Irish Tales

Local folklore from every part of Ireland is rich in tales of “little folk”, the Pooka, haunted castles and houses, ghosts, werewolves, angels, demons, and other such supernatural beings. The most famous, apart from the Devil himself, are “the little people”, not all of whom are diminutive.

Fairies ( or side) are associated with ancient Stone Circles and Raths [Ring Forts]; they often make great shows of hospitality and benevolence, but are never to be trusted.

The beautiful and promiscuous merrows [sea fairies], inhabitants of Tir fo Thoinn [the Land beneath the Waves], are regarded as messengers of doom.

The Pooka is a malevolent sprite who can appear as a homunculus, an ogre, an eagle, a goat or a horse, and casts a blight on crops if not appeased.

The Grogoch is a very dirty naked hairy dwarf that inflicts itself on travellers who light open-air fires.

The Dullahan is a headless horseman who carries his own head aloft like a lamp to see in the night. He rides a black stallion with flaming eyes, and also has a black coach called a coiste bothar that sets roadside bushes alight as it speeds through the darkness. If you chance to look inside it, you will have a basin of blood thrown in your face.

The keen of a Banshee (from bean sí, fairy woman) presages a death in the family; if you see her, it is yours. She will sing with her sisters only to bewail the imminent passing of one of the great Gaelic clan chieftains, such as The O’Neill, The O’Brien, The O’Sullivan, The O’Donnell, The O’Connor, The O’Driscoll, The O’Rahilly, The O’Rourke, The McCarthy or The MacGillicuddy of the Reeks. Of non-Gaels, only the FitzGeralds and Queen Victoria have reportedly been so honoured.

Leprechauns first appeared in 14th stories; they are bad tempered cobblers, notoriously unscrupulous in their dealings with ordinary mortals.

The ancient seanachai [storyteller] tradition is still alive. Listening to one of these gifted raconteurs in either Irish or English is a thrilling experience, and their skilful ability to relate their lore to current events with immense wit and verve is fascinating.