Friday 11 September 2009

The Doyarchu, an Irish crocodile or giant otter?

The Doyarchu is known by several names such as the dobhar-chu or the anchu and is described as an aquatic predator haunting the rivers and lakes in Ireland. It is said to be about 7 feet long and a half wolf /half fish like creature. The name Dobhar-Chu, translated from Gaelic, means water hound. It is also referred to as the Irish crocodile. There have been a number of sightings, mainly on Achill Island on the western coast of Ireland and in Lough Lake and Lough Mask on the mainland.. The Doyarchu is reported to be creature that lives in water, and has a body likened to that of a dog or otter or even a crocodile. Witnesses stated that the creature is covered with very black fur but that at times, its skin appears to be smooth and slimy with no fur at all. If the creature was wet that would be explained by the fur lying close to the body. Some reports of the Doyarchu say they have patches of white on them and a large patch of white in the middle of the upper torso. Another Doyarchu was observed to be white but it had black spots on the tips of its ear, along with a larger patch of black at the middle of its back.The rear legs of the creature are said to be bigger than its forequarters and the paws or feet are very large for it’s body. The head is sleek and like that of an otter. It is also described as having an elongated neck with a long tail with a tuft at the end. Reports stated that the beasts are aggressive towards humans and dogs and that they often attack in pairs . According to one of the stories a Doyarchu was reported to pursue the men who killed its partner for twenty miles.

An early description of the Dobhar-chú appears in A Description of West Connaught (1684), by Roderick O'Flaherty. This story, originating from the area of Lough Mask, is recounted:

There is one rarity more, which we may term the Irish crocodile, whereof one, as yet living, about ten years ago had sad experience. The man was passing the shore just by the waterside, and spyed far off the head of a beast swimming, which he took to be an otter, and took no more notice of it; but the beast it seems lifted up his head, to discern whereabouts the man was; then diving swam under the water till he struck ground: whereupon he run out of the water suddenly and took the man by the elbow whereby the man stooped down, and the beast fastened his teeth in his pate, and dragged him into the water; where the man took hold of a stone by chance in his way, and calling to mind he had a knife in his jacket, took it out and gave a thrust of it to the beast, which thereupon got away from him into the lake. The water about him was all bloody, whether from the beast's blood, or his own, or from both he knows not. It was the pitch of an ordinary greyhound, of a black slimey skin, without hair as he imagines. Old men acquainted with the lake do tell there is such a beast in it, and that a stout fellow with a wolf dog along with him met the like there once; which after a long struggling went away in spite of the man and his dog, and was a long time after found rotten in a rocky cave of the lake when the waters decreased. The like they say is seen in other lakes in Ireland, they call it doyarchu, i.e. water-dog, or anchu which is the same.

Mr Richard Muirhead of Wiltshire, England, uncovered a poem called The Dobhar-chú of Glenade. The poem tells the story of a woman named Grace Connolly, who was found dead by a lake along with her killer, a Dobhar-chú. Her husband, a man named McGloughlan, killed the beast but then had to deal with the creature’s mate, which he killed near Castlegarden Hill. The story seems to be corroborated by a gravestone found in Kinlough, Leitrim. The Kinlough Stone depicts the Dobhar-chú. Patrick Tohall, wrote an article in the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, saying that the stone is dated September 24, 1722, a time which fits in well with the account of the death.

In 1896, Miss L.A. Walkington wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland of a legend she had heard in Bundoran, County Leitrim, of a creature called a dhuragoo, which she said was "half wolf-dog, half-fish". Some witnesses, she said, likened it to an "enormous sea-otter". A few months later, H. Chichester Hart responded to Miss Walkington's letter, and said that he had heard in Ballyshannon, Leitrim, of a creature called the dorraghow, which was said to be the King of all the Lakes, and Father of all the Otters. Hart said it was "as big as five or six otters".

There appear to be no recent sightings but could giant otters or freshwater crocodiles once lived in Ireland’s lakes?

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