The Mirror, Saturday, May 10, 1823.
The various phenomena exhibited by nature present nothing more curious and extraordinary than those which are caused by the reflection and refraction of light from fogs and vapours arising from the sea, lakes, and morasses, replete with marine and vegetable salts. These vapours, by means of the said salts, form various polished surfaces, which reflect and refract the light of the sun, and even the moon, in various directions, by which they not only distort, but multiply the images of objects represented to them in a most surprising manner. They not only form images of castles, palaces, and other buildings, in various styles of architecture, but also the most beautiful landscapes, spacious woods, groves, orchards, companies of men and women, herds of cattle, &c. &c. these are all painted with such an admirable mixture of light and shade, that it is impossible to form an adequate conception of the picture without seeing it. The best scenery exhibited by the camera obscura is not more beautiful, or a more faithful representation of nature.
Though these curious and beautiful phenomena are not peculiar to any age or country, they are more frequently seen on the sea coasts; and though in some respects common in such situations, they have hitherto been so little noticed by the intelligent part of mankind as to be scarcely known to exist. Those which have most attracted attention have been seen in the summer season on the southern coasts of Italy, near the ancient city of Rhegium, called by the fishermen and peasants in their native tongue fata morgana, or dama fata morgana. They are, however, frequently noticed by the English, Erse, and Irish peasants, fishermen, and mariners; and denominated by the two latter sea fairies and fairy castles. The Erse fishermen, among the western isles of Scotland, frequently see represented on barren heaths and naked rocks, beautiful fields, woods, and castles, with numerous flocks and herds grazing, and multitudes of people of both sexes in various attitudes and occupation. These, as they know no such objects really exist, they constantly attribute to enchantment, or the fairies. They are also frequently seen on the coasts of Norway, Ireland, and Greenland. On the eastern and western coasts of South America, even on the highest summit of the Andes, the fata morgana are met with. Also far out at sea, in the midst of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the adventurous mariner sometimes observes them; and though well known under the name fog banks, yet has their appearance been so imposing as to elude the nicest scrutiny, and to promise refreshments to the fatigued and sea-worn mariner which, he could not obtain. The most ancient account of these aerial castles and islands which has been transmitted to us, is the representation of a beautiful island situated nearly in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, between the coasts of Ireland and Newfoundland, first observed by some Danish and Irish fishermen about the year 900, and from that period to the commencement of the 14th century frequently by the Anglo-Saxon, English, and French fishermen and mariners.
But, as this island could never be approached, it was called the enchanted island, and supposed by the 'maritime inhabitants of Scotland, Ireland, France, and Spain, to be the country of departed spirits, and consequently denominated in Erse Flath Innis, or the Noble Island; in Irish Hy Brasil, or the Country of Spirits; by the Anglo-Saxons, Icockane, or the Country in the Waves; and by the French and Spaniards, who supposed it to consist of two distinct islands, Brasil and Assmanda, or the Islands of Ghosts. And so much persuaded were geographers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of their real existence, that they have place in all or most of the maps of the Atlantic in those periods. Even so late as about the year 1750, an English ship, returning from Newfoundland, near lat. 50° north discovered an island not heretofore known, which not only appeared fertile, but covered with verdant fields and shady woods, among which cattle were seen to graze; and only the appearance of a violent surge hindered the captain and crew from landing, according to their desire. So well convinced, however, were they of its real existence, that, on arriving at London, ships were ordered out to complete the discovery; but no island could be found, nor has any land been discovered in that track from that time to the present. Commodore Byron, in his Voyage round the World, mentions a fog bank in a high southern latitude, which appeared like an island, with capes and mountains, deceiving the most experienced seamen on board for some time.
From these evidences of the frequent appearance of the fata morgana, we shall proceed to describe one seen near the town of Youghal, in the county of Cork, Ireland, in the year 1796, according to the view given in our engraving, drawn on the spot by a young lady, one among a number of spectators. This was seen on the 21st of October, 1796, about four o'clock in the afternoon, the sun clear: it appeared on a hill, on the county of Waterford side of the river, and seemed a walled town with a round tower, and a church with a spire; the houses perfect, and the windows distinct. Behind the houses appeared the mast of a ship, and in the front a single tree; near which was a cow grazing; whilst the Waterford hills appeared distinctly behind. In the space of about half an hour the spire and round tower became covered with domes, and the octagonal building, or rather round tower, became a broken turret. Soon after this change, all the houses became ruins, and their fragments seemed scattered in the field near the walls; in about an hour it disappeared, and the hill on which it stood sunk to the level of the real field.