village in County Tyrone.
According to an RUC spokesman, the “beast-like animal,” which was black, 3 ft high and 5 ft long, had been seen in the Carnteel Road area at 7pm on Saturday, 12 December 1998; and at 4pm on Tuesday, 29 December 1998.
Soon after these sightings appeared in the press, more witnesses came forward. One of those was Roy White, an Aughnacloy farmer who had spotted a black “puma-like” animal on his land on Friday, 1 January 1999.
Mr White’s description of the animal matched the earlier descriptions: it was black, and 3 ft high and 5 ft long. However, he was able to add that the “cat” had green eyes.
But Mr White had even more to add. Two weeks earlier, his stepson had had a very close encounter while in an outbuilding on the farm, putting out food for the farm’s cats. “He heard a noise and turned around and there was this giant animal with a long tail and a mane,” said Mr White. “He grabbed it by the tail to try to get it outside and it went to bite him.”
On the same day that the Belfast Newsletter reported the above story, the Belfast Telegraph reported that the RUC were confident that there was no puma, that witnesses had actually seen a St Bernard that had been on the run after it escaped from its owner in Beragh.
To bolster this theory, they revealed that in the Sixmilecross area of Tyrone, a number of witnesses had reported seeing a brown and beige animal “which appeared dirty and unkempt.”
According to a police spokesman: “As he wasn’t wearing his customary keg of brandy round his neck we can understand how there may have been mistaken identity.”
The RUC spokesman offered no explanation as to why so many witnesses had reported seeing a black “puma-like” animal – that may have had green eyes.
Belfast Newsletter, 2 January 1999 & 4 January 1999
Belfast Telegraph, 4 January 1999