Leprechaun

leprechaunLeprechaun in Irish folklore was, a little sprite, or goblin. The name leprechaun may have derived from the Irish leath bhrogan or shoemaker, although its origins may lie in luacharma’n Irish for pygmy.

These apparently aged, diminutive men are frequently to be found in an intoxicated state, caused by home-brew poteen. However they never become so drunk that the hand which holds the hammer becomes unsteady and their shoemaker’s work affected. Leprechauns have also become self-appointed guardians of ancient treasure, burying it in crocks or pots.

If caught by a mortal, he will promise great wealth if allowed to go free. He carries two leather pouches. In one there is a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to the purse each time it is paid out. In the other he carries a gold coin which he uses to try and bribe his way out of difficult situations. This coin usually turns to leaves or ashes once the leprechaun has parted with it.

The leprechaun ‘family’ appears split into two distinct groups – leprechaun and cluricaun. Although the leprechaun has been described as Ireland’s national fairy, this name was originally only used in the north Leinster area. Variants include lurachmain, lurican, lurgadhan.

Merrows

merrowThe word merrow or moruadh comes from the Irish muir (meaning sea) and oigh (meaning maid) and refers specifically to the female of the species. Mermen – the merrows male counterparts – have been rarely seen. They have been described as exceptionally ugly and scaled, with pig-like features and long, pointed teeth. Merrows themselves are extremely beautiful and are promiscuous in their relations with mortals.
The Irish merrow differs physically from humans in that her feet are flatter than those of a mortal and her hands have a thin webbing between the fingers. It should not be assumed that merrows are kindly and well-disposed towards mortals. As members of the sidhe, or Irish fairy world, the inhabitants of Tir fo Thoinn (the Land beneath the Waves) have a natural antipathy towards humans. In some parts of Ireland, they are regarded as messengers of doom and death.

Merrows have special clothing to enable them to travel through ocean currents. In Kerry, Cork and Wexford, they wear a small red cap made from feathers, called a cohullen druith. However, in more northerly waters they travel through the sea wrapped in sealskin cloaks, taking on the appearance and attributes of seals. In order to come ashore, the merrow abandons her cap or cloak, so any mortal who finds these has power over her, as she cannot return to the sea until they are retrieved. Hiding the cloak in the thatches of his house, a fisherman may persuade the merrow to marry them. Such brides are often extremely wealthy, with fortunes of gold plundered from shipwrecks. Eventually the merrow will recover the cloak, and find her urge to return to the sea so strong that she leaves her human husband and children behind.

Many coastal dwellers have taken merrows as lovers and a number of famous Irish families claim their descent from such unions, notably the O’Flaherty and O’Sullivan families of Kerry and the MacNamaras of Clare. The Irish poet W B Yeats reported a further case in his Irish Fairy and Folk Tales: “Near Bantry in the last century, there is said to have been a woman, covered in scales like a fish, who was descended from such a marriage”.

Despite her wealth and beauty, you should be particularly wary about encountering this marine fairy.

Banshee

bansheeThe bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy) may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys and the Kavanaghs. Intermarriage has since extended this select list.
Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain. She usually wears either a gray, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman).

Although not always seen, her mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die. 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 an example of the banshee in human form. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In Kerry, the keen is experienced as a “low, pleasant singing”; in Tyrone as “the sound of two boards being struck together”; and on Rathlin Island as “a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl”.

The banshee may also appear in a variety of other forms, such as that of a hooded crow, stoat, hare and weasel – animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.

The Pooka

phookaThe pooka comes out at night, sometimes as an eagle flinging a man on his back and flying tothe moon.

Sometimes it’s a black goat with wide wicked horns leaping on a mortal’s shoulders and clinging with it’s claws until the man drops dead or blesses himself three times. It is a bird, a bat, a donkey, a solitary nightmare shape.

Most often it appears as a terrible black horse, huge and sleek, breathing blue flames, with eyes of yellow fire, a snort like thunder, a smell like sulpher, a stride that clears mountains and a human voice deep as a cave.

ometimes it follows the ships to sea. Often at night, as the black horse, the pooka will take a man for a ride clear around the country at breakneck speed until he loses his grip and flies headlong into a bog ditch.

The Dullahan

The dullahan is one of the most spectacular creatures in the Irish fairy realm and one which is particularly active in the more remote parts of counties Sligo and Down. Around midnight on certain Irish festivals or feast days, this wild and black-robed horseman may be observed riding a dark and snorting steed across the countryside.

W. J. Fitzpatrick, a storyteller from the Mourne Mountains in County Down, recounts:

“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 hand across 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 very hill and a young man was killed. It had been his name that the dullahan was calling”.

Dullahans are headless. Although the dullahan has no head upon its shoulders, he carries it with him, either on the saddle-brow of his horse or upraised in his right hand. The head is the color and texture of stale dough or moldy cheese, and quite smooth. A hideous, idiotic grin splits the face from ear to ear, and the eyes, which are small and black, dart about like malignant flies. The entire head glows with the phosphorescence of decaying matter and the creature may use it as a lantern to guide its way along the darkened lane ways of the Irish countryside. Wherever the dullahan stops, a mortal dies.

The dullahan is possessed of supernatural sight. By holding his severed head aloft, he can see for vast distances across the countryside, even on the darkest night. Using this power, he can spy the house of a dying person, no matter where it lies. Those who watch from their windows to see him pass are rewarded for their pains by having a basin of blood thrown in their faces, or by being struck blind in one eye.

Tir Nan Og (The Land of the Young)

famtreeTir Nan Og is the land to which the Irish faeries know as Tuatha de Danann (Too-ah day Thay-nan, or Tootha day danan) flead when their lands were taken by the Milesians. In Tir Nan Og they spend their days feasting, gaming, love-making and partaking of beautiful music. The faeries can even enjoy the thril of battle, for anyone slain is resurected the following day. It is the paradise that mortals can only dream of.

Tir Nan Og lies to the West, seen by humans through a chill sea mist, a land of eternal Springtime, where all is peace and happiness. No map made by human hands could guide you there…it is only by the will of the faerie folk that one may enter that enchanted domain. The Irish call them Tuatha de Danann, the children of the Goddess Danu: protected by her powerful Magick and given the Blessed Isle on which to live, they represent to humankind the epitome of Beauty, Perfection, and Joy.

No ploughing, no work is needed to make a living in Tir Nan Og: the faerie make love, have feasts, hunt and even play at war with one another-those that die one day are resurrected the next morning to join in the fun again.

Occasionally, they grow curious about the humans who live on the other side of the Great Mist, or need to strengthen themselves with a fresh and vigorous human bloodline–and that is when they step out of their dark forests, through the silvery mist to be called into Legend…

Unicorn

unicornFor a start, the concept of a Unicorn being horse-like in appearence is quite new to us. In history he has appeared as being goat-like, deer-like, or a horned lion. In the lands of the East he looks almost like a dragon. Going further back, we see Marco Polo confusing him with a rhinocerous, and further still, Pliny the Elder describes a monster with the feet of an elephant and the tail of a boar.

Well, they all have one horn. That is after all what “Unicorn” means: Unus, one, and Cornu, a horn.

Is a Unicorn simply any creature with one horn then?
But throughout humankind’s history, the Unicorn has always been more than simply an animal with one horn. It is a symbol. A symbol of what? Well, pretty much every positive virtue really. Harmony, strength, purity, innocence, speed, freedom, beauty, grace, magic, wisdom.

Today we know many variations in the Unicorn’s form. He may have cloven or solid hooves. His body may be that of a deer, or a bull, or a goat, or equine. Sometimes he has the tail of a horse: at other times that of a lion. He may have the legs of a deer, a horse, or a goat. He may be white in colour, in which case it is a purity of the colour virtually unknown elsewhere, but he may equally well be black, or gold, or indigo, or of many colours. His horn, the alicorn, may be straight, or curved back, spiraled simply as a Narwhal’s tooth, or in a more complex goat-like curl. The horns of the Chinese K’i-lin and the Japanese Kirin frequently had several forward-growing tines.

Just as his appearance may vary, so does his role in the world: sometimes he is simply a beautiful animal. At other times he has an intelligence at least on a par with our own, and is famed for his gentle wisdom. Often he is a creature of divinity, pure of heart and spirit beyond any mortal’s reach, possessed of incredible powers of creation and healing. In China he is a creature of good omen, appearing to those destined for greatness: the mother of the philosopher Confucius was one such. In ancient Japan he appeared as a celestial judge, slaying the guilty and freeing the innocent. The Christian faith holds him as a symbol of Jesus Christ.

Fantasy has added to the range of his aspects, though the image of the equine Unicorn predominates. There are those who maintain that modern fiction has no right to shape the creatures of classical mythology, but there is one quality the Unicorn always embodies: freedom. Not just from physical confinement, but definition; defying the restrictions of classifications and categorisation. Humankind has always sought to catch and hold him, with chains, in tapestries, by word. The story-tellers of today have just as much -or as little- right to try and capture him.

The Unicorn is special among the creatures of legend. He is at one and the same time both real and imaginary, a creature of the past and present; solid and intangible; animal and deity; an immortal power and yet with a child-like vulnerability.

Elves

elfThe Elves are usually invisible, in modern descriptions, they are either light or dark, the light elves having star like eyes, faces brighter than the sun, and golden-colored hair; the dark elves are pitch black and ugly, these traits being indicative of their evil character.

As a general rule, trooping Elves are good and solitary Elves are bad. At times elves become domestic servants, dusting and cleaning, but if they are not fed and otherwise cared for to their liking, they are easily offended and become vengefully destructive.

They cause illness and unpleasant dreams, steal children, and attack cattle. The faery tale of Rumpelstiltskin tells the story of a self-serving elf who spins gold from straw in order to obtain a human child.

Their habitat varies with the seasons. In winter they tend to retrench in caves underground or flee to the south; in spring they are viewed celebrating the blossoms and during the summer they swim in the rivers with their friends on dines.

They can be seen by children who were born on Sunday, and also by others before whom the elves choose to appear.