The mystery submarines off the coast of Ireland

In the mid-1980s a constant source of anxiety were the reports of supposed foreign submarines off the coast of Ireland. Many fishing boats had encounters with some mysterious vessels that might be called USOs (unidentified submarine objects). They were stopped or pulled backwards till they cut their nets clear. 

There were several sinking. And fishermen became outspoken about the matter. The papers relating to the matter fill three large bulging files; but cast little light on what was really happening. This was not surprising as it had happened elsewhere. 


Since about 1962 there have been constant reports of “foreign submarines” intruding into Swedish territorial waters. The latest was in 2014. But it has also been claimed that the boats involved belonged to NATO countries. The mystery remains unclear and seriously controversial in Sweden. 

In Ireland the sinking of the Sherlaga in April 1982 was the most notorious of similar incidents around the Irish coast. But these incidents have been attributed to NATO boats too. The fishermen involved receive a certain amount of compensation five years later. The latest incident concerned the Karen out Ardglass in Co. Down. 

The skipper of the Karen told the press: “It was a submarine, it had to be, it could not have been anything else,” Mr James said.

But others suggested that these indents might be caused by large whale or even giant squids, both commons enough off the Irish coast. 

There were even suggestions (by writers like Ivan T. Sanderson) that “aliens” might be involved. 

But these incidents, as a released files are a serious matter. 

The most recent spade was only last year when Co. Down-based trawler Karen almost sank. What went on in the early 1980s is covered by three very thick folders of reports and reactions released this year; but again little real light is cast on the matter. 


There seems reluctance on the part of the Irish government to get too involved with the affair, while sympathising with the fishermen over their genuine fears, the loss of life and the destruction of property. 

But the files reveal that Inveigh House made discreet inquiries with countries around the world to learn of similar incidents, among them Argentina, Greece, Japan and Canada. But this revealed only concern, not hard data. 

The mystery USOs remains one of those shadowy matters that have a long life in the files. there will be more in the files three years from now, for the matter was raised in the Dáil in March 1989 by Hugh Byrne FF TD for Wexford. He was later Minister of State for Marine and Natural Resources in the late 1990s, but is now happily out of politics. (2016/22/112; three files)