Literally hundreds of tourists cross Lough Ree, part of the Shannon, every week on cruisers - looking out for shallows and rocks, at the same time enjoying the unspoilt landscapes. Seldom do they give a second thought about what might lurk beneath, watching and waiting ... Ireland's answer to Nessie and Champ - the Lough Ree Monster. Which might just explain what softly bumped against your boat last night.
Lake Monsters - An Irish Tradition
Actually the Lough Ree Monster is not all that unique - Ireland has a tradition of subaquatic creatures that defy rational explanation. While neighboring Scotland seems to have cornered the market for lake monsters in the public imagination, the Irish sightings simply are less well promoted. Where the Scottish tourism industry makes a song and dance about the Loch Ness Monster, Ireland is treating such matters with silence.
But even early manuscripts and especially folklore mention aquatic cryptozoological phenomena like
- Aonbharr - a horse able to travel on land or sea, either a magical steed or a curious mutation;
- the Bledmall - a sea-monster from the deep, mentioned in early narratives;
- the Horse-Eel or Eel-Horse - a huge, snake-like water creature with a mane, thrashing about lakes and streams;
- the Irish Crocodile (no relation to the alligators in New York's sewers);
- the Master Otter - a large breed of otter with magical connotations, Dobharchú being the father of all otters and "King of the Lakes";
- Mermaids and Mermen - especially Liban of Lough Neagh is famous in legend and a rare example of an inland mermaid to boot;
- the multi-eyed Suileach;
- the Water-Horse (each uisce) - a horse living in the sea and known to snack on humans; Saint Feichim of Fore managed to use it as a draught horse.
An honourable mention must go to normal eels - according to folklore they could foretell famine in the west of Ireland by whistling!
Ireland's lakes were often specifically connected to uncanny (and often carniverous) lifeforms. Here are some examples:
- Lough Derg in County Donegal had a monster on its shore, but a conveniently passing Saint Patrick banished it beneath the waves. This lake monster supposedly grew from a hairy worm found in the bones of a dead witch - and was called Caoránach.
- We know considerably less about the monster in Lough Graney ... which appears once every seven years. This reminds us of the similar legend that Lough Sheelin (County Cavan) takes a life every seven years.
- Lough Mask had (or has) the rather elusive Irish Crocodile.
- Gone but also not forgotten is Muidris or Sineach, a monster in Lough Rudraige (County Down), slain by Fergus Mac Leide.
- Lough Swilly in County Donegal finally had the multi-eyed sea-monster Suileach, it was dispatched by Saint Colum Cille.
The oilliphéist (literally "great reptile"), a dragon-like monster that carved out the Shannon to stop Saint Patrick banishing the snakes, is known in legend as well ...
The Lough Ree Monster - Ireland's Nessie?
Even in earliest times rumours about a sub-aquatic monstrosity in Lough Ree were heard. The Life of Saint Mochuda mentions it, helpfully adding that it had devoured a man. Further descriptions were, however, not really forthcoming.
But just by the way - Lough Ree was also reputed to hide an underwater city complete with a cathedral. It is said that a bishop once tried to visit it and never returned. The jury is still out whether he settled, fell victim to an early diving accident or was eaten by the monster.
Interest in the Lough Ree Monster was rekindled in the 1960s, not by spaced-out hippies but by respectable men of the cloth. Several churchmen saw "the monster" - Father Quigly, Father Murray and Father Burke, fishing off Holly Point. The priests were quoted in the "Westmeath Independent" with these words: "It was moving. It went down under the water and came up again in the form of a loop. The length from the end of the coil to the head was 6 feet. There was about 18 inches of head and neck over the water. The head and neck were narrow in comparison to the thickness of a good-sized salmon. It was getting its propulsion from underneath the water, and we did not see all of it."
Jan Sundberg's GUST-Expedition of 2001
In June 2001 an expedition of the Global Underwater Search Team tried to get to the bottom of the monster matter through surface monitoring and a hydrophone. The evidence was inconclusive: A "peculiar sound" and a small (!) object swimming in the lake.
What Could Be in Lough Ree?
Nothing? Well, this might be the arch-sceptics answer, blaming all sightings on environmental conditions, over-active imaginations and/or "a drop of the good stuff". Other, less drastic, explanations might be
- Fish - Both large fishes and groups of fishes could under certain conditions be mistaken for less usual creatures.
- Floating Debris - A considerable number of sights (and "bumps" on boats) may be explained by debris floating near the surface - like uprooted trees.
- Otters - A large otter might well surprise the occasional watcher - up to and including the fabulous Master Otter.
- Seals or Dolphins - While marine mammals may occasionally have reached Lough Ree in the old days, the building of the power station at Ardnacrusha has made this virtually (though not totally) impossible.
Go Monster-Hunting Yourself
Lough Ree is part of the Shannon and thus may be navigated by yourself on a hired cruiser without any problems. Monster-hunting was never so easy, just cast off and go. In comfort and with gourmet restaurants nearby. Amateur cryptozoologists will not be noticed at all amongst the other tourists cruising leisurely to and fro. Actually "research" makes a very valid excuse for spending a week or two totally chilled out.
If this sounds too stressful or you simply can’t make the time ... go monster-hunting on Lough Ree at your computer. Waveline Cruisers has several webcams and even comprehensive meteorological data to boot - see the links below. But you’d have to be very eagle-eyed to spot any monster of less than monstrous size here.
Seen the Monster?
If you think you spotted the Lough Ree Monster, either directly on the lake or on the webcam, send us a report and photos/screenshots.