You dismount and guide your horse down to the water’s edge, letting the reins go slack so he can drop his head and drink. You crouch on the shore, washing some of the dust of the road from your arms and boots, enjoying the feel of cool water and clean skin. Suddenly your horse’s head jerks up, he is alert and backing away from the water, startled by something. He bolts before you can get a firm grasp on the rein, crashing into the underbrush. You swear and hope you can find him before someone else does.
As you turn to follow, you hear the splash of something in the water, something big. Then you see it, a crocodile-sized creature covered with slick, dark fur barreling through the water toward you, jaws open, and realize your horse had the right idea.
Better draw your sword quick because the dobhar-chú is coming for you.
This creature has many nicknames: king of all lakes, father of all otters, the Irish crocodile, and king otter among them. Its name literally translates to “water hound.” Add all these description up and you get a pretty clear picture of the dobhar-chú. Stories tell of a large creature, anywhere from seven to ten feet long, that combines the features of an otter, crocodile, and dog. It is said to have dark fur, teeth and claws straight from your nightmares, a powerful tail, and an absolutely insatiable appetite for human meat.
There are echoes of lake monster and kelpie lore in the tale of the dobhar-chú, with a few twists that are decidedly unfortunate for any who encounter this creature. Though the dobhar-chú is always spotted in and around lakes, rivers, and the coast, it is not a strictly water-dwelling monster. Unlike its lake bound brethren, the dobhar-chú is just as deadly out of the water, and horrifyingly fast on solid ground. It can swim and run much faster than humans (or humanoids), keeping pace with horses on land. And, while lake monsters are tied to a single body of water, the dobhar-chú migrates, traveling a mysterious route across the Irish countryside. You can avoid Nessie by staying out of Loch Ness, but the dobhar-chú can be anywhere.
The dobhar-chú is fast and fierce, but not impossible to beat in combat. According to Irish folklore, heroes have felled these creatures with daggers, spears, swords, and bullets, so they’re just as susceptible to conventional weapons as any animal, even if their size and speed make them far more formidable. However, if you do down a dobhar-chú, get ready for a bonus fight. The dobhar-chú does not travel alone but in mated pairs. Kill one and before it dies, it will let out an otherworldly sound, described as both a scream and a whistle, to call its mate, which will immediately unleash an attack far more frenzied than the first creature’s.
A recurring strategy against the dobhar-chú in folklore is to use horses as bait when facing down the second creature, distracting it long enough to land a fatal strike. You will definitely lose the horse if you try out this plan, so hopefully you’re fine with walking for a while.
It’s said that the pelt of the dobhar-chú also has power, and that carrying one with you can protect any ship you’re on from wrecking. There are also myths that wearing dobhar-chú into battle makes you impervious to blades and bullets, but given that the creature itself can be brought down by standard weapons, maybe think twice before treating its fur like magical kevlar.
Dex Dylan is the founder and acting president of the International Society of Astrocryptozoology. For decades, Dex has scoured the skies and seas (and sometimes the land, but honestly it’s so crowded) for hints of unusual life forms, and has done extensive research into the possible existence of chupacabras on Mars.