The vanishing Island

Hi all, I hope everyone is by now prepared for Christmas! Between work and college, I have been hectic and haven’t had a chance to enjoy the festive season so far. One thing I find helpful when I’m busy is to give my mind a break and delve into some interesting stories for a few minutes. So, with that in mind and taking a side-line from murders or disappearances, I want to share an interesting story with you. The actual ‘happening’ is short in itself but the mythology, science and speculation it sparks brings up a lot of fun thoughts. And who am I to say no to mysteries and science…

The vanishing Island at Ballycotton

Ballycotton is a fishing village in Co. Cork. This coastal village overlooks Ballycotton Bay and has a sandy beach which stretches out for about 25 kilometres (16 miles for those not on the metric system). Interestingly, due to severe coastal erosion, metres of land crumble away into the sea every few years and due to this, Ballycotton is actually a re-settlement of an older village which is now long underwater.

The appearance

On the 07th of July 1878 residents witnessed an unbelievable sight.

A new Island suddenly appeared just off the coast and could been seen by people who were now starting to gather along the shore. It was said that it could not have been a sea monster or whale as the view was so clear that witness claimed to be able to see a coastline, woodlands, mountains and valleys on this mysterious new island. Fishermen ventured out on their boats with aims to explore the island, but it faded into thin air upon their approach. The island has not been seen since.

Other coastal areas such as Ballyheigue Strand, Carrigaholt, and Ballyinalearne Bay have also reportedly witnessed similar anomalies, alongside areas of Scotland also.

Theories

The theory that the scientist in me can agree with is; could this island have been a ‘Fata Morgana’? A Fata Morgana is a mirage, named after sorceress Morgan le Fay, that can be seen as a narrow band situated above the horizon. In short, this phenomenon occurs because of the bending of light rays as they pass through air layers of different temperatures resulting in distorted or inverted ‘images’. These mirages have been known to change rapidly, which could explain why island disappeared for the fishermen. This could also have been due to the fishermen leaving the area of the different air temperatures for the mirage to be ‘visible’, but I’m not going to delve into the physics of it too much, I left those days behind me in college!

Another theory bouncing around is the Legendary island of Hy-Brasil. Named after the Celtic High King of the World, Breasal, many medieval maps even had it noted off the west or south coast. Sought by Brendan the Navigator, this ‘promised land’ is said to be hidden from the human eye and only becomes visible for one day every seven years. In Ireland, this island is also speculated to possibly be the famous Tír na n’Óg. In 1674, Captain John Nisbet supposedly came across a deep fog and as they passed through it came across a shoreline shrouded in mist. They decided to explore the island and saw large black magical rabbits (I suppose the cats needed a break) and a ‘wise, grizzled’ magician. The wise man gave them gold and silver and they went on their merry way. In 1872, T.J Westropp and the O’Flaherty family claimed to have witnessed the island appear and disappear and claimed to have visited the island many times before. This was 6 years before the Ballycotton appearance though. Either someone got their dates wrong or these islands were not Hy-Brasil… If you believe the mythology of course.

Hy-Brasil
Hy-Brasil seen off the coast of Ireland in a map from 1325 (origin of photo unknown)

Seals, dolphins and whales can be seen in the area of Ballycotton. Seals and dolphins would be too small to appear as a large island but could a whale? Reports state that the witnesses could see landscape features of the island such as a coastline and forests, so it could not have been a whale. Could this be down to Pareidolia? Pareidolia is a phenomenon where the mind perceives a familiar pattern where none exists, such as the infamous Jesus on a slice of toast or a piece of fruit that seems to be smiling back at you. If this was a whale, or as previously explained a mirage, then possibly in the residents minds it looked like an island. Just to note, Whales are only seen in this area around December and January, whereas this event happened in July.

Could this island be a ghostly apparition of Ballycotton’s underwater predecessors? The coastal erosion could have forced many other settlements back inland long before the 1800’s. No story is complete without some mention of ghosts!

No mystery is complete without our good old friends, the aliens. Yes, as always, there is a theory that Hy-Brasil has an alien link. In 1980 in Rendlesham Forest there were reported sightings of unexplained lights and is linked with UFO landings. This happened near RAF Woodbridge which was in use by the United States Air Force at the time. Sergeant Jim Penniston reportedly encountered a strange craft which communicated a binary code to him through telepathy. Decoding the binary, it reads ‘Origin 52.0942532N 13.131269W’ which is just of the south west coast of Ireland and correlates with some of the maps which depict the location of Hy-Brasil. The theory suggests that Hy-Brasil might be a sort of ‘station’ for extra-terrestrial or time travellers. Ancient aliens did an episode on this (S06, E09) suggesting that Hy-Brasil may be an extra-terrestrial base which is using a cloaking device. This is one rabbit hole I know I will go down when I have some free time to read some more.

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There are so many theories that can be passed around about this story, and we could be researching them all day, but then no work would be done would there?

So, what are your theories? Was this island just an explainable occurrence of a mirage, did our otherworldly friend’s cloaking device glitch or was it the fabled Land of the Young, Tír na n’Óg…..?

Marie Tierney

Marie Tierney was a 34-year-old loving mother of two who, alongside her husband, ran a local retail petrol station in the small town of Conahy. On October 21st 1982, Marie left her home and disappeared into the night. It wasn’t until two months later, in the run up to Christmas, that what happened her that night emerged.

Capture 2

On the night of October 21st 1982, Marie told her husband Jim that she was going out to enjoy herself and left the home she shared with her Jim and their two children, aged 13 and 12, at Clinstown, Jenkinstown at approximately 10.30pm. When she did not return, her husband reported her missing the next day.

Marie’s car, a Renault 18 with the registration number 35-HIP, was located at Newpark Fen the same day she was reported missing. Numerous searches were conducted by members of Marie’s family, friends and the local Gardai, however she could not be located. Witness statements put the car in Newpark at approximately 11pm the night of her disappearance.

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Marie Tierney. Source: Garda Press Office

Two months later, on December 21st, a man taking a walk along Bleach Road, on the outskirts of Kilkenny, was trying to gain access to a field to help an injured swan when he came across what he initially thought was a mattress. Upon closer inspection in the dense undergrowth, he discovered the body of Marie Tierney and raised the alarm.

Dr. Jon Harbison, the state pathologist at the time, concluded that Marie had been violently strangled.  

The local Gardai called in the homicide squad from Dublin City to ensure an adequate investigation could ensue and an incident room was set up at Kilkenny Garda station. The Gardai determined that Marie has been killed elsewhere, possibly in a house, most likely on the day she was last seen. Her remains were then transported by a vehicle to the spot where she was later found. This was corroborated by the pathologist’s conclusion that her body had laid there for the two months.

No definite leads came from the investigation, no arrests were made and the case went cold for over 30 years.

In 2017, Kilkenny Gardai re-opened the case. People who were familiar with Marie were re-interviewed and because so much time had past some felt more able to offer information on her life around the time she was murdered. New witnesses have come forward since the re-opening of the case and a suspect has been identified. The Gardai believe that statements from witnesses may be strong circumstantial evidence in the event that a suspect be charged and tried.

Marie’s remains were exhumed at dawn on Wednesday morning of October 31st this year and her body taken to Waterford University Hospital for examination in hopes that advanced scientific developments will allow investigators to gather crucial evidence to enable the prosecution of Marie’s killer.

John Bourke said, that although it was a necessary part of the investigation it was a tough day for the family. They could only hope that it would bring a conclusion, as justice, for Marie.

To note: It is a complex application process to exhume a body in Ireland and is only allowed in the rarest of circumstances. The Gardai have to apply to the Kilkenny County Council for a licence and a Ministerial Order is required from the Department of Justice. The exhumation must be carried out with ‘due care and decency, and in such a manner as not to endanger public health’. An environmental protection officer must be present for the exhumation, alongside others such as a forensic anthropologist, state pathologist, Gardai and a forensic scientist. A special coffin lined with zinc, known as a ‘shell’, is used to transport the remains. The exhumed body must be reburied or cremated within 48 hours.

The team working on the case believe that a series of tests, which were not available in the 80’s, can now be carried out on the body may offer DNA and other forensic evidence to link the killer to her case.

Following the exhumation, a fresh appeal for any members of the public who had seen anyone walking or cycling near Newpark Fenn or who has seen the Renault 18 on the night of Oct 21st 1984 to come forward. Gardai are especially appealing for people who may not have yet made themselves known for any reason during the initial investigations to come forward.

To date, over 200 witness statements have been recorded and over 500 lines of enquiries been investigated. No arrests have been made.

Marie’s brother and sister, John Bourke and Breda Fay, have spoken of the family’s ongoing anguish that their sister’s killer has not yet been caught. They have pleaded publicly to the murdered to do the right thing and hand himself in.

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Marie’s sister Breda Fay and brother-in-law Paddy Fay. Source: RTE Prime Time

Fay spoke on a Prime Time episode on Irish TV channel RTE ‘To imagine your sister, that somebody would murder her. Take her life and then, that her body was dumped in a ditch’. Marie’s Niece Deborah also told Prime Time ‘To be put in a ditch in the thick of winter. She loved her nails and appearance and always maintained herself really well. It was horrific, a horrific ending’.  The Prime Time TV show also filmed the Gardai as they re-opened the case in 2017.

Liam Connolly, the Inspector heading the investigation, continues to liaise with the Tierney and Bourke families and Chief Superintendent Dominic Hayes stated ‘It is incumbent on us that we put a huge effort into solving this murder for Marie’s family. I have no doubt that we will have a successful outcome’.

No results have been reported as of yet but no doubt all fingers are crossed for what information may be gleamed from the new forensic testing. With 2018 being a phenomenal year for forensics and DNA, the Golden State Killer’s capture comes to mind, lets hope that this good run of breakthroughs continues and finds its way to all our local cases, including Marie’s.