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Monday, 13 August 2012

The Lights That Presaged Death

     Has anybody else heard of the Island Lights of Crusheen, in County Clare, Ireland? They were well known in the village at least until the middle of last century. Of course, readers in the field of anomalies and nature mysteries will be aware that enigmatic lights have been reported from many parts of the world. After all, here in Queensland we have our own Min Min Lights. Although unexplained, there is no reason to connect them to anything paranormal. Except that the Island Lights of Crusheen were believed to be harbingers of death.
     That, by itself, should arouse no wonder. Throughout history, all sorts of things have been labelled omens of death or bad luck. But there appears to have been something more to the Island Lights.
      Crusheen is a village just 10 km from Ennis, not far from the famous Galway Bay. According to the Wikipedia article, its population today amounts to only 864. In the 1950s, it was little more than a single street of houses. Traditionally, the local families were buried on an island called Inchicronan, set in a small lake two miles to the south, next to the ruins of an old priory. A raised causeway, often submerged in winter, links the island to the western shore.
     If you were one of those whose your family graveyard was on the island, then according to tradition, you  would be granted the dubious privilege of being informed a day or two beforehand of your impending death. At that time - and you might still be in perfect health - two candlelike flames, of unequal size, would spring up on the island and then, moving at a height of about six feet, proceed across the causeway, down the roads, and up onto the rooftop of your house, there to rest a few minutes before returning the way they had come. Needless to say, such a phenomenon could not be present without a legend arising to explain its origin. It is said to be the ghost of a lazy monk who, having failed to answer the summons of a dying woman, leaving her to perish without the last rites, is now doomed to do penance by warning others of their fate.
     Superstition! you may say. But engineer, P. Corbett, who often stayed with relatives in the village, had a sobering experience. He was visiting his uncle's family when, out for a night-time stroll with friends, he saw a peculiar light approaching down the road. At first, he imagined it was a feeble lantern. But as it came closer, he noticed it was moving, naked and unsupported, about six feet off the ground, and created no luminescence around it. Closer still, and it resolved into two candlelike flames, one bigger than the others. One of his companions cried out that they were the Island Lights. As the flames drew abreast, Mr Corbett noticed that they did not flicker in the wind. Following them, he was amazed to see them climb up to the roof of his relatives' house, remain there a few minutes, and then return the way they had came. Not a single feature was missing from the traditional account.
     Needless to say, his uncle's family was filled with consternation. However, they assured him that he had no need to be worried. After all, his family's burial site was not on the island. About midday the following day, his first cousin set out for his farm a few miles away, as he did twice every week. He was a good driver, and he knew the route thoroughly, but half an hour later, he ran off the road, and was killed.
     Mr Corbett was able to authenticate two other cases. Two young ladies were walking home one night, when they met a young male family friend. Having conversed briefly with him, they went on their way, turned a bend in the road - and ran into the Island Lights, which then passed them in the direction the young man had taken. That night, shortly after the young man arrived home, his brother died suddenly. Interestingly, the youth had not himself seen the lights, although they felt sure they must have passed him.
     Another night, two local men went out to the lake in order to hunt geese, when they saw the lights appear on the island, then cross the causeway, and head off to the northeast - away from the village. Nobody, they were sure, whose family graves were on the island, lived in that direction. But next morning, an oldtimer pointed out that there was an old recluse named John Cavan who would fit the bill. Need I say more? When they arrived at his home, and the police had broken down the locked door, it transpired that the old man had been dead for several days. The lights had been late!
     And so you have it. "One of the most curious of human characteristics," commented the author, "is the disposition to accept as commonplace any happening, however inexplicable it may appear, provided it occurs sufficiently often to be no longer regarded as a novelty."
     That was more than sixty years ago. What is the situation today? As I said before, Crusheen is still a village, albeit a larger and more up-to-date one. Are the inhabitants still buried on the island? And do the Island Lights still came to warn them of their impending demise? In any case, it is important to set the record down, because one day people will forget that such things ever happened.

Reference: "The 'Island Lights'" by Dr John M. Langan and P. Corbett, B. Eng. The Wide World, January 1954, pp 176-8. (This is the Australian and New Zealand editions. The UK edition would have been December 1953.)

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