I am a young Irish woman who enjoys writing about dogs, folklore, and legends.
The Dullahan is an Irish fairy most active in rural parts of counties Sligo and Down and can usually be spotted around midnight on feast days or festivals. It takes the form of a spectral horseman clad in a black cloak and is always seen atop a snorting, wild steed galloping across the land.
Many claim to have seen the Dullahan with their own eyes. One such man is a storyteller from the Mourne Mountains in county Down, named W. J. Fitzpatrick:
"I seen the Dullahan myself, stopping on the brow of the hill between Bryansford and Moneyscalp late one evening, just as the sun was setting. It was completely headless but it held up its own head in its hand and I heard it call out a name. I put my hands over my ears in case the name was my own, so I couldn't hear what it said. When I looked again, it was gone. But shortly afterwards, there was a bad car accident on that hill and a young man was killed. It'd been his name that the Dullahan was calling."
It is understood that Dullahans are headless. However, they carry their own head around with them, either on their saddle or in their right hand. The texture of the head resembles mouldy cheese or stale dough, though it is smooth. It is said that a horrifying, leering smirk stretches from ear to ear below beady, sunken eyes. The head is reported to give off an eerie glow and is often used as a makeshift lantern by the malevolent sprite to guide its way along some of the more poorly lit Irish lanes and roads. If a Dullahan is spied at a standstill, you can be sure that there will be a death in the immediate area.
The Dullahan can gaze upon the home of a dying person by holding its disembodied head aloft, no matter where that house may be. In this way, it can scan the Irish countryside for miles in every direction, even on the darkest of nights. If you ever decide to travel to Ireland and find yourself gazing out your hotel window at the dark creature, look away at once and be sure to draw the curtains—those who fail to do so will either have a bucket of blood thrown in their face or will be blinded in one eye.
The Dullahan is rarely seen without its shadowy steed, and those who hear it gallop past their houses say it is a sound like that of thunder. It uses a human spine as a whip, and sparks and flames issue forth from the horse's nostrils whilst it charges. In other parts of the country, such as county Tyrone, the Dullahan mans a black coach pulled by six of these beasts, and the speed and friction with which it moves are said to cause plants along the roadsides to catch fire. Locking your garden gate will offer no protection against this supernatural being, as all gates burst open to allow the coach to pass without so much as slowing.
There are a number of possible origins of the term "leprechaun," including the term "leath bhrogan" (shoe-maker) and "luacharma" (the Irish for "pygmy.") They usually appear to be small, aged men who may have had slightly too much to drink. Their tipple of choice is rumoured to be a home-brewed poteen. However, keep in mind that they will never become so intoxicated that the hand which holds the hammer becomes unsteady or that their shoemaker's work is marred in any way.
It seems that they've appointed themselves protectors of the treasure left by Danes when they marauded through Ireland, and it is widely believed that they store it in crocks or pots. They will avoid contact with humans at all costs, as their gold is highly important to them, and they consider us to be quite greedy and foolish. If a leprechaun is captured by a mortal, they will offer great wealth in exchange for their freedom. However, before you go leprechaun hunting, you should know that it is most likely not worth the trouble. They carry two pouches with them at all times: one contains a gold coin that turns to leaves or ashes when it is parted from the leprechaun, and the other holds a silver coin which will return to its pouch soon after it is traded to a human.
Another member of the leprechaun family is the cluricaun. These beings have the power to steal or borrow almost anything from humans easily and without consequence, and also enjoy causing mischief in houses at night by raiding wine cellars. They have been known to steal dogs, sheep, goats and even domesticated fowl and ride them across the Irish countryside.
A grogoch is a half-man, half-fairy creature who came from Scotland and settled in Ireland. Sitings are particularly common in north Antrim, Rathlin Island, parts of Donegal, and the Isle of Man. They are best described as a very small, elderly man with a full coat of thick reddish fur or hair. The grogoch wears no clothes, but instead sports a collection of dirt and twigs which it accumulates on its journeys. Needless to say, these scruffy creatures are not well known for their cleanliness. It is worth noting that there have been no reported sitings of female grogoches.
Despite Ireland's wet and often chilly climate, grogoches seem to be quite content to make their homes in caves or hollows in the landscape. It is said that they also are unperturbed by dry, sweltering conditions. If you take a trip around the northern countryside, you may notice many large, leaning stones: these are rumoured to be a signal that a grogoch lives nearby.
These fairies possess the power of invisibility and will only reveal themselves to you if they deem you trustworthy. Though this, coupled with their preference for remote, rural dwellings, may make them seem unsociable, they are actually quite the opposite. If a grogoch takes a shine to you, it will attach itself to you and follow you home. Don't worry, though: it only wants to help you with your planting and harvesting or other forms of housework. All it requests in return is a jug of fresh cream.
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The eager little fellow will scamper about your kitchen looking for odd jobs to tend to, and although it means well, it will undoubtedly get in the way quite often. Similar to most fairies, grogoches are terrified of the clergy and will keep their distance from any home where it expects to find a clergy member. If you suspect you have a grogoch as an unwanted visitor in your house, it is best to ask a clergy member to bless the residence. This will drive away the sprite, and it will proceed to bother someone else.
You've probably never considered the prospect of an Irish fairy woman giving birth, but it is supposedly a very difficult experience. It is not uncommon for fairy babies to die during or directly after birth, and those who survive are usually deformed in some way.
Adult fairies admire only beauty, and they have no wish to keep these children. They will attempt to swap them secretly for human infants. These beings are known as "changelings", and it is rumoured that the are ill-tempered and wise beyond their years. To amuse themselves, the fairy babies work dark magic in the household and are happy only when a disaster befalls their adopted family. They screech and wail all day and all night, and their cries will sometimes reach the point where they can no longer be heard by humans.
The changeling family can be divided into three groups: Actual fairy children, elderly fairies disguised as children, or objects such as pieces of wood or furniture which are given the appearance of an infant by means of fairy magic. The last kind is referred to as a "stock."
Wrinkled, wizened features, wise, dark eyes and skin with the texture and look of yellowed parchment are all attributes to look out for when trying to identify a changeling. They may also have physical deformities such as a lame hand or crooked back. They will have grown a complete set of teeth after only approximately two weeks in the human household and will also exhibit legs as slim as chicken bones and hands that are coated with a light dusting of hair. Their hands will also become curved and claw-like, eventually resembling the talons of a bird.
Changelings feed on good fortune, so only bad luck will befall a family sheltering one. Such households are very likely to be plunged into poverty as they futilely struggle to nurture and support the creature.
It may be worth noting that there is one positive feature that this fairy usually establishes. As a changeling grows, it may express a desire to take up a musical instrument—usually the Irish pipes or the flute and plays with such mesmerizing skill that those who hear it become entirely captivated by the sound. This quote is from an individual in Boho, county Fermanagh who claims to have heard such a sound:
"I saw a changeling one time. He lived with two oul' brothers away beyond the Dough's Well and looked like a wee wizened monkey. He was about ten or eleven but he couldn't really walk, just bobbed about. But he played the whistle the best that you ever heard. Old tunes the people has long forgotten, that was all he played. Then one day, he was gone and I don't know what happened to him at all."
Ireland's most feared fairy is the Pooka, perhaps as it comes out to create mischief and harm after nightfall and because it has the ability to shape-shift into a number of horrifying forms. It appears to most enjoy assuming the semblance of a shadowy, sleek horse with smouldering yellow eyes and a long, ragged mane. When disguised in this fashion, it gallops far across the countryside in the dead of night, trampling down any fences and gates that stand in its way. It scatters livestock, flattens crops, and generally causes as much havoc as it can.
The Pooka transforms into a small, goblin-like being in rural areas of county Down and demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest. To keep the creature contented, the reapers often leave behind some of the harvest crops, known as the Pooka's share. In county Laois, the Pooka is said to become a towering, hairy boogieman, terrifying anyone it catches outside at night, while in Waterford and Wexford, sitings suggest that the Pooka takes the form of a dark eagle with an abnormally large wingspan. When spotted in Roscommon, this particular fairy will be disguised as a goat with long, curling horns that taper to razor-sharp points.
If sighted by cows or hens, they are often so traumatised that they are unable to provide milk and eggs. It is equally dreaded by those traveling late at night as the Pooka has been known to snatch up such individuals and drop them into ditches or bog holes. Over the years, it has mastered human speech, and from time to time, it will stop in front of a house of its choosing and call the names of men, women and children it wishes to take on its midnight excursions. If ignored, the fairy will vandalise the property of that person.
The term "merrow" is said to come from the Irish word "muir," meaning "sea," and "oigh," meaning "maid," and is the term used to refer to the female of the species only. Mermen—the merrow's male counterparts—are rarely seen, and much less is known about them. It is known, however, that they are incredibly unpleasant to look at as they are scaled beings with the features of a pig and long, pointed teeth. In sharp contrast, merrows are alluringly beautiful and are said to be promiscuous and lax in their relations with mortals.
The Irish merrow is not to be mistaken for a mermaid, as she, in fact, has legs rather than a fishtail, but neither is she identical to a human female. Her feet are flatter than a mortal's, and she has a thin webbing between her fingers. Do not be fooled by their libertine attitude when it comes to intercourse with humans—as members of the sidhe, or Irish fairy world, the denizens of Tir fo Thoinn (the Land Beneath the Waves) are naturally predisposed to a repulsion of humans.
It is her clothing that enables her to travel through ocean currents—in Kerry, Wexford and Cork, merrows wear a red cap crafted from feathers, referred to as a cohullen druith. In waters further north, they glide through the ocean swathed in cloaks made from seal skin, which causes them to both appear as and act like seals. If she wishes to set foot on land, a merrow must abandon her cloak or cap. If they are found by a mortal, they have complete control over her—she cannot return to the sea without them. A fisherman may hide the articles in his house and persuade the merrow to marry him. The bride is often extremely wealthy, with large amounts of gold and other precious objects retrieved from shipwrecks. When she finds her cloak or cap, she will find her urge to return to the ocean so strong that she will abandon her husband and children.
It is rumoured that a number of coastal dwellers have taken merrows as their wives, and many famous Irish families claim to have merrows in their family tree, most notably the O'Flahertys and O'Sullivans of Kerry and the MacNamaras of Clare.
Despite her beauty and wealth, you should be extremely careful when dealing with a merrow.
The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy) is thought to be an ancestral spirit who has been appointed to forwarn members of ancient Irish families of impending death. According to legend, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families. These are the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys, and the Kavanaghs. Intermarriage has lengthened this list over the years.
The banshee's usual facades are that of a young woman, a stately matron, and a withered old hag. These are thought to be symbolic of the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death—Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.
Her usual garb is a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She will also appear to some as a washer woman, seemingly washing blood-stained clothes belonging to those who are about to die.
However, the banshee is not always seen; rather, she is sometimes only heard. Her mourning, wailing cry may be heard at night before someone is bound to die. It is said that in 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress or banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. This is one example of a banshee sighted in human form. Records speak of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. There are parts of Leinster where she is called the bean chaointe (the keening woman) who's shrieking call is so sharp it can shatter glass. In Kerry, witnesses say that the cry is "a low, pleasant singing," while in Tyrone it sounds similar to "two boards being struck together." On Rathlin Island, it is described as "somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl."
Banshees have been known to take other forms, such as that of a hooded crow, hare, weasel and stoat, which are all animals associated with witchcraft in Ireland.
*Nameless* on April 22, 2020:
Just saying, I'd prefer it if you spellchecked. Examples of spelling mistakes: screach, deam
There aren't that many A's, Vixen!
Sorry if that sounded rude, I just have the ultimate editor brain
Anonymous on February 28, 2020:
What nonsense. To begin with, the mental illness of "autism" is a recent thing, and a huge umbrella term. Back in older times, traits found in functioning autists weren't seen as an illness, with many historical figures showing these traits.
shaned1984 on July 01, 2019:
thank you had to come do some research cause today I was called a pooka by a elderly woman I could only describe as a gypsy of sorts from a fairy tale and not of this realm my girl friend freaked out as we are both from northern Belfast the lady as well gave my gf an evil eye and was told to beware....and unfortunately I have been told several times in my life im only seemingly happy when chaos thrives and it seems to follow where ever I go..so again thanks for the info the pooka was a term ive not known
IrishUser on March 14, 2018:
uh ppl try not to beleive in these except for leprechauns, if u do, u get gold but for the others, the truth
Unknown on January 11, 2018:
Banshee are coming coming for you......
Dónal O'Héscáín on December 09, 2017:
O'Sullivans are from Cork not Kerry
truth on November 16, 2017:
what we would see as autism or mental handicap they saw as a changeling... they would torture the poor child and sometimes even kill them to get rid of the fairy... nothing magical about that
Christian on March 04, 2017:
Most people do not believe in elves. The little people, along with fairies, banshees, and werewolves, are often thrown into the category of ‘fantasy’ and left to molder unless some video game or children’s book decides to make use of them for commercial purposes. Whatever you believe to be true, stories of fantastic creatures are present in most ancient cultures, particularly in European regions such as Germany, Scandinavia, and Ireland.
PETER BOWEN on December 29, 2014:
My mother from Bantry Co. Cork used to say when I was being boisterous or naughty that I had " the taspy on you".
My uncle said he thought it was a leprechaun that lived under the saddle of a horse and would be the reason for the horse to misbehave.
Mary Kelly Godley from Ireland on September 22, 2012:
Interesting I am writing an article about the Banshee at the moment, always loved the old Irish stories. Many of them have a lot of interesting characters yours are well researched and some of them are now to me too. Voted up.
VendettaVixen (author) from Ireland on January 05, 2012:
Why, thank you very much!
How lovely! I hope both you and the lucky bride-to-be have a lovely day, and a wonderful life together.
Thank you for stopping by. Best of luck.
TechTrendy on January 04, 2012:
I love this! I have plans on having an Irish wedding as both me and my fiancé to be are of Irish decent. It's always fun to research the history of stuff like this. Very nice write up!
VendettaVixen (author) from Ireland on January 04, 2012:
You're too kind. I hope it's as successful with the rest of your family members.
Thank you for your wonderful comment.
Tammy on January 03, 2012:
I have an Irish heritage and found this to be a fascinating read. I will have to pass this on to other members of the family. Thanks for sharing this interesting information!
VendettaVixen (author) from Ireland on January 03, 2012:
It was my pleasure. As always, I'm very happy to hear you found it an interesting read.
That's one thing we have in common, then. I love fantasy books, myself. They make a nice change from the real world, I think.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.
mljdgulley354 on January 03, 2012:
Very interesting. Glad you shared it. I like reading books with fairies as characters.
VendettaVixen (author) from Ireland on December 30, 2011:
Thanks, Tammy. Glad you liked it.
And yes - celtic history is pretty interesting, particularly the legends and customs side of it. I'm working on a few more like this.
Thanks for stopping by~
Tammy from North Carolina on December 29, 2011:
Great hub Vendetta! Your photos are excellent. I am learning latley here on hub pages that not all fairies are sweet like Tinkerbell.. LOL. I just love fairies and studying Irish culture. Thanks for this wonderful hub!
VendettaVixen (author) from Ireland on December 25, 2011:
I'm very glad you enjoyed it. I'd have to agree with you - I love researching celtic history. There'll probarbly be more hubs of this sort on the way soon, and hopefully you'll find them just as interesting. :3
Happy Christmas from Ireland, by the way.
LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on December 25, 2011:
I love all things Irish - my ancestors are from Ireland...This was great info to read!
Ghaelach on December 21, 2011:
Hi Vendetta Vixen.
Well written and well researched.
A great hub with plenty of Irish folklore.