The Day of the Dobharchu

Grace Mc Laughlin left the small cottage she shared with her husband, Traolach, close
to the shore of Glenade Lake. The air shimmered with the expectancy of another
splendid September day. The weather had been unseasonably warm for the past week
or so; azure sky and an intense sun that suggested mid-July more than late
September. This morning, the countryside was silent as Grace made her way to the lakeshore,
basket of clothes and washboard balanced carefully on hip. She picked her way along
the footpath that led to the small inlet where she washed their clothes. She welcomed
the promise of another day of heat; wet garments would dry quickly and without need
of lengthy hanging out on bushes.
Reaching the place where the water was shallow enough to permit safe entry, she
unloaded her basket, placing the clothes into the cold water of the lake. Hitching up her
skirts, she entered the water barefoot, and commenced to pummel her laundry with a
washing stone, disturbing the serenity of the lake. The agitated water rippled out
towards the centre; a turbulence created by her honest industry. And this turbulence
alerted something deep within the dark waters. Alerting it, enticing it, to the place
where Grace continued to beat the water, unaware of the approaching horror.
The creature glided swiftly and certainly towards the epicentre of the disturbance and
emerged from the water a short distance away. The woman washed on. And then, the
darkness. Death and destruction amid the beauty. The mountains, woodlands,
waterside meadows and lapping water mute witnesses to the carnage. And in those
few moments, the landscape ceased to breath, suspended by the destruction of
innocence and beauty. Its bloody work done, the Dobharchu, lay on the lake shore
beside its victim, and slept.
At mid-day, the husband returned to the cottage. Finding it empty, he set off in search
of his wife, taking the path to the lakeshore. And then the discovery. Incensed by anger
and anguish, he plunged his dagger into the heart of the sleeping Dobharchu. The
dying creature emitted a cry that echoed around the cradle of the surrounding
mountains, circling and circling and circling. A cry of death. A cry of warning to its
mate, that now sped towards the shore.
Intent on avenging the death of its mate, the ferocity of the creature was intense. The
ensuing battle between man and beast was savage, and the sound of the conflict
alerted Mc Laughlin’s brother who lived a field’s distance away. Running towards the
sounds, he saw his brother in the fight of his life, battling a monstrous foe. He saw that
the battle would not last long and that the creature was more than able for any man.
Realising that they could not vanquish the beast on foot, the two men ran for the stable
at Traolach’s cottage and hastily harnessed the two horses standing within. The
Dobharchu moved from the water’s edge. Steadily it made its way over land,
unrelenting in its quest for revenge.
On seeing the two men astride the horses, the creature launched itself forward,
gathering a momentum and a speed that the brothers had not thought possible.
Spurring their horses onward, they made their way down the floor of the valley and
across under the needle of Benwiskin. And still it followed; dark and intent and
menacing. The chase continued underneath the table top of Benbulben until one horse
lost a shoe. The men set about losing themselves and their steeds in undergrowth and
brush in an attempt to outwit the beast.
It was then that they came upon a small blacksmith’s forge. On learning of the urgency
of the situation, the blacksmith shod the horse as fast as humanly possible. He told the
men that the creature hunting them was not of this world but a malevolent being from
the fairy world. Only a stake of iron through its heart would stop it.
With renewed vigour, a length of sharpened iron from the forge, and instruction from
the blacksmith, the brothers set out to the ancient ringfort of Cashelgarron, under the
head of Benbulben.
Once there they placed one of the horses across the gap that opened into the rath.
The creature would have to launch itself through the animal to gain access to the men.
Being of the fairy kind, the Dobharchu found its enemies easily within the confines of
the cashel. Pulsating with anger, it approached the entrance, ferocious with intent. Its
momentum drove it straight through the unfortunate horse and immediately in front of
Mc Laughlin who drove the iron into the heart of the Dobharchu. The danger had
passed. But so too had the life of the young Grace Mc Laughlin.
Henceforth, that day became known as the Day of the Dobhar Chu and local people
whispered of the strange events that had taken place on the shores of Glenade Lake.
None dared to swim in the lough and few brought their cattle there to drink. The dark
water guarded its secrets well, and to this day, no-one has ever claimed to have seen
another such creature in the vicinity of the lake.
And, reader, if you think these events fantastical and improbable – then ponder this.
In the local graveyard of Conwell, one can find a weathered gravestone lying on the
green turf. Situated some metres from the entrance, it marks the grave of one Grace
Mc Laughlin and is inscribed with the date of her death – 22nd September 1722. But
what arrests the attention is the carving on the stone which depicts a crouched animal
resembling a large dog with a dagger protruding from its neck.
The story of the Dobhar Chu lives on in local folklore. And the lake retains its
knowledge, silent and serene on the floor of the valley. Its waters are dark and deep.
But what lies beneath.
( Note – A second gravestone in Conwell Cemetery is to be found a little removed from
the first. Its carving depicts a man sitting on a horse and brandishing a sword or dagger
in a defiant gesture).