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Monday, 11 July 2011

Cressie and Chessie Part II, Giant Eels in Scotland and Ireland

I shall be reprinting most of a very interesting message board on the topic because it gives a different perspective than I could and hence it does not have my bias on the subject but presents an alternative voice. This board has the heading: Yuku free message boards.Shark Attack Archives The Shark and Marine Life learning centre Cryptozoology Paranormal Activity Open Forum Links to other interesting sites.Freshwater eels in relation to Nessie...

"a great conger eel, seven yards long, and as thick as a bull in the body with a mane on its back like a horse."

-Thomas Croker, 19th century folklorist

The true Irish serpent, uncoiled. Once known to country peasants and fishermen as great pests, hazardous and troublesome. To the naturalists and scholars they were nothing more than a product of superstition, a dream spawned of primitive fear. But the horse-eels (as they're called in certain regions) have been quite real in spite of their lack of formal recognition. They may have reached frightening sizes but they were not monsters. They may have been immortalized in folklore and legends but their mortality has been tested time and time again. Now as we enter the 21st century, study of these mysterious aquatic beasts is long overdue.

Thomas Croker based his definition (above) on the numerous stories he collected traveling throughout Connaught. Certainly this outline is consistent with contemporary sightings but there's one significant detail lacking from his description: limbs. Creating much confusion is how the term "horse-eel" is used to describe what's frequently described as two entirely separate figures. One being a serpentine-shaped creatures with a horse's mane, the other being an amphibious quadruped beast that holds a disturbing likeness to the shape of a horse. Since both are sometimes reported within the same bodies of water it would seem most likely that they are, somehow, the same type of animal. Yet descriptions remain uniformed in describing either a horse-shaped animal or an eel-shaped beast, without any clear mixture of both. Perhaps the differences are on account of varying stages of a metamorphosis but for the sake of simplification the term horse-eel will be designated here as referring towards the more eel-like reports.

Documented accounts of horse-eels are not exclusive to Irish lakes. They've been record in brackish waters and on at least one instance, observed entering a stream from the ocean. It should then come as little surprise that they have been recorded in Scottish waters as well. And yes, even in the most famous of Scotland's great dark lakes: Loch Ness.
An acclaimed scientist and former member of the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, Dr. Roy P. Mackal wrote the most extensive examination of all presentable data pertaining to the Loch Ness phenomenon in his book The Monsters of Loch Ness. After systematically analyzing extensive volumes of information including hundreds of sightings, Dr. Mackal was left with the final impression that the most plausible identity for the Ness animals was either a long-necked amphibian or a thick-bodied eel. Understandably, it wouldn't have benefited his reputation to propose that two very different unknown animals were occasionally sharing the same loch. But while the archetype long-necked monster is so commonly affiliated with the "Loch Ness Monster," the presence of giant thick-bodied eels was long known to residents around the lake. Mackal came to realize this after conversing with locals who expressed their acceptance (or belief in) what they called "hair" or "horse" -eels:
The general impression is that the "eel" was somehow, in addition to size, peculiar in some way as compared to the garden variety of small eel. In a few cases this peculiarity was identified with a mane, frill, or fin; or, in some instances, the witness implied when pressed that eel was the best identification he could make, but he could not explain why the term "hair eel" or "horse eel" was used (except perhaps that these terms are an integral part of the vocabulary of the region).
Roy Mackal, "The Monsters of Loch Ness" [Page 147]

As implied by Mackal, eel should only be considered a default reference; automatically classing them with a familiar local animal of comparable shape. The basis for such names is likely one and the same as in regions of Ireland where the term "horse-eel" is used. That being that the animals sport what appears to be a mane like that of a horse.[Mackal thought this would be the back fin-DD]

There are a number of instances recorded where animals fitting the description of a horse-eel (if not identified outright as being such) were caught by some means or even killed. Ironically, though these events offered the best view of a specimen only the sparsest of descriptions have been passed along in many cases.

One such instance occurred around the turn of the 20th century at the Caledonian Canal near Corpach, Scotland. Workers were clearing out the canal when they came upon a strange animal described as a resembling an eel but it "was much larger than any eel ever seen and it had a long mane." There are two accounts of this incident, one in which the workers found the animal dead, the other stating it was alive and then killed. An interesting but unnecessary side note to this report is that the workers even suspected the animal had come down from Loch Ness (the canal linked with Ness). Their reasoning appears as sound enough considering the number of 'giant eel' reports that would be harvested from the loch in decades to come.

A good twenty of thirty years prior two more specimens of agreeing composition where found in Connemara, Ireland. Horse-eels had long been reputed to inhabit various pools and loughs of County Galway's bog lands. During a drought sometime around 1880, two such animals reportedly found themselves immobilized at separate locations. When the normally gushing waters linking lakes and rivers became reduced to a pathetic drizzle a large horse-eel was discovered lodged beneath a bridge by Ballynahinch Castle. The beast was described as thirty feet long and "as thick as a horse." A carpenter was assigned to produce a spear capable of slaying the great creature but before the plan could be carried through rains arrived to wash the fortunate beast free.

Luck was not in store for a second specimen that found itself stuck in a culvert linking Lough Derrylea with Lough Crolan. Presumably only portions of the animal were visible as it was inside a subterranean cylinder but locals described it as a sort of "hideous" oversized eel. It was left to die and eventually rotted away.

Back now to Scotland where Elizabeth Campbell wrote in her book In Search of Morag of a tradition she'd uncovered around Loch Morar regarding an incident (or possibly a number of incidences) where a fisherman (or fishermen) hooked a 'hideous hairy eel-like creature." This startling catch was deemed so repulsive that it was thrown back. No further details were provided but this wouldn't be the only allusion to hair-eels in Loch Morar. Campbell quotes one local who vented his frustration over the monster hype. He claimed that there was no monster in Loch Morar, only a 30-foot eel!

The final case is very vague but worthy of mention. Sometime in the in 1700s a Scottish water monster was killed and transported by farm cart to the village of Stornoway. It resembled a sort of 'huge conger eel' but was taken from a freshwater lake.

All of these easily fall beneath Croker's definition even down to that last one giving the conger likeness. There's nothing about long-necks or humped backs, just large eel-like animals with thick bodies that sometimes sported a sort of hairy "mane". Of course, these are quite brief descriptions and some sightings allude to additional features but for now we're provided with a general outline to go by.

While researching for his book In Search Of Lake Monsters, Peter Costello uncovered the following article from the London Times dated March 6, 1856:

The Sea Serpent in the Highlands

The village of Leurbost, Parish of Lochs, Lewis, is at present the scene of an unusual occurrence. This is no less than the appearance in one of the inland fresh-water lakes of an animal which from its great size and dimensions has not a little puzzled our island naturalists. Some suppose him to be a description of the hitherto mythological water-kelpie; while others refer it to the minute descriptions of the "sea-serpent," which are revived from time to time in the newspaper columns. It has been repeatedly seen within the last fortnight by crowds of people, many of whom have come from the remotest parts of the parish to witness the uncommon spectacle. The animal is described by some as being in appearance and size like "a large peat stack," while others affirm that a "six-oared boat" could pass between the huge fins, which are occasionally visible. All, however, agree in describing its form as that of an eel; and we have heard one, whose evidence we can rely upon, state that in length he supposed it to be about 40 feet. It is probable that it is no more than a conger eel after all, animals of this description having been caught in the Highland lakes which have attained huge size. He is currently reported to have swallowed a blanket inadvertently left on the bank by a girl herding cattle. A sportsman ensconced himself with a rifle in the vicinity of the loch during a whole day, hoping to get a shot, but did no execution.

There are a number of significant highlights to be taken from this article:
1. "All...agree in describing its form as that of an eel...."
While there were some early accounts of plesiosaur-like/long-necked animals in Highland lakes, so too were there reports of large eel-type creatures such as this one. The difference not being limited to a choice of words but rather because of the distinct variations in form. However, confusion arises when reports such as this become meshed in as one and the same as the popular "Nessie" mold and, disregarding the given details, interpreted as somehow describing the long-necked model regardless of the contradictory features. Thus traditionally an article like this would have been tossed amongst long-neck accounts suggesting Nessie had kin further north. But the conger-likeness and especially the mention of parted fins (see below) both point to the proper identity as a horse-eel. It's significant to note that in Scotland you'll find reports of both creatures, yet in Ireland there is a complete lack of any 'long-neck' reports (aside from the cloudy Achill Island case [Possible Master-Otter-DD]).

Here is a brief excerpt taken from Dr. Mackal's Monsters of Loch Ness showing only a few of the eel-type animals reported in Loch Ness. Note the mane and conger likeness of the first two.
Summer 1885 Roderick Matheson
"...the biggest eel I ever saw in my life, neck like a horse with a mane."
July 14, 1930 Ian Milne Reported seeing undulating humps of something he likened to an enormous conger eel.
June, 1933 Mr. A. Ross Witnessed a "giant eel" 25 ft long, 5 ft. max diameter, used tail powerfully when swimming. When in motion body created a series of humps. Seen 15 times.
August, 1933 Mrs. MacDonald
Much like a great eel but thicker, portioned 3 feet out of water.

This is just a quick list. There are other sightings where something 'serpentine' was observed but in some cases their sparse details make them easily associated with natural illusions. You'll note also that these sightings take place prior or right at the start of the Loch Ness Monster media hype. That is to say, before the plesiosaur became the monster tourists anticipated seeing. In addition Loch Awe was at one time said to be void of fishing as local people claimed there were great eels in the loch "big as ane horse with ane Incrediblie length" (Costello).
2. "Some suppose him to be a description of the hitherto mythological water-kelpie..."
Water-kelpie is the same as 'Each Usiage' or the more commonly known as the water-horse. The article is a prime example of the problem within terminology regarding the proper traditional name for these animals. Just as in parts of Ireland "water-horse" receives dual usage for horse-looking creatures on shore and lengthy eel or worm like animal in lakes. From the article one sees that this confusion over terminology has been around for a while.
3. "It is probable that it is...a conger eel...having been caught in the Highland lakes..."
One very intriguing element of this article that is all too easy to overlook is the reasoning for proposing that the creature may have been a conger. This may have been the first but definitely wouldn't be the last time the conger theory is promoted but what is very peculiar is how the columnist mentions congers of "huge size" being caught in Highland lakes. Congers (which are capable of reaching intimidating size, though rarely past nine feet, let alone forty) are a salt-water fish. They are only found in the ocean and as stated, cannot (to our present knowledge) survive for very long in freshwater. Their endurance in brackish waters is thought to be brief before becoming fatal. This is not the only casual passage acknowledging freshwater congers that I've come across in the course of this study, thus making freshwater congers a mystery within a mystery.
4. "...others affirm that a "six-oared boat" could pass between the huge fins, which are occasionally visible."
This passage may come off a little puzzling but it's referring the distance between surfacing 'fins.' When the animal raises it's limbs above the water, the distance between them is wide enough that a boat could pass through. Though it certainly sounds strange it is very significant when one realizes that a seemingly identical spectacle was reported in an Irish account. [The distance between the fins is of course the width of the body: the intention here, however, is that the "Humps" are described as "Fins"-DD]

Disentangling the Celtic Serpent

Horse-Eel Analysis

The Sightings Map offers a number of modern reports of horse-eels throughout Ireland. Of them the most thorough in detail are well documented sightings from Lough Ree, Lough Fadda and Lough Nahooin. By compiling the data obtained from these cases and all other related sightings one finds consist traits and characteristics of one of nature's most elusive creatures.

HEAD: Compared to the number of recorded sightings available, reports detailing the head make up a very small percentage. Part of the reason is most likely because of the frequent generalization of the creature's resemblance to a great eel may automatically imply the head was eel-like as well.

The horse-eel's head for the most part appears quite blunt though there are a few that liken it to that of a horse's or cow's. In the Lough Nahooin case it was "pole-like," round "like a kettle," almost featureless. During a visit in 1998, witness Stephen Coyne made a quick sketch where the head could best be compared to a large thumb sticking straight out of the water. Unlike long-neck sightings, most (if not all) Irish reports have the head fused with the 'neck', without any breaking angle. This was apparent in the other two most detailed reports: Lough Fadda 1954 and Lough Ree 1960.

[All oof the illustrations had been removed by the time I got to the message board but they can be looked up in the original sources-DD]
Drawing of the Lough Ree animal by one of the priests. Head and neck appear fused.
(© Peter Costello; In Search of Lake Monsters 1974)

Sketch provided by a witness depicting an unusual swimming creature seen in Lough Nahooin. There is a slight distinction between head and neck but no angle between them.(Copyright 1998)

Artist's impression of the Lough Fadda "monster".
( Copyright Orbis Publishing; The Unexplained, 1992). Corrections made in 2001 by "Ann", a surviving member of the four 1954 Fadda witnesses. Not shown but explained was the presence of "bulges", either horns or eyes, on the head.

Final product after corrective modifications. Note how the under-slung placement of the mouth coincides with the sketch of the Nahooin animal.

There appear to be only a vague few instances where the head was dubbed 'horse-shaped'. Perhaps the blunt relatively featureless heads belong to juvenile animals which will become elongated in shape as they age. On that note, the three sightings that offered the best view of the head also describe animals that were relatively small in comparison to other reports.
•MOUTH: Only the Nahooin and Fadda sightings gave any mention of the mouth. Of course, in both instances the animals were deemed as hostile because they were approaching with their mouths open, hence making it something a memorable feature! Georgina Carberry described it as being 'shark-shaped'. The husband and wife who watched the Nahooin animal agreed the mouth was "under-slung" which would just as well comply with the description of that of a shark's. The mouth interiors were cited as pale in both instances. Neither noticed teeth. Water was said to be seen squirting out of the mouth of the Nahooin creature.

•EYES or HORNS: Protrudences emitting from the head have been noted in several instances. In some cases they've been described as horns, in others it was assumed they were the eyes. Additional possibilities worth considering are extended nostrils or ears.
•Lough Auna, unnamed Welsh Guard- Observed an object "watching him" with two horns or protruding eyes.
•Lough Fadda, "Ann"- Noted prominent eyes towards the front of the head.
•Lough Nahooin, Mrs. Coyne- According to Holiday, amongst the family who watched the animal it was the mother, wife of the primary witness, who came nearest on shore to the patrolling creature and had spotted a pair of horn-like features on the creature's head.
•Lough Muck, Unnamed Woman- An unnamed witness wading in the lake watched as a strange creature swam towards her suggesting menacing intent. It was said to have two large eyes "in or about 3 inches each way".
•Lough Brin, Unnamed- Cited the beast Bran had "two big eyes in his forehead".

MANE: Beyond size, the mane is the easily the most conspicuous feature of the horse-eel, clearly the inspiration for their very name. However, in the three most detailed cases mentioned above, no mane is described. A possible explanation for this absence is that the Fadda, Nahooin and Ree sightings all involved younger specimens. Manes are present on reports of greater sized creatures, most notably in the 20-40 ft range. Whether it is actual hair or merely a dorsal fin remains inconclusive. In a few instances where a specimen was obtained or killed, thus offering a defining opportunity to examine the animal completely, the mane is likened as hair. Case in point being the alleged killing at the Caledonian Canal which mentioned a "long mane." Likewise the "repulsive eels" caught in Loch Morar where described as hairy. (A further indication that hair-eels are reported in Loch Ness is how there "maned" Nessie sightings concur with a single fused head and neck, which, as explained, is a distinct characteristic of horse-eels.)

An anonymous witness was quoted by F.W. Holiday as describing the mane as standing up "like bristle or a fin." Notably, he went on to say that it was only noticed on one of the surfaced humps but "not all of them."

A mane may be an indication of sexual dimorphism which would account for it's absence in some reports. If the mane were composed of actual hair then the identity of the horse-eel would certainly lean towards that of a mammals.
BODY: We have two groupings as to the body's form. There's the "thick as a horse" depictions on one side alluding to the creature's having a swollen central region and then there's the 'thick as a man's thigh' crowd. The latter seeming to imply a continuous size throughout the majority of its length, like a snake. These thinner types are sometimes described forming surfaced "loops" where the body is actually displayed in an arch (or several arches) above the water. Obviously this would not be achievable with a thick central body for balance sake. (Presently I'm wary about 'loop' sightings but strangely this arching formation is almost a universal trademark in lake monster sightings all over the world.) Sizes have been reported up to 40 feet in length. [Proportion of thickness to length is hard to gague but is given as thickness=1/10 of length in the chunkier examples cited-DD]
•Thomas Croker- "...thick as a bull..."
•Trapped beneath Ballynahinch Castle's bridge- "...thick as a horse..." [could be a yard thick]
•Lough Nahooin, Stephen Coyne (earlier sighting)- Wide as a car with a white underbelly.
•Lough Absidealy tradition- An eel lurked in the lake as thick as a man's thigh.
LIMBS: Paddles or fins have been reported during displaying and rolling behavior. A front pair most likely exist but a rear set is less certain.
•London Times dated March 6, 1856- "...huge fins...occasionally visible."
•Lough Brin, Timothy O'Sullivan- Rising and falling fins first mistaken for ducks. They stood about two feet tall and two feet long, twelve feet apart from each other.
TAIL: Georgina Carberry is presently the only one to describe a "split" or forked tail in a sighting. But there's been vague references to flukes elsewhere. The Lough Neagh monster was reputed to have a tail "like [=used as?] a propeller." Otherwise there appears to be nothing unexpected about the tail making it unique from that of an eels. If Georgina was accurate in her observation, a fluke would serve as a heavy indication that horse-eels are in fact some form of mammal as it would imply undulating propulsion. [The Lough Fadda "v shaped tail is something I have always maintained was due to the appearance from the wake-DD]
•Lough Fadda, Georgina Carberry- "....'twas a kind of fork- a V-shaped tail." (In an interview in 2001 "Ann" who was on the boat with Georgina commented that she hadn't noticed any tail.)
•Lough Absidealy witness- "...exactly like the tail end of a huge conger eel."
•Lough Nahooin, SC- A flat tail would appear, once came up near the head demonstrating considerable flexibility.
•Crolan Lough, Tom Connelly- "It was the shape of an eel- an eel-shape." Seen rising out of the water about a foot and half.
SKIN: Descriptions of the skin are notably uniformed: black, oily, shiny; basically eel-like. Tom Joyce said in his first sighting the skin of the object was "glittery" in the sunlight. Skin for the most part has been one of the more consistent anatomical details that is well replicated in each instance it's been described. Once again though, Georgina Carberry makes another peculiar observation that stands out. She explained to Holiday that the whole body had 'movement,' it seemed "wormy" or "creepy." Without elaborating too much further she went on to say that the "body seemed to have movement all over it all the time." Interesting but until this feature is cited once more there's little that can be concluded on that note. While coloration is always dark or black, the ventral side has been described a pale color.

Beastie Behavior
Curiosity or Aggression
Logic dictates that if the horse-eels are natural creatures then they'll someday be fitted amongst appropriate zoological groupings and find themselves sharing a genus and family with more recognizable fauna. But for those unsuspecting individuals down at the lake's shore who looked up and suddenly became frightfully aware of a large beast rushing towards them like a menacing torpedo, these creatures will always remain monsters in the purest and most primitive sense of the word. Thus we are brought to the most disturbing character traits of the horse-eel: aggressive behavior. Their seemingly absence of fear towards humans has even brought them out of the water and onto shore in some accounts, presumably, with hostile intent in mind. But is this really aggression or rather a bold sense of curiosity? Is there really a justification for the sinister legacy water monsters received in Celtic mythology?
Gort- Amongst the cache of local tales collected by Lady Gregory during her travels through Connaught are several describing encounters with lake creatures. One of them tells of a swimmer who was said to have had a narrowing experience in a lake near Gort:
The lake down there is an enchanted place, and the old people told me that one time they were swimming there, and a man had gone out into the middle and they saw something like a giant eel make for him, and they called out, "If ever you were a great swimmer show us now how you can swim to the shore," for they wouldn't frighten him by saying what was behind him. So he swam to the shore, and he only got there when the thing behind him was in the place where he was. For there are *%@#$ things in lakes.
Lough Muck- Cyril Dieckhoff was informed in 1934 of a frightening experience that had occurred years earlier in Lough Muck of Dongeal County:
This happened in my own time, about 1885. A young woman waded out as far as she could off the Shore of Lough Muck to pull bog-bean, and when stopped heard a splash no distance from her. She looked and there was an animal making towards her. She made for the shore as fast as she could.
Lough Nahooin- This most crucial sighting may not have occurred at all had not for the peiste's ominous attraction to the family's dog. When the primary witness first spotted the object lying motionless in the reeds he mistakenly assumed it was his dog and called out to it. But to his surprise the dog arrived running along side the lake shore, until it spotted the object itself and began barking. Aroused by the noise, the creature became animated and began swimming towards the dog with its mouth open in what his owner rationally interpreted as a threatening gesture. When he walked over to support his pet the peiste responded by retreating to the opposite side of the lake, and then returning, in what became a series of laps. It continued this odd patrol for such a duration of time that the remaining members of the family were summoned to the spot but would all eventually leave out of boredom. What might have happened had the creature originally reached the dog before its owner is something that we can only speculate upon.
Lough Auna- An unnamed Welsh guard found he wasn't alone while fishing late one night off the shore of Lough Auna. Through the moonlight he noticed an unusual object floating in the water with two bulges, possibly eyes or horns, emitting from it and apparently "watching" him. Uncomfortable but not frightened the Welshman walked further down the shore line only to have the object follow. He continued on some more but the aquatic stalker only matched his pace until he finally broke out into a terrified sprint away from the lake. After an enduring run he arrived in front of Tom Joyce's house where Tom was outside saying goodnight to a departing friend.
Lough Shanakeever- The testimony of the guardsman was easy for Tom Joyce to accept. Growing up by Lough Shanakeever he'd heard many (to quote him exactly: "many, many, many, many...") stories of the horse-eels chasing people away from the lake's shore. One that stood out in particular happened to a Mrs. Whalen while she was attending her peat turf near the edge of Lough Auna sometime in the early 1900s. Her work had lasted into the evening when suddenly there was a commotion in the water and a "Horse-Eel" came right up out of the lake and onto the bank beside her. Deciding the turf could wait, Mrs. Whalen immediately fled from the spot and was quite reluctant to return for some time. She said the front had the appearance of a horse but the end tapered off like an eel. Tom was quite clear to point out that this type of 'event' was well known back then yet to his knowledge none of these encounters resulted in any physical harm.
Lough Fadda- In the 1954 encounter the beast was deemed hostile because the animal swam towards the group with its mouth open. While it did eventually turn away and dive out of view, the lasting affects of the experience reportedly had negative repercussions on the mental health of the witnesses. Georgina admitted to having nightmares after the event. I've been told that another member of that party presently living in a retirement home still to this day begs her family to avoid Lough Fadda.
Aside from the question as to whether these instances represent either curiosity or aggression, these reports are special in that they present reactions. Most sightings entail an observer spying an animal from a distance until it's gone from view. But here we have cases where the animal was aware of the observer. If nothing else this would say something about their sensory ability. But what does such behavior imply? Why would such a large animal speed out of the water in order to reach an unsuspecting person on the shore?

Naturally, as sober as this topic needs to be approached there is of course going to be that instinctive nagging that immediately insists that the mysterious unknown is always laced with threat. For many witnesses the very instant a sighting unfolds the haunting dragons of childhood fears are suddenly unleashed into reality. So, in facing the darkest explanation for this kind of behavior it must be asked if these examples might be instances of failed predation. Initially the idea would appear absurd. Surely, if these beasts were "man-eaters" we'd have a few fatalities on record by now. Or at least something modern besides the old folk tales. And more so, farm animals would surely be a more present and obtainable prey but as of yet I've never heard of any connections involving missing livestock around monster haunts (nonetheless, something worth double checking during the next trip).

It's been proposed that horse-eels come in from the ocean to lay their eggs or give birth. The theory would make sense out of why single individuals are willing to occupy such small bodies of water for their large size. Aggressive behavior then could be means of defending their procreative territory from intruders. It no doubt worked in causing the Fadda party to avoid the lake for some time.

Leisurely Behavior?
Some sightings describe the animals performing strange repetitious antics. Rolling at the surface, holding fins above the water and rising and sinking repeatedly have all been reported in separate instances giving clue to possible self-amusing behavior sometimes found within marine mammals.
•Lough Brin (Co. Kerry): On December 24, 1954 farmer Timothy O'Sullivan spotted what he at first assumed were two ducks in the lake as he went to retrieve his cows. Soon the objects in the water began to rise higher up until it was apparent they were fins about two feet tall and two feet wide. There was twelve feet of water between the them and they rose and fell four times at a distance of 60 yards from shore. O'Sullivan ran to fetch his shotgun but they were gone upon his return.
The distance between the fins creates a puzzling image. Assuming for balance sake that the animal was showing a single pair of fins, either front or back, how could there have been 12 feet between them unless the beast had the width of a whale? Perhaps Timothy O'Sullivan was mistaken but another report seems to confirm the same type of strange display:
•Near the village of Leurbost, Scotland: The Times article on The Highland Sea Serpent stated:

"...The animal is described by some as being in appearance and size like "a large peat stack," while others affirm that a "six-oared boat" could pass between the huge fins, which are occasionally visible."
Presented here is what looks to be another acknowledgement of the fin displaying behavior. The unexpected distance between fins was perceived as so great that a "six-oared boat" could pass between. With this statement the reporter himself seemed to note the contradiction between the general impression of the creature's size and the dimensions required for the remoteness between appendages. From the little that is comprehendible regarding the horse-eel's morphology it takes a degree of mental aerobics to fathom how a pair of paddles could appear so far apart from one another. Unless these beasties were contorting themselves so that the rear and the front paddle of one side were both visible during its leisurely bobbing. However it's achieved, this display reflects a sort of inactive ease of a large animal floating casually along the surface. How many other times have bystanders caught a glimpse of fins being held above and assumed them as nothing more than floating birds or debris?

Twisting around near the surface has been cited in at least two reports so far. (One has to wonder if these animals don't get rather bored in their confines and feel the need to amuse themselves.)
•Lough Nahooin: In an early sighting by SC, a creature was seen rolling around in Lough Nahooin. A white underbelly could be seen during its rotation.

•Lough Auna: An unnamed witness described a spectacle seen as a boy with his mother while stacking turf along Lough Auna. Some two hundred yards away was a 30-40 ft eel-looking creature performing a series of rolls as it would rise and slowly sink in the water sending waves lapping on shore. It continued this for roughly a quarter an hour before sinking for good.

The swimming mechanics have only been sparsely touched upon in a few cases. Propulsion is a valuable clue in determining what type of animal the peistes are akin to. The general rule of thumb is aquatic mammals undulate whereas reptiles, amphibians and fish swim in a side to side motion.
•Lough Ree: (1960) The priests described the movement in their official statement as appear to be propelled by limbs beneath the surface. The animal maintained composure integrity during the course of its swim exposing a head and neck being followed by a hump or arch.

•Lough Ree: (1970s?) During the GUST excursion to Lough Ree in 2001 someone mentioned a sighting taken from a lakeside which described what appeared to be a dolphin swimming in the lough. By that it seemed to imply that the object shared the undulating movements associated with a dolphin's.

•Lough Abisdealy: The "snake" witnessed by church goers was said to have swam in an undulating fashion as it raised partial hoops or arches above the water.

•Lough Nahooin: It was noted that when the animal would swim with its head beneath the water two humps would surface behind it. Its speed was cited as incredible, able to dive beneath and emerge on the opposite shore in short time.
Of all of them Abisdealy is the most specific reference of undulation and therefore a vote for the mammalian candidacy. However I'm hesitant on placing too much weight on the accuracy of Abisdealy since it is the only instance to describe the animal as appearing in the form of several arches. The only other "arch" sighting came from the three priests on Lough Ree who thought the hump had water beneath it suggesting it may have been more of a loop just partially suspended above the water. The Ree animal maintained its form as it swam which allowed them to conclude that it was being pushed by paddles or limbs. Sightings that initially described the creature as a giant eels probably took for granted its swimming style. In the future witnesses will need to be asked specifically on the movements produced in order for us to better understand their propulsion.

The Great Peiste Paradox: how could large animals sustain themselves in tiny lakes with only sparse amounts of fish? After attempting to net Lough Nahooin F.W. Holiday pointed out anything as large as a crocodile would deplete such a small lake of its fish stock in a short matter of weeks. Yet the Nahooin beast had been seen on different occasions in a body of water comparable to a large pond. Was a single individual creature somehow persisting in the lough or was it entering and exiting from an outlet in between sightings? If it was a permanent resident, as LNI appears to have presumed, then what could it have survived off of?

For starters, it's only assumed that "lake monsters" are carnivores. The plesiosaur school of thought made the conclusion practically mandatory without consideration of the vast number of large freshwater animals that are in fact herbivores or at least omnivorous. The only indication at hand that horse-eels even eat fish can be derived from accounts taken from fishermen on Lough Ree who testified to instances of being towed about the lake after an immense animal took their bait. In the cases where the fishermen were trying to bait pike, it's probably a safe bet that whatever took the lure ate fish as well.

It's also been theorized that horse-eels may be bottom feeding scavengers extracting nutrients from the rich layers of sediment coating the bottom of bog lakes. On that note it's worthy pointing out that the term "peiste" is derived from worm. North American catfish have been recorded attaining impressive sizes by filtering out nutrients within muck. The horse-eel may persist under a similar ecological niche.

At present there is only one direct citation to a horse-eel feeding on hand. A Clifden-based farmer recalled hearing of a woman (deceased) who watched a horse-eel "eating weeds" in Lough Shanakeever. However, for what otherwise might be a most beneficial observation we're only provided those two words and he didn't recall anything more on the story. She may have witnessed the animal consuming vegetation or perhaps its hidden movements only caused reeds to submerge creating the impression it was eating.

Lady Gregory's Visions and Beliefs of West Ireland provides a more direct, albeit disturbing, citation that may relate to eating habits:
There was a sort of a big eel used to be in Tully churchyard, used to come and to root up the bodies, but I didn't hear of him of late - he may be done away with now.
It's somewhat ironic that in a book so heavily laden with overly superstitious folkloric beliefs, this activity of an almost diabolical nature is deemed worthy of only one sentence. And quite a casual one at that. In conversation Peter Costello mentioned that there are additional citations to such corpse-scavenging by monster eels elsewhere. For the record eels have been known to exit the water in search of food on land though excavating graves certainly takes the cake as far as scavenging goes. If true, it would certainly testify to a developed sense of smell and an ability to burrow.

While the components of their diet may remain unclear, at least there's some indication as to one of their methods of acquiring food. What may be a form of surface-scavenging has been suggested by certain accounts. Along with the gravedigger references, the "Highland Sea Serpent" article hints at another possible instance where a creature may have come ashore in search of food. According to the Times, the beast had been accused of swallowing a blanket left near the shore. The notion may sound rather comical but even alligators and crocodiles have been known to swallow articles of clothing left by the water's edge. Unfortunately the article falls short of specifying as to what lead to this conclusion; was it just a suiting explanation for a missing blanket or was the animal actually observed lunching on unattended linen? An additional instance of what could have been a form of surface-scavenging took place along Lough Shanakeever near Clifden. A farmer had set a dead sheep down by the shore during the night in hopes of baiting a varmint that had been claiming some of his sheep. In the light of the moon he waited with a shotgun until a sound was heard emitting from beneath the bank near the carcass. In his excitement he discharged his weapon with the expectation that a dog or fox would flee up the hill and into view. But immediately after the blast there was an immense splash as some large animal flung itself into the water. The upheaval of water was too great to have been created by an otter yet nothing was seen swimming along the surface. The lake had always been reputed for harboring a horse-eel from time to time.

Lastly as far as food is concern there is the possibility that they don't eat anything at all. Or at least, not while in freshwater. If the horse-eels are coming in from the sea in order to give birth they may gorge themselves while in the ocean and fast while establishing their territorial domains in the bog waters just as other animals abstain from eating while preparing to bear young.
Where, tax[onom]ically speaking, might the horse-eel belong? Within the Animal Kingdom where would these strange animals find their kin? With such limited information available, it would seem premature to even begin speculating, but nevertheless the temptation is there. So, taking an unqualified go at it, here are some of the present candidates that have been purposed:
Thick Bodied Eel
Few nominees would more readily explain an eel-like creature than a large species of eel. While certain features and aspects of behavior have a familiar echo towards eels, there are likewise a number of traits that do well to set them apart. For one thing, eels aren't known to swim with their heads held above water. Additionally they tend to remain along the bottom of lakes as opposed to swimming or floating near the surface. There are at least two possible references to horse-eels undulating but as yet none testifying to a side-to-side swimming motion obligatory of fish. As an eel the trademark "mane" would have to be composed of something other than hair but just the same there is the possibility that it is a sort of dorsal fin after all. If the horse-eel is as the name implies, a type of eel, then it would be a most remarkable and unique addition to the family or the whole Pisces lineage for that matter.
Archaeocetes and Zeuglodonts
Researcher Gary Cunningham and British zoologist Dr. Karl Shuker have both pointed to primitive whales as the most fitting of any animals past or present to comply with the horse-eel figure. While fossils of either have yet to be discovered in or near Ireland, it's theorized both could have migrated through the course of time from their original discovery sites.
Archaeocetes ('ancient whales') were elongated mammals whose evolutionary path was gradually divorcing them from their former existence on land. While thought to be primarily aquatic animals they still were equipped with diminishing limbs that may have facilitated amphibious capability. Gary Cunningham theorizes that the snout of a living archaeocete might superficially resemble a horse's based upon first sight.
Zeuglodonts, such as Basilosaurus, were more equipped for marine life than their predecessors with long tapering bodies but diminished limbs for land capability. Some speculate they may have carried a fluked tail. As archaeocetes and zeuglodonts were mammals it's quite possible both could have sported hair and therefore a mane.
The conceptual long-necked seal, original purposed by Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans and later championed by Peter Costello, has sought to displace the misguided notion of surviving plesiosaurs in glacial lakes. The prospect of horse-eels being a type of mammal receives reinforcement by their behavior and allusions of a hairy mane and undulating locomotion. Some possibly unknown form of pinniped seems most likely for the folkloric Water-Horse [and for the occasional report confusingly included in collections-DD]but otherwise would look to fall short of filling the role of a lengthy eel-like creature.

Race Against Time?
Obviously there's still a great amount we don't know regarding these animals and certainly a vast wealth of knowledge remains untapped within the older generation who grew up in a time when such animals were still being regarded as normal.
So many crucial questions remain: What do they feed on? When are they most active? Do they hibernate or migrate? What brings them ashore? The more we come to learn, the more we begin to understand, the closer we are to studying a live specimen. If that sounds a bit eccentric keep in mind that no one has even tried with the exception of a few week periods in 1968 and 1969. And even then efforts were extended on lakes that were only speculated to have been occupied at that time.
The most pragmatic area to try to acquire a specimen would be in places like Connemara where sightings have been relatively recurrent and the bodies of water are significantly small. Perhaps if a network of interest and communication was made known to the locals, offering a place they could submit any recent sightings, the lake or pool in question could then at least be monitored by volunteers in the event the animal takes to land or exists through a connecting stream. Once exposed from the water it could then be photographed or filmed or even temporarily ensnared within a net so that a tissue sample could be obtained before the animal is re-released.
With enough cooperation and effort this fascinating mystery could be resolved in a matter of a few years. Bear in mind though, it wouldn't mark so much of a discover as a re-discovery, or more-so as an acknowledgement. These creatures were certainly well recorded and it would appear well recognized throughout the past. But just the same, concern arises when one compares the sparse number of recent reports as opposed to the recorded amount of decades prior. Have the horse-eel become scarce in recent years? Has over-fishing of potential prey and pollution threatened their numbers? Or have changes in regional lifestyle and urban migration deceased the level of interaction between local residents and the animal's natural habitat where sightings would otherwise occur? Then again, it could also be that today folks are less reluctant to announce that they'd seen a water monster for fear of ridicule.
Whatever the case, right now the keys to the future lies in knowledge from the past and if effort isn't undertook to preserve the stories and lore known to the older generation, one of Ireland's most fascination inhabitants may pass into extinction being remembered as nothing more than a myth.
[I have excluded a long and fascinating passage claiming that horse eels would be identical to the Plesiosaur-shaped "Nessiteras rhombopteryx" on the grounds that the main case for the Horse Eels is that they are different to the Plesiosaur-shaped creatures. The discussion belongs in a separate category-DD]
Text and artwork copyright 1999, Scott Howard Mardis

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view and demand that they respect yours.
Chief Tecumseh

Wow, that's a lot of info, I'll read it when I get more time, but I do like the 'eel theory' for lake monsters in Britain and Ireland.

These views are of a mock-up Giant Eel skull made to promote the theory that such creatures (especially the Loch Ness Monster) were all Giant eels. The skuls are composites and built up out of parts of different known types of eels. I have omitted the skull with a full palate of teeth because while such a creature might well have palatal teeth, "palatal teeth" does NOT generally mean "Having a whole palate full of teeth"

Traditional Laidly Wurrm, or Bethir

In some of the Lochs there are also traditional reports of "Big Snakes" known as Bethir and given a separate listing by Eberhart in Mysterious Creatures. These are said to be ten to twenty feet and if Horse Eels are differentiated from them by size then presumably the larger ones have a more prominent backfin at a time when they are larger in size, and also thicker in the body. The Bethir are otherwise a survival of "Laidly (Loathly) Wurrums" or snake-shaped dragons of earlier lore, Ivan Sanderson's Great Orms and Lindorms or Lindwurms of Germany and Scandinavia.. That part must make a third part to this discussion.


  1. Some of the commentators have noticed an inconsistency in the reported dimensions: a smaller Giant eel could well be 10-12 feet long and "as thick as a man's thigh" (say 8 inches) and in general the intermediate sizes appear to be thinner in proportion while the biggest ones are also the thickest and bulkiest ones. It would seem the growth comes generally in two phases: first the creature grows long, and then when it has gown to the proper length, it gets thicker and heavier.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. I like the eel theory as well, a dark, slimy creature fits in with a locale named 'Lough Muck'
    better than anything I can think of. The idea that a plesiosaur, an ocean-dwelling reptile, could survive in murky, ink-black cold water seemed impossible to me. But an ugly ol' eel? Makes sense. There must be some extra large specimens, and combined with a trailing wake, could easily be misinterpreted to be 20 feet long.

  3. 20 feet is the least of it, the top allegations say 40 feet but if you can legitimately reach 30, that's probably the deal done right there. And with the wake, you don't need to worry about the little business of vertical vs. horizontal undulations. The bonus to the theory is that eels can convert from active predators to bottom-feeders without complaint which is very economical with the smaller lakes. The drawback is if you really are a type of eel that breeds in the sea stuck inland, you'll never breed again but you win a long life in trade off for that brief passionate fling that would otherwise kill you.


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