The Smoking Cannon

Each Monday, I’m given to ponder on the content of each forthcoming ‘Blather’, often worrying there will be nothing particularly topical to discuss. Can a week go by without anything utterly bizarre happening? Fortunately, these fears are always rapidly put to rest, due to the Universe’s unerring reliability in delivering some new fortean anomaly.

A rather amusing, classically fortean story crashed onto the Blather newsdesk this week, in the shape of a cannonball. The ‘civil war-type’ missile tore through a window and two walls of Leonard and Kathy Mickelson’s mobile home, in House Springs, Missouri, on Thursday night 16th of October, according to the Associated Press. Nobody was home when it happened, and the neighbours noticed nothing strange. Police are reportedly investigating the possible use of a small cannon, a weapon readily available for Civil War re-enactments. In an apparently unrelated incident reported by the Associated Press in Cincinnati, Ohio, on the 19th, a 14 year old boy was severely injured by an exploding gunpowder charge during a Civil War re-enactment.

Those of you fortunate enough to be graced with the arrival of Blather every week since the spring may well remember an issue titled ‘Raining Toads‘, where I discussed the many different anomalous substances reported as having fallen from the heavens. The wee hours of this morning were spent poring through the books of Charles Fort, but I could find no mention of cannonballs from the sky, (Obviously he didn’t record cannonballs that would have fallen during wars). As the Honourable Mr. Andy Silverman pointed out on the Forteana mailing list, perhaps the ‘civil war-type’ projectile plummeted from Fort’s hypothetical heavenly Sargasso Sea — from which many eels have reportedly migrated back to solid earth, rather than liquid water. Mr. Silverman goes on to wonder if a stray cannonball from the Ohio re-enactment was lost in the floating Sargasso . . . Blather is given to ponder, if such a floating sea, as ridiculous as it seems, manages to exist, why should we be at all bothered by the trivial matter of the Ohio re-enactment taking place *after* the House Springs cannonball incident?

Or then again, surely such an aerial ocean has maritime vessels floating about in it. . . the missile may have been a stray from some heavenly hostile exchange between alien galleons. . .

Recently, while delving through James Hardiman’s 1843 notes to Roderick O’Flaherty’s ‘A Description of West or H-Iar Connaught’ (1684), in a search for anomalous animal reports, I stumbled across the following, in a note pertaining to the appearance of ‘Demon Ships’ in Galway Bay in 1161 A.D., which was mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters:

‘*Fantastical Ships* – Our annalists, in recording this occurrence, call these ships *loinger demnacda*. . . the meaning of demnacda, which literally signifies devilish or diabolical, from *deaman* (demon), the evil spirit. But our author’s phrase, “fantastical ships” (viz., visionary, or having the appearance of a phantom, not real), was happily chosen to to express this instance of atmospheric refraction [Ah, the wonders of science – Blather]. The writer remembers to have have seen, when a boy, a well-define aerial phenomenon of this kind, from a rising ground near the mountain of Cruach-Patrick [a.k.a. Croagh Patrick, – Blather]. It was on a serene evening in the autumn of 1798. Hundreds who also witnessed the scene believed it supernatural; but it was soon afterwards found to have been caused by the fleet of Admiral Warren, then in pursuit of a French squadron, off the west coast of Ireland.’

After much hunting about, some other references were
unearthed. In ‘Mystery Airships of the 1800’s‘ by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman in Fate magazine of June 1973, which states the
following. . .

‘An ancient obscure Irish manuscript, ‘Speculum Regali’, records an incident that supposedly occurred in the year 956 A. D.: “There happened in the borough of Cloera, one Sunday while people were at mass, a marvel. In this town there is a church to the memory of St. Kinarus. It befell that a metal anchor was dropped from the sky, with a rope attached to it, and one of the sharp flukes caught in the wooden arch above the church door.

The people rushed out of the church and saw in the sky a ship with men on board, floating at the end of the anchor cable, and they saw a man leap overboard and pull himself down the cable to the anchor as if to unhook it.

“He appeared as if he were swimming in water.”

The folk rushed up and tried to seize him; but the bishop forbade the people to hold the man for fear it might kill him. The man was freed and hurried up the cable to the ship, where the crew cut the rope and the ship rose and sailed away out of sight. But the anchor is in the church as a testimony to this singular occurrence.”‘

The following was found in an online transcription of a United States Air Forces Academy textbook, ‘Introductory Space Science, Volume II, Department of Physics, USAF’, edited by Major Donald G. Carpenter and co-edited by Lt. Colonel Edward R. Therkelson. According to the online version, the book was taken off the curriculum in the 1970s, due of the controversy surrounding

From Chapter XIII: Unidentified Flying Objects

‘Even the Irish have recorded strange visitations. In the Speculum Regali in Konungs Skuggsi´ (and other accounts of the era about 956 A.D.) are numerous stories of “demonships” in the skies. In one case a rope from one such ship became entangled with part of a church. A man from the ship climbed down the rope to free it, but was seized by the townspeople. The Bishop made the people release the man, who climbed back to the ship, where the crew cut the rope and the ship rose and sailed out of sight.

In all of his actions, the climbing man appeared as if he were swimming in water. Stories such as this makes one wonder if the legends of the “little people” of Ireland were based upon imagination alone.’

I’m not convinced that the ‘Speculum Regali’ is part of the ‘Konugs skuggsi´’, it may be a typographical error in the online transcription. The former is apparently an Irish medieval text, while the latter seems to be a tome of Norse legend, with a recent version edited by Ludvig Holm-Olsen of Oslo in 1945. This ties in a viking involvement to many of these stories, which begs the question of whether or not such accounts were parables, or misinterpreted accounts of relatively ‘mundane’ events.

Jaques Vallee’s book ‘Dimensions‘ (ISBN: 0345360028) however, states that the event took place in 1211 A.D., which I think we will have to dispute, as this would have been after the Norman invasion (circa 1169), which may have put a different slant on the whole account, as well as the fact that Vallee’s account lacks a reference. On the other hand, Vallee’s ‘Anatomy of a Phenomenon‘ (ISBN: 0809298880) states:

‘Their attention, for example, should be directed to the ship that was seen speeding across the sky, at night, in Scotland in A.D. 60. In 763, while King Domnall Mac Murchada attended the fair at Teltown, in Meath County, ships were also seen in the air.’

Incidentally the Annals of the Four Masters also mentions that ‘Ships, with their crews, were plainly seen in the sky this year’. The year? 743 A.D. (‘Fortean Phenomena in the Annals of the Four Masters’, by Peter Alderson Smith, Fortean Times 54:51).

In Gervase of Tilbury’s Otia Imperialis’ from the 13th century, a very similar event is described as having taken place around 1200 A.D. at a church near Bristol, which brings to mind the ‘Card Playing Devil on a Stormy Night’ form of ghost story, which seems to be linked to several ‘haunted houses’ in Ireland and Britain. Loftus Hall in Wexford and ‘The Hellfire Club’ in the Dublin mountains spring to mind. Could the various texts have being describing the same story, or even the same parable, misinterpretation, or mistranslation? As for the form of these UFOs, an apparent aerial vessel would have been possibly described as a sailing ship, just as Fort was cataloguing reports of ‘ghostly airships’ long before the days of ‘flying saucers’. It’s certainly worth bearing in mind that the UFO phenomenon is not as new as we are given to think.

All this, of course, doesn’t necessarily explain the cannonball buried inside Leonard and Kathy Mickelson’s mobile home.

Blather would offer thanks for the sterling support and much needed assistance of Paul ‘Archeire‘ Clerkin, Bob ‘Fortean Times ‘ Rickard, Leslie Ellen Jones, Kelly McGillis, Andy Silverman and Tim Hodkinson.

Dimensions (

Dimensions (

Chief Bottle Washer at Blather
Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and "known troublemaker" Dave Walsh is the founder of, described both as "possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River", and "the nicest website circulating in Ireland". Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.