Friday, 3 October 2014
RETURN OF THE WANDERER
Yes, I'm back from my peregrinations in the west of Ireland and am happy to report I have not been devoured by the Dobharchú, that legendary giant otter of fearsome repute said to occupy both lake and coastline in those desolate regions.
Desolate they may be, but they are filled with breathtaking scenery unspoiled by human endeavor. Grass that knows not the husbandman's scythe and wild and heather garbed mountains abound. Many of the areas are rarely trodden by human foot and road and railway are unknown in wildernesses where anything might lurk.
I was going with a French Canadian television team to Omey Island off the Connemara coast, an island tenanted by but a single human inhabitant, which contains a lake where artist Sean Corcoran saw what seems to have been the Dobharchú, a creature whose existence is unacknowledged by the scientific community, but which figures in local folklore and eyewitness accounts.
I was met in Galway by Emilie Riva and the production team, headed by François, a soul whose eyes twinkled mischievously, and Olivier, who looked slightly apprehensive. On the following day we made our way to Omey Island, which is accessible by land when the tide is out. François assured me I had nothing to fear from his driving, as the car had comprehensive insurance. I found this greatly reassuring. Omey Island lies opposite the village of Claddaghduff, where we first stopped off at Sweeney's Bar. The proprietress, Mary, had been very helpful when we had made local enquiries. François said he would interview her to find out about local traditions. I assured him that, when a journalist interviewed a lady, his first question should always be, "Have you slept with anyone famous?" but for some reason he felt this would be inappropriate. Sweeney's Bar is a superb place, divided into pub, restaurant and general store and is impeccably clean, even sparkling.
When the tide went out, we drove across to the island. The sand was soggy and my thoughts that we might be sucked beneath it I suppressed in the manly and modest fashion that so many of my acquaintances associate with me. On arrival we trudged along he trackway which led to the lake. Had the trackway been made by cattle, I wondered, or by something large and lumbering making its way down to the waters? Those waters were still and unbroken by any monstrous heads, but I noticed that one or two protruding rocks might be mistaken for such heads in a bad light. However, I noticed a small flock of waterfowl swimming about - they were too distant to identify with certainty, but may have been oyster-catchers - and on another part of the lake a brace of swans. Although the lake was large enough to harbor a large animal, I doubted that waterfowl would be out there if there were any danger of something seizing them from beneath. Moreover, otters are nocturnal animals and the dobharchú is noted for its lutrine characteristics. It is possible it enters the lough from the sea, perhaps to drink fresh water, and I noticed a channel leading from the lake going in the direction of the broad Atlantic, whose merciless breakers beat upon the shores of County Galway.
There was only one thing to do: watch the lake after dark. At length the sunlight began to fade and the clouds cast over the waters a chiaroscuro effect which soon changed into an ebon blackness. From our car I scanned the shore and at one stage I emerged with a beaming light strapped to my forehead while I stumbled around over hillock and tussock, my gaze fastened upon the silently lapping waters. No monster appeared. The day's departure lured no furry creature from the depths. In short, there was no sign of the dobharchú.
However, there is no doubt the lake was sizable enough to accommodate a large mammal, particularly if it were an occasional visitor, swimming in from the sea. There are other lakes in western Ireland of which the same thing might be said. Legend places the dobharchú in Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo and Connemara and the adjoining ocean and perhaps some day some fortunate soul will see it in the full light of day and be able to take photographic images of it which will impress even the most skeptical of scientists.