Top 10 Irish Mythological Creatures | Irish Folklore

Top 10 Irish Mythological Creatures

The Headless Horseman

Irish mythology is full of weird and wonderful (and some terrifying) creatures. Here are some of our favourites Celtic legendary creatures:

1. Leprechaun

A cartoon leprechaun

The leprechaun is undoubtedly the most famous of all Irish mythological creatures. But popular culture has removed the Leprechaun from his traditional Irish roots. The leprechaun didn’t start life as a cereal mascot or horror movie icon, instead he was a cobbler. Much like the modernised leprechaun, traditional ones appear as old men in green clothing and buckled shoes.

This renowned trickster collects gold and hides it at the end of a rainbow. If you are lucky enough to catch a leprechaun, he must grant you three wishes before he can be released. However, use these wisely as Leprechaun’s are tricky creatures. One story tells of a man who captured a leprechaun and wished to be taken to the gold. The leprechaun showed the man the tree under which the gold was hidden, but the man did not have a shovel to uncover the treasure. He set the leprechaun free and marked the tree with his garter so he could go and get a shovel. However, when he returned he found that every tree in the area had an identical garter tied to it.

The moral of the story is, get rich quick schemes never work!

2. Banshee

A banshee in the form of a withered hag

The name banshee is derived from the Irish bean-sidhe, meaning woman of the fairy. The banshee is ancestral spirit that forewarns of death. She can only warn five major Irish families (O’Neils, O’Bryons, O’Conners, O’Gradys and Kavanaghs) and thus the banshee has become as symbol of affluence and prestige. Her appearance or cry warns of imminent death. She can appear in a number of forms: a young woman, a stately matron or withered hag. Some stories say the banshee can appear as a crow, weasel or stoat: all animals of witchcraft.

The banshee can be seen by rivers washing blood from the clothes of the soon to be deceased. Passers by can ask the name of the person who is to die. They are also allowed to ask the banshee three questions, but only once she has asked them three questions.
King James I of Scotland was said to have been confronted by a banshee shortly before his death.

3. Pooka

The Pooka, an Irish fairy in the form of a horse
The pooka is the most feared type of Irish fairy. They are violent tricksters who emerge solely at night. Pookas often take the form of a black horse who stampede at night trampling fences, properties and crops. If chickens or cows see a pooka they will be too traumatised to produce eggs or milk for weeks.
As is true with many Irish folklore creatures, different areas of Ireland claim that pookas have different forms. In County Wexford pookas are said to take the form of large, dark eagles while in Laois pookas take the form of a terrifying boogeyman character.

Pookas are shapeshifters. While they take the form of a horse to wreak night-time destruction, they will take the form of a goblin to claim a share of the harvest. Farmers would often leave a share of their harvest in their fields as the Pooka’s share in an attempt to appease them.

Pookas are said to have mastered human speech. They use this to call their victims’ names one by one from outside their house. If the person emerges they are dragged away by the Pooka, but if no one comes outside the Pooka will vandalise the property.

Many believe that Puck, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was based on a Pooka. The similarities in the name and Puck’s mischievous behaviour certainly support this theory.

4. Merrow

A merrow man

Merrows are the much more beautiful counterparts of merrow-men. The name merrow translates to sea maid. They are not to be confused with mermaids as they have human-like legs instead of a tail. However there are some key differences between a merrow and a human; merrows have larger, flatter feet and webbed fingers to aid swimming.

The merrow’s ability to travel in water is gained from her clothing which, again, varies from region to region. Some say her abilities come from a red feathered cap while others claim it comes from a seal skin cape. Either way, for her to walk on land she must abandon her cap or cape. If a man finds and hides these garments, the merrow is forced to become his wife and she cannot return to the ocean. Merrows are desirable brides with their extreme beauty and riches collected from the ocean floor. However, as soon as she finds her garments again, she is overwhelmed by the urge to return to the sea and will leave her husband and children.

Many families claim to be descended from merrows entrapped by fishermen.

5. Kelpie

A kelpie - mythical horse in Irish folklore

Kelpies are evil water spirits who haunt rivers and lakes. They often appear as a foal or horse with a perpetually soaking wet mane. Their cute, dishevelled appearance attracts people, often children, to get onto their back. Once the poor rider is on the back, the kelpie’s skin becomes adhesive and traps its victim. The kelpie then rides into the water drowning their victim. They eat the victim leaving only the heart and liver.

Kelpies have been known to appear as incredibly handsome men and, less commonly, beautiful women. Similarly to the merrow, kelpies can be trapped on land in human form if a person steals and hides their silver bridle. There are many stories of women marrying kelpies in human form. This story is often used by Irish parents to keep children away from the water.

6. Changeling

A changeling

A changeling can be one of three things:

  • The infant of an Irish fairy: fairy births are difficult and often result in deformation. Adult fairies are obsessed with beauty so they will try to swap their child with a human baby.
  • An elderly fairy disguised as an infant.
  • An object made to look like an infant by fairy magic.
  • Changelings all have old, wrinkled, yellow skin and screech all day and night. They feed on good fortune and find joy in disaster striking their adopted family. Truly any parent’s nightmare.

    As changelings grow, they are drawn towards instruments. They have mesmerising skill, causing anyone who hears them play to become entranced.

    7. Far Darrig

    Far Darrig

    Far Darrigs are a type of fairy closely related to the leprechaun. Their name translates to red man, which is apt as they wear a red cape and hat. These may sound like jolly creatures, but they most definitely are not. They are gruesome practical jokers.

    Far Darrigs carry a human sized burlap sack ready to kidnap people with. They trap their victims in a room and use their ventriloquist skills to project inhuman noises around their victim. Their most terrifying noise is the laugh of a dead man. Far Darrigs have also been connected to the stealing of human babies to be replaced with changelings. They are associated with nightmares and find delight in terror.

    There are stories of Far Darrigs luring men to their house and ordering them to cook dinner, only to find that dinner is a skewered hag cooking over a fire.

    There is one sure-fire way to avoid being subject to a Far Darrigs tricks; you must say ‘you will not mock me’ before you are trapped. This, however, is much harder than it sounds as Far Darrigs set well hidden traps. You’ll be trapped before you realise whats going on.

    8. Fear Gorta

    Fear Gorta the Walking Corpse

    Fear Gortas appear as walking corpses. With their protruding bones, deathly skinniness, blueish skin and rotting flesh they truly are a terrifying sight. They wander during famine asking whoever they encounter for food. Those who give the fear gorta food are rewarded with lifelong wealth and prosperity, those who do not will suffer bad luck and poverty. The moral of the story is to always share.

    There is another story stating that the fear gorta is a cursed patch of grass above a grave and anyone who steps on it is cursed with eternal hunger. If this hunger is not met with food, the person will die.

    9. Dullahan

    A Dullahan, also known as a headless horse man
    This is another Irish death omen. The Dullahan is a headless man riding a black horse wearing a black cape. In his left hand he holds a human spine for a whip and in the right he holds his grinning head. The dullahan rides to the area in which the death will take place and calls the name of the soon to be deceased. The story goes that if you see a still dullahan, someone in the area will die imminently. The dullahan holds his head up high in any directed in order to observe the death.

    Dullahans do not take kindly to onlookers. If a Dullahan catches you looking he will either blind you in one eye using his whip or cover you in a blood.

    There have been countless reports of Dullahan sightings right before a death locally.

    10. The Abhartach

    The Abhartach
    There was once a magical Irish tyrant who enforced great cruelties on his people. Thankfully he was killed, and buried standing up. However the relief was not long-lasting. The next day the dwarf emerged from the grave, using his magical powers, more cruel and vicious than ever. The Abhartach has been known to drink the blood of his victims. Some say that he is the inspiration behind dracula.

    There is only one way to stop the Abhartach; you must kill him and bury him upside down.

    So when you next visit Ireland, be sure to remember our advice, otherwise you may fall prey to a Far Darrig or the Abhartach!

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