Types of Irish Fairies: Leprechauns, Grogochs, and Other Species
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 is 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 aboriginy 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 femal 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 unpreturbed 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 invisability and will only reveal themselves to you if they deam 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.
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 its 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 probarbly 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 screach 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 atributes 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 futiley 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 trandsforms 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 bogieman, 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 bogholes. 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 noteably 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 maitran, 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 profitesses attending the great houses of Ireland 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.