Jun 19, 2019 I Paul Seaburn

The Hunt for the Giant Horse-Headed Eel Begins Soon in Ireland

“Horse-Headed Eel” sounds like a classic Monty Python insult – or even a real British one. However, it’s actually a legendary Irish mythical lake monster that’s about to get another 15 minutes of fame – its first in 50 years. Is the world losing interest in the Loch Ness monster? Are its poll numbers down? Should it be worried?

“The creatures reported from the loughs are known locally as horse eels or peistes. They are said to resemble eels with a horse like mane running along the back. They range from 10 to 30 feet long and are capable of crawling across the land. The most famous sighting occurred in 1954 at Lough Fadda when Gorgina Carberry, a librarian from Clifden and her friends saw a 30 foot, eel-like beast with jaws like a shark.”

Thirty feet of eel-like body, head and mane of a horse and jaws of a shark! That’s the kind of monster that gets the attention of cryptozoologists like Richard Freeman, the head of the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) in North Devon and a consultant on a new documentary called “Enigma” that is currently seeking crowdfunding in order to begin filming in August. CFZ is a non-profit founded in 1992 by Jonathan Downes which looks at both the Fortean/ cryptozoological side of unknown and mythical creatures and the zoological/mutational/aberrant side of known creatures that do unusual things, grow to unusual sizes or have unusual shapes and colors. Freeman will be working with producer and researcher Travis Wolfe and strange phenomena investigator Allison Jornlin. They will be picking up where Captain Lionel Leslie and author FW Holliday left off in the late 1960s in their search for horse-headed eels in the lakes of Lough Auna, Lough Gleann, and the Killary in Ireland’s Connemara region.

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Upper half of a horse-headed eel

“Captain Leslie used dynamite to force the creatures to the surface. He reported seeing one thrashing about at the surface after a blast had been set off.”

The “Enigma” team won’t be using dynamite in its search for the horse eels whose stories date back to the tenth century CE. Thomas Crofton Crocker collected songs and tales of the horse eel during his travels in Southern Ireland from 1812 to 1816 and is credited with popularizing it. In 1954, Georgia Carberry and some companions on a fishing trip on Lough Fadda claimed to have seen a huge long-necked monster with two humps that threatened to capsize their boat. That sighting intrigued Captain Leslie, an explorer and big game hunter, who arrived at the lough in 1965 with a team and five pounds of gelignite, an explosive made from a gel of nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose in a base of wood pulp and sodium or potassium nitrate that is normally used for rock blasting. When they detonated it at about the same location as Carberry’s encounter, it rocked … something. Here’s an account from unknownexplorers.com:

“Within seconds of the explosion a large, dark object came thrashing to the surface of the lake; it thrashed so wildly that the members of the team had a difficult time making out any specific physical features of the beast. After some discussion the team agreed that what they had seen was a very real creature, one that resembled no other animal known to live in Lough Fadda.”

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Lower half of a horse-headed eel

Captain Leslie returned with his team and trolled Lough Fadda and the nearby loughs Nahooin, Shanakeever and Auna with giant nets, but caught nothing. While there have been other sightings, there have been no more expeditions until now. What did Carberry, Leslie and the others see? In an interview with The Irish Mirror, Freeman puts on his zoological pith helmet and hedges his bets.

“The monsters may be a gigantic, mutant strain of the common eel. The European eels live in freshwater but when it is ready to breed to swims out into the Sargasso Sea. The eels breed and die here and the young swim back the waters inhabited by their ancestors. However there is a theory that some eels never sexually develop. These eunuch eels as they are known, remain in freshwater and nobody knows just how long they live or how big they get. It is believed that these mutations arse on occasion within a normal population of eels.”

Giant eunuch eels? A great name for a band but a not-so-scary description of a monster – real, movie or otherwise. The “Enigma” team hopes to solve the Lough Fadda mystery without having to resort to explosives. They’ll be using a drone, a handheld infrared device, motion sensor cameras, a remote-controlled submarine, an inflatable raft, an underwater microphone, fish sonar and a camera spotting scope.

That’s not as dramatic as high explosives, but it will be worth it if they find a horse-headed eel, a giant eunuch eel, some other mutation or something truly unexpected. Actually, finding anything would be something truly unexpected, although Richard Freeman holds out hope for the team and for all cryptozoologists and zoologists:

“The giant squid, the mountain gorilla, the Komodo dragon and the okapi were all dismissed as myths before they were discovered. Large animals are still being discovered today. The great days of zoology are not done.”

And if you don't believe that, you're a horse-headed eel!

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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