Scary Irish Fairies!

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!  I hope you all are wearing your green and eating lots of good Irish food.  Since it’s the day that is all about all things Irish, let’s talk about some things that come from the Emerald Isle that terrified me as a child.  Wait, terrifying things on Saint Patrick’s Day?  Becca, this isn’t All Hallows Eve people don’t need to be scared today.  Oh, but my minions, I must explain myself to you.  Ireland is filled with wonderful fairy tales and, as you should all know by now, I do love fairy tales.  I grew up on the terrifying ones.  As such, they have a soft spot in my heart…even if I still have problems watching them at night to this day.  So, let’s get started!  We will be going over three starting with the least feared members of the Irish Fae Folk and progress to the most terrifying.

Probably the most recognizable Irish fairy is the banshee.  Yes!  They are fairies!  Banshees are female fairies and are said to haunt entire families!  To be specific, they haunt very prominent families.  These psychopomps are sometimes called a bean chaointe or a keening woman.  They appear dressed in either red or green in traditional Irish myths.  Their long hair is usually stringing and in most stories they are seen as old hags.  However, there are some tales where they appear as beautiful women.  Banshees come to a family just before a person dies or right as that person dies.  According to most myths the family’s banshee will sing the mourning song for the dearly departed.  While the appearance of a fairy, regardless of their appearance, is typically noting to be alarmed at in these stories, it is the way the song sounds to the human ear that is the terrifying part.  It doesn’t sound like a mourning song you would expect to hear at a funeral or a memorial service.  Rather, it sounds like a high pitched scream of terror.  The phrase “to wail like a banshee” comes from this belief.  As a child when I watched the lovely movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People I ran and hid when the banshee came on screen.  I still have problems with that part of the movie.  The strange part of that being that in Ireland, the banshee is one of the least feared fairies.  Death is just a part of life and these are seen to have a temperament similar to that of the Christian concept of guardian angels.  At times of great turmoil, the family banshee would occasionally do what it could to defend its family.  So, if you are a part of a prominent Irish clan, congratulations!  You have a banshee!

Another Irish fairy featured briefly in Darby O’Gill and the Little People is the dullahan.  They are sometimes called Gan Ceann (one without a head).  One of the main characters of the series Durarara!!, Celty Sturluson, is also a dullahan.  If you thought banshees were horrifying, you would absolutely hate to encounter a dullahan.  dullahan are terrifying headless fairies that come to retrieve the souls of the dead.  The come with their coach, the Cóiste Bodhar, pulled by their headless horse.  These black coaches are typically made in part of human bones and decorated with candles and other objects typical of funerals.  The whips that they carry are actually made of a human spine.  The Headless Horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow could be a misplaced dullahan.  It does resemble the Irish fairy.  However, dullahans, like banshees are female.  So, this could only be an American take on the tale.  Unlike the Headless Horseman though, dullahans do in fact have their heads in their possession.  Well, unless you are Celty from Durarara!!.  Their heads are have a sickly complexion.  The expression that the heads always wear is an unearthly grin and its beady black eyes are constantly moving and taking in its surroundings, both in the physical and in the spiritual realm.  Unlike it’s cousin the banshee, dullahans hate to be watched when they are gathering the souls to take them to their final resting place.  If a dullahan catches a person watching them, that person receives a bucket of human blood thrown on them by the dullahan which marks them as the next to die.  Creeped out yet?  Oddly enough I have never been overly bothered by stories of dullahans.  I have always found them to be much more interesting than banshees.  Thankfully, if you are terrified of dullahans you are in luck.  Dullahans are incredibly afraid of gold.  Yes, gold.  You can wear a plain gold ring and a dullahan shouldn’t bother you.  In the myths they aren’t overly aggressive and they won’t go out of their way to cause harm to a human as long as they mind their own business and don’t leave their homes at night when the dullahans do their work as they are not typically out during the daytime.

If those two were scary to you, then you don’t want to come upon a pooka.  That sounds harmless enough.  Some people have been known to call their dogs Pooka.  However, the pooka is the most feared fairy creature in all of Irish mythology.  Pooka are shapeshifting creatures that can take on many different forms.  The most common form it takes is that of a large black horse.  They typically male and cause mischief after nightfall.  These beings actually go out looking to provoke people that are caught outside at night and to wreak havoc.  These are malicious fairies that do not really have a lot of set descriptions of what they look like or what they do.  Of course, since it is a shapeshifter it really cannot have one set form apart from that of a black horse.  Most stories of the pooka are used to explained odd happenings at night that cannot really be attributed to one of the other fairies or are used to keep children from going outside at night.  Regardless of the reason, the pooka myths are a sure way of frightening anyone since they are so versatile.

Apparently going outside after dark is something that you just shouldn’t do in Ireland.  Pooka can be lurking anywhere and can harm you if a dullahan isn’t throwing blood on you and making you as the next to die for happening upon them while they are collecting souls.  Banshees can appear pretty much whenever they need to and, though they aren’t typically malicious, their song is what is horrifying because it is said that it can shatter glass and cause hearing damage.  Also, if you mess with their family they may extract revenge on you.  Whether you are one to believe in fairy tales or not, there isn’t any denying that some of the stories from Ireland are scary and borderline almost as gruesome as some of the Germanic fairy tales.  Things that aren’t scary though, Irish food, shamrocks, clovers, Celtic crosses, and various other symbols that are associated with Ireland.  Hope you all have a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!