Beyond Leprechauns: 7 Creatures of Irish Folklore
In Irish folklore, a banshee is a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to family members to foretell the death of one of their own. This term came to English from the Old Irish term ben side meaning “woman of the fairy mound.” In this context, a mound is the raised earth over a grave. Irish legend says only families of high rank and pure Irish blood hear the shrill keen of the banshee.
According to the 1875 volume of The Origin and History of Irish Names and Places by historian Patrick Weston Joyce, the abhartach (or avartagh) is not to be taken lightly. This truly terrifying dwarf is a cruel tyrant whose magical powers allow him to rise from the grave and wreak havoc as an undead being. He must be killed and then buried upside down to subdue his powers. In alternate iterations of the abhartach myth, this creature drinks the blood of his subjects. Some academics believe that this monster inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which in turn has influenced the modern-day concept of vampires.
The cluricaun (or cluricaune) is an Irish elf, or perhaps a fairy, in the form of a tiny old man. He exists in a state of perpetual drunkenness and loves to play practical jokes. In his work Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, W. B. Yeats writes: “Some suppose he is merely the Leprechaun on a spree.” However Yeats leaves the classification ambiguous, and instead writes of the similarities between leprechauns and cluricauns, calling them bad dressers who are “most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms.”
The far darrig (or fear dearg) is another supernatural being that may or may not be a leprechaun, according to Yeats. This small creature always wears a red coat and cap, and in Irish, his name appropriately translates to “red man.” Thought to be associated with nightmares, this practical joker of a monster delights in stealing babies and leaving changelings in their place. According to folklore, a changeling is an ugly, stupid or strange child left by fairies in place of a pretty, charming child.
Fear gorta literally means “man of hunger” in Irish. This supernatural being roams the earth in the form of an emaciated man during times of famine. He begs for food, and bestows good fortune on those who help him. Fear gorta can also refer to a weedy grass that, when stepped on, is believed to make men unnaturally hungry.
The sluagh (or slua) are ghosts of sinners, who, unwelcome in heaven or hell, must haunt the realm of the living. Some souls were designated as sinners because they’d never been baptized; others earned their sinner status through evil and corrupt behavior in their lifetimes. From the Irish word meaning “crowd,” the slaugh were thought to move through the sky in flocks, collecting the souls of the dying.
The Cath Maige Mucrama is a story written in Middle Irish dating from the 8th or 9th century. In this tale, the ellén trechend, a horrifying three-headed monster, emerges from a cave on a rampage of destruction. Though translators agree that the ellén trechend has three heads, they disagree on what genus of monster it is. Some interpret it to be a bird or a vulture. Others believe the ellén trechend to be a fire-breathing dragon-like creature. Either way, you can rest easy; the beast was eventually slain.
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