Ireland is rich with stories and myths of fairies, ghosts, leprechauns and other strange, mystical wonders. For over a thousand years Irish artists and scholars have created and handed down a grand legacy of literature, folklore and legend through generations. Having persevered through long centuries of hardship, and great opposition, Irish culture and the lamp of Celtic spirit is very much alive. This list presents ten wonderful different myths and legends that are found only in Ireland.
10. The Banshee
Named from Irish bean s�dhe and Scottish Gaelic bean s�th, meaning literally “woman of fairyland”, the legend named as Banshee, was a women who owned an omen of death. A Banshee is called many things and goes by many names. Including Banshee, Banshi, Benshee, a female fairy, Woman of Peace, Lady of Death, the Angel of Death, the White Lady of Sorrow, the Nymph of the Air, or the Spirit of the Air.
She has different appearances like as a women dressed in rags, a beautiful girl or sometimes a wash women who rings out the bloody clothing. In Gaelic folklore the appearance�or wailing of this female spirit warns a family that one of them will soon die. A ‘hateful Banshee’ in life, had reasons to hate her family, and in death, is a dreaded visitor by the members of the family against which she has hate or anger. She is seen as an ugly and twisted, with distorted features and hate pouring from every line on her face. The screaming howls of a hateful Banshee are enough to make your blood run cold. At one time, Banshees were held in regard as a firm belief, and to not believe was blasphemous. With the passage of time, and the disappearance of numerous noble Irish names, some that have died out, and some that have gone off to other lands, the Banshee has fallen into myth and superstition.
No fairy is more feared in Ireland than the pooka. This may be because it is always out and about after nightfall, creating harm and mischief, and because it can assume a variety of terrifying forms. The legend Pookas is one known for the destruction that appears in the rural areas of Ireland. The guise in which it most often appears, however, is that of a sleek, dark horse with sulfurous yellow eyes and a long wild mane. In this form, it roams large areas of countryside at night, tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock in terror, trampling crops and generally doing damage around remote farms.
In remote areas of County Down, the pooka becomes a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest: for this reason several strands, known as the ‘pooka’s share’, are left behind by the reapers. In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a massive wingspan; and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns.
It appears that fairy women all over Ireland find birth a difficult experience. Many fairy children die before birth and those that do survive are often stunted or deformed creatures.
The adult fairies, who are aesthetic beings, are repelled by these infants and have no wish to keep them. They will try to swap them with healthy children who they steal from the mortal world. The wizened, ill tempered creature left in place of the human child is generally known as a changeling and possesses the power to work evil in a household. Any child who is not baptised or who is overly admired is especially at risk of being exchanged. A changeling can be one of three types: actual fairy children; senile fairies who are disguised as children or, inanimate objects, such as pieces of wood which take on the appearance of a child through fairy magic.
Puckered and wizened features coupled with yellow, parchment-like skin are all generic changeling attributes. This fairy will also exhibit very dark eyes, which betray a wisdom far older than its apparent years. Changelings display other characteristics, usually physical deformities, among which a crooked back or lame hand are common. About two weeks after their arrival in the human household, changelings will also exhibit a full set of teeth, legs as thin as chicken bones, and hands which are curved and crooked as birds’ talons and covered with a light, downy hair.
7. The Sleeping Warriors
Arguably no place in Ireland is as strange and eerie as the Burren of County Clare. The area is like a lunar surface – thick with moss-covered limestone, strange flowers and fauna and great fists of rock rising out of the calcified surface as if to threaten the unwary traveller. This is also a land of druid stones, ancient forts, the ivy-clad tower-houses of long-vanished families and of deserted villages and overgrown roads, it is indeed a lonely and sinister place.
Because the Burren is composed of sedimentary rock, water comes and goes through it, creating deep caves and fissures in its surface. There is a belief that they are the portals to the dark fairy world, near which ancient heroes slumber on their sentry duty. But let the interloper beware, for the slightest sound may stir them into action. Indeed, there are many local tales concerning those who have been so ill-advised as to trespass on their domain.
6. The Hare Women
The hare was a symbol of evil in many country areas. This may be attributed to its pagan significance; it was the symbol of the Celtic moon-goddess and was closely allied with the witchcraft and wonder-working which was traditionally carried out by moonlight. The memory of that tradition may well have lingered on in the minds of rural people. As early as the twelfth century, Giraldus Cambrensis wrote about certain old Irish women who could transform themselves into the guise of hares for the purposes of working evil.
5. St. Patrick
Though the legends of St Patrick legends are often believed to be a blend of fact and fantasy, it is highly thought of and remains to this day inspirational for millions. St Patrick’s mission was to take ancient pagan Celtic ideas and beliefs and use them to explain the concepts of Christianity in such a way that the Druids and their followers would embrace Christ and the Trinity.
According to the legend of St Patrick, he set out to see the high king of Ireland, King Laoghaire, in County Meath at the Hill of Tara at Eastertime. On the way, he and his followers chanted the hymn best known as “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” or “The Lorica”. They knew the Druid High Priests had planned to ambush them somewhere along their journey. As he and his followers continuously chanted, the men waiting in the bushes to kill all of them saw a doe followed by fawns. St Patrick and his prayer saved them all. Because of this part of the legend of St Patrick, this prayer is also sometimes called “The Deer’s Cry”.
The best known part of the legend of St Patrick is that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland forever. In this part of the legend of St Patrick, he filled the Emerald Isle with lush shamrock fields to keep the snakes from ever returning. People say that shamrocks would grow wherever St Patrick had preached. Some believe that that shamrocks can be used as a remedy for snake venom. The legend of St Patrick may also be a metaphor for the fact that he did indeed drive out the pagan beliefs and rituals, which are commonly associated with snakes.
4. The Shamrock
The shamrock is one of the best known symbols of Ireland and is deeply embedded in the country’s culture and history. Contrary to popular belief, the shamrock is not the official emblem of Ireland. Ask any head of state or diplomat. Officially, that honor goes to the Celtic harp. But in the hearts and minds of people all over the world, the shamrock is the symbol of Ireland.
Many agree that the ancient Druids honored it as a sacred plant. The Druids believed the shamrock had the power to avert evil spirits. Some people still believe the shamrock has mystical, even prophetic, powers. It is said that the leaves of shamrocks turn upright whenever a storm is coming.
The ancient Irish Celts also revered the shamrock because it has three leaves, and they considered “3″ to be a sacred number. The ancient Celtic Druids believed many numbers held mystical powers. The three leaves shaped like hearts were associated with the Triple Goddess of Celtic mythology, otherwise known as the “Three Morgans”. The Triple Goddess represented the Triple Mothers, the hearts of the ancient Celtic tribes, while the Catholic Church saw the Holy Trinity.
Actually, many spiritual belief systems, ancient and contemporary, find the number “3″ to have mystical properties. The shamrock was considered a sacred plant to ancient Iranians, for example. They knew it as “shamrakh” and honored it as a symbol of the Sacred 3′s.
3. Finn MacCool
There are many heroic legends surrounding Finn MacCool, comparisons have been drawn between him and the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Finn was reputed as being the leader of the Fianna, the guardians of the King of Ireland. He formed the Fianna from a rough bunch of warriors into an elite group of men who transformed under his command into the manifestation of justice and honour, they were the people’s heroes. Finn’s famous son Oisin, whose mother was the goddess Sadb, is said to be buried in Glenaan.
2. Sidhe Fairies
Many consider Sidhe to be the true Faerie folk. In Ireland the Sidhe are considered to be ancient Celtic gods. The Sidhe (shee) are considered to be a distinct race, quite separate from human beings yet who have had much contact with mortals over the centuries, and there are many documented testimonies to this. Belief in this race of beings who have powers beyond those of men to move quickly through the air and change their shape at will once played a huge part in the lives of people living in rural Ireland.
When the first Gaels, the sons of Mil, arrived in Ireland, they found that the Tuatha De Danaan, the people of the goddess Dana, already had control of the land. The sons of Mil fought them in battle and defeated them, driving them ‘underground’ where it is said they remain to this day in the hollow hills or sidhe mounds. In the early Irish manuscripts (which were recorded from an earlier oral tradition) we find references to the Tuatha De Danaan.In ‘The Book of the Dun Cow’ and the ‘Book of Leinster’ this race of beings is described as “gods and not gods”, pointing to the fact that they are ‘something in between’. Also in the Book of the Dun Cow it says of wise men that: “it seems likely to them that they [the Tuatha De Danaan] came from heaven, on account of their intelligence and excellence of their knowledge”.
As part of Irish mythology and folklore the Leprechauns are part of our faerie folk, called by some as the �wee folk�. As a cousin of the clurichaun they are known to inhabited Ireland well before the arrival of the Celts. Small enough for one to sit comfortable on your shoulder they are very smartly dressed in small suites with waist coats, hats and buckled shoes. As mischievous and intelligent folk they are general harmless to the general population in Ireland, although they are known to play the odd trick on farmers and local population of villages and towns.
It is said that every Leprechaun has a pot of gold, hidden deep in the Irish countryside. To protect the leprechaun�s pot of gold the Irish fairies gave them magical powers to use if ever captured by a human or an animal. Such magic an Irish leprechaun would perform to escape capture would be to grant three wishes or to vanish into thin air!