Among the legendary beasts of Ireland is something called the dobhar-chu (Gaelic for “water hound”), a mysterious and dangerous creature said to dwell in some lakes. The very sight of one is rumoured to cost a witness his or her life. These “water hounds” figure not just in oral tradition but also in claimed experiences from earlier centuries.

Bearing stark testimony to the water hound’s bloodthirsty nature is a gravesite in Glenade, County Leitrim. The epitaph notes the death of a woman named Grace (the last name is no longer discernible) on September 27, 1722. On the tombstone is the carving of an unidentified animal with some features of an otter, run through with a spear. The woman is said to have been killed by a water hound as she was washing clothes in nearby Glenade Lake.

When her husband found her bloody clothes with a water hound lying on them, he plunged a knife into the animal’s heart. The creature made a whistling sound, and another animal just like it appeared in the lake, swam swiftly toward the husband, and chased him and a friend, who fled on horseback. Eventually, they turned on the creature and stabbed it to death before it could harm either of them.

This is a colourful local legend. As early as 1684 Roderick O’Flaherty, author of a book on his Irish rambles, noted stories of an “Irish crocodile” that witnesses often mistook, at least initially, for an otter. The creature once attacked a man who managed to hit it on the head with a rock and then cut it with a knife, scaring it away. Similar beasts, O’Flaherty wrote, had been observed in other Irish lakes. “They call it Doyarchu, i.e., water dog, or anchu, which is the same thing.” One witness said it had the colour “of an ordinary greyhound” and “black slimey skin, without hair.”

Dave Walsh, an Irish lough (lake) monster investigator, visited the gravesite and investigated the Dobhar-chu. He felt the identification of the Dobhar-chu with the fairly shy otter (which can be found at lengths of over five feet six inches [1.67 meters], including the tail) seems to be by default—no other known Irish water creature comes as close to a rational zoological explanation. Its general resemblance to an otter notwithstanding, it seems clear it could not have been one of these shy, unaggressive animals. The Dobhar-chu does not seem to have been a Lake Monster in the (relatively speaking) conventional sense. Walsh asks whether we can accept the Dobhar-chu as a hungry lake serpent that grows legs occasionally when it feels like eating.

No encounters with water hounds have been reported in a long time. If these creatures had any existence outside the imagination, it is hard to figure out what they could have been.


The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark