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UFO sightings are often described as “the mythology of the Space Age”.
There was certainly a significant rise in all things extraterrestrial in the years following the Second World War, with the Roswell Incident being just one standout example.
But people have been seeing unexplained objects in the sky for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
Before the idea of “aliens” entered the public imagination, sightings of strange ships, and even their crews, were often blamed on “demons”.
One stunning account comes from St.John D Seymour’s 1913 book Irish Witchcraft and Demonology. It tells of a “ship” in the skies above Tipperary that was seen by multiple witnesses in March, 1678.
The witnesses, who included a parish priest and a schoolteacher from nearby Poinstown, saw “something like a ship” rising out of the sunset and coasting overhead.
But then the phantom sailors suffered a disaster: “Having seemed thus to sail some few minutes [the ship] sunk by degrees into the sea, her stern first; and as she sunk they perceived her men plainly running up the tacklings in the forepart of the ship, as it were to save themselves from drowning.”
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Then things took an even stranger turn – with what to those Seventeenth-Century people looked like a “fort” that split into two parts that looked like ships – before another group of the craft appears and a battle broke out.
Their detailed descriptions of sailors apparently climbing up and down the ship’s rigging suggest that they were seeing a real naval battle projected overheard by a freak atmospheric phenomenon – especially as in the account one of the witnesses mentions the Sun “looking larger than usual”.
But the second part of the strange vision defies any easy explanation: “Then there appeared a Chariot, drawn by two horses,” Seymour writes, “which turned as the Ships had done, northward, and immediately after it came a strange frightful creature, which they concluded to be some kind of serpent, having a head like a snake, and a knotted bunch or bulk at the other end, something resembling a snail's house.”
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The whole demonic vision played out over something like an hour, holding the group of witnesses fascinated.
But while the Poinstown sighting – strange as it was – could be explained away as a mirage, a similar tale dating back to the reign of Iron Age Irish king Congalach Cnogba suggests that these sky-sailors might be something more solid than a mere illusion.
At a fair in Teltown, on the Blackwater, Congalach and his entire entourage saw a flying ship with a human-looking figure leaning out and apparently “fishing” in the air using a spear.
When the strange “fisherman” reached out to collect his spear one of the king’s bodyguards tried to hold him down. The stranger appeared to be drowning in the dense air near the ground, begging to be released. After Congalach commanded his guard to let the drowning man go, he seemed to “swim” though the air back to his craft.
Early UFO sightings often reflect the imagery of their times.
The 1890s “airship flap” in the western US saw dozens of reports of cigar-shaped flying ships that seem to resemble the Zeppelins that would fly for the first time a few years later.
Historian Mike Dash wrote that “not only were [the mystery airships] bigger, faster and more robust than anything then produced by the aviators of the world; they seemed to be able to fly enormous distances, and some were equipped with giant wings… “
Mirages, balloons, or demonic visitors from some strange parallel dimension, you’re more likely to see them at Halloween, when the walls between parallel worlds are said to be at their thinnest.
We're grateful to Nigel Watson's catalogue of historical UFO sightings on Facebook.
- Spaced Out
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