Back to the Folklore



This creature is said to live in lakes and rivers throughout Ireland. The name Dobhar-Chu means 'water hound', as the creature has an almost dog-like appearance. It is also known as 'king otter', as some believe it to be an otter of unusual size.

In its encounters with humans, it is invariably aggressive, though it is unclear whether they consider humans their prey, or just a rival. In one story the creature was reacting to human aggression.

County Wicklow has an abundance of lakes and rivers, so keep an eye out for this one.

Water Horse (Irish: Cápall Uiscé)

River Horse
River Horse

The water horse - also known as the kelpie - is an animal traditionally held to have lived in Ireland since prehistoric times. They are also said to be found in Scotland, and right across Scandinavia. The really interesting thing about them is that they are still sighted today, and there is a particularly famous one in a lake near Clifden in Connemera.

Wicklow is traditionally one of their strongholds, and funnily enough even naturalists do sometimes report very strange sightings. Almost all sightings have been in spring, which has led some scientists to think there might be some genuine zoology behind the accounts. Ireland's most famous naturalist, Éamon De Buitléar even witnessed the characteristic two humps in a lake he was staking out in the 1980s, but he decided it must have been two otters swimming in single file. Anyhow, if you do see one, beware, they're said to eat children.

The biggest freshwater fish in Europe, the Wels or Giant Catfish is known to exceed 20ft in length and there are legends of them occasionally eating children or bathers. However, this fish is not found in Ireland, although it was introduced to England by the Romans, as a food fish. It is very rare there, but very common in Scandinavia, and bears a remarkable resemblance to illustrations of river dragons in Chinese landscape paintings.

The one in the picture is based on descriptions of them, although it's possible the head in not supposed to rise out of the water at all. They are also known as horse eels, and there is at least one account of the body of a huge eel with a horse-like head having been trapped in a weir gate by government workmen, about a century ago. The average length of those described is about 10 to 15ft. Anyhow, I've never seen one, or anything that could be one, but I don't spend a lot of time around lakes. But for those doubters I would add just one thing: the enormous Giant Freshwater Stingray, which can be found right in the heart of Bangkok city, in Thailand, was completely unknown to science until 20 years ago, and was considered to be a folklore animal, despite the insistence of local fishermen that it was a real and very physically powerful creature.