Emerald Isle

The Water Horse

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from Irish Gods and Monsters

Old lakes hide deep secrets

Throughout the lands where Gaelic was spoken, the legend of the water horse was whispered by many a fireside, or sometimes told in a hurry by someone running the other direction! There are many lakes in Ireland, and most of them aren't very large, but they run still, dark and deep.

The Each-Uisce, as the water horse or horse-eel was known in the old language, is thought to have short and stumpy legs, a head like a horse, and a long sinuous body and tail. It hides in the deep lakes and generally comes out at night, where its black hide glistens in the starlight. The water horse is said to eat the crops of farmers, and sometimes even their animals!

Older tales tell how the water horse would wait in the shallows and someone would come along thinking it was a real horse, learning only too late their mistake, for upon finding the water far deeper than they thought, they would be thrown on the  Each-Uisce's back and carried away into the murky crushing depths, leaving nothing but strange tracks behind them.

But stranger yet is the way that these stories haven't faded with time, but rather more of them seem to be cropping up – particularly in the areas around  Lough Shanakeever and Lough Brin, where Fionn Mac Cumhaill was said to have lost his dog.

Not so long ago, a young boy was bathing near Lough Brin, and the next thing you know he ran into his parents house with his back bleeding, crying and saying he'd been bitten by a “wurrum” that looked like half a horse and half a fish. Many of the locals will tell you their own tales about it too, and long have they known it.

The mightiest river in Ireland, the Shannon is said to have one of these water horses in it, a great beast called Cata, who is spoken of in the ancient Book of Lismore. The writer speaks of St Senan, patron saint of County Clare, fighting and winning victory over the creature at Inis Cathaigh. Cata is depicted as a huge serpent with a horse's mane, gleaming eyes, thick feet, iron nails and a whale's tail.

Another tale is that of Suileach of the many eyes, who made his home in Lough of Swilly in Donegal, where he terrorised the locals and slew more than a few. He was eventually defeated by Saint Colmcille who lived there about 1500 years ago.

Nearby in County Down, a water horse called Muirdris or to some, Sinach, who gave battle to Fergus mac Leti in Lough Rury, and whose venom left the face of Fergus all twisted and ugly. His friends hid all the mirrors so he wouldn't know this, but he eventually caught a glimpse of himself and went back to fight the creature again, this time defeating it.

Out in Connemara in Lough Shanakeever there was a man whose sheep were being killed on a nightly basis, so he loaded up his shotgun and went out under the moon, staking out dead sheep on the shores of the lake. He suspected it was a large fox or dog run wild doing the deed, but as the night wore on he heard a sound close to his bait, and fired off a shot at it!

Neither dog nor fox broke from the bushes though - instead there was a loud splash as though a  great boulder had fallen into the lake, and a mighty spray of water that reached almost to his perch!

Lough Shanakeever can be found on the map below.

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