An inquest into the death of 50 year old Carndonagh resident Elizabeth Mcloughlin has resulted in controversy about the subject of spontaneous human combustion with at least one expert declaring the phenomenon a myth. For years scientists have argued over the possibility of spontaneous human combustion being a reality in some rare cases. And now it appears these scientists may be once again dusting off some of the oldest accounts and getting back into the controversy.
The controversy of spontaneous human combustion has been around for quite some time, but it is generally under much more scrutiny now than when it was first proposed due largely to more advanced scientific models. In one of the early texts about acclaimed knight Polonus Vorstius we see one of the earliest examples of spontaneous human combustion in action when it tells the story of the Italian knight who lived in the 1400s and liked wine more than a little. But one night as they were sitting around the dinner table, Polonus imbibed two ladles of extraordinarily strong wine and quickly started becoming ill. Shortly after consuming the liquid he began spouting flame and quickly light began emanating from within him at which point he collapsed and burst into flame. The event was one of the earliest examples of spontaneous human combustion and still is one of the strangest partially due to the fact that it was witnessed by others.
Deputy State Pathologist Michael Curtis has weighed in on the situation after the event was ruled a death by fire. Interestingly enough this is the second case of possible spontaneous human combustion in Ireland with the first occurring in 2010 with the death of Michael Faherty. In 2010 Faherty was discovered in his apartment in a room near a furnace but investigators said there was no way the fire could have been caused by the furnace itself. And now this possible second case, that of Mcloughlin has rejected similar explanations for a resident of Carnonagh who was discovered in very similar circumstances.
But the strange thing is how closely the area saw two mysterious deaths by fire where there were no burn marks anywhere near the body, instead remaining localized on the bodies themselves. Curtis has suggested the well known explanation of “the wick effect” whereby the clothes of an individual act as a wick as the body burns and ultimately consumes it altogether.
But this wick effect is not sufficient explanation for several of the cases of spontaneous human combustion over the years such as cases where a victim is sitting normally having a conversation and suddenly they are found spontaneously breathing fire or others where sparks follow them along as they walk. Some have suggested that this may be the result of an as yet unknown natural phenomenon while others suggest it could be the result of nothing more than active imaginations trying to unravel unsolved mysteries. And in the case of Elizabeth Mcloughlin, the official explanation has been declared not spontaneous human combustion.