Fairies and Folklore of Irish Legends


Megan Wood

Irish folklore is full of complicated and contradicting tales and texts. There is never any one tale of a legendary creature and some of them do not match up. However, there are some facts that seem to remain the same in many of the mystical beings throughout the stories passed down through generations. Many know of the warm, red-haired leprechauns seen smiling from the comfort of your sugary bowl of marshmallow cereal, however, not many know of the true tale behind this green-clad fellow or that of many other classic Celtic myths.

To many the leprechaun is a cuddly looking being whose only horrible deeds are trying to keep his “lucky charms” all to himself. In fact, leprechauns are tiny entities who normally take the appearance of a tiny, old man in a red or green coat and wore a red, three-corned hat. There are no records of female leprechauns. They are known as mischievous, storing gold in pots at the end of rainbows, and making shoes. Many stories have leprechauns associated with wealth, however, they are simple cobblers, or shoe-makers and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is just a myth and not true lore. In most folklore, they are depicted as rogues who deceive anyone whenever he is able. There are tales that in rare cases a human can catch a leprechaun, they are easily outsmarted by the leprechaun, and the human’s greed is used against them. However, in those rare cases, a leprechaun will grant you three wishes if you let him go. A leprechaun is said to reveal the location of his gold if asked, but the asker must keep an eye on him. If the asker looks away the leprechaun is guaranteed to disappear as he can vanish in an instant.

Another known creature of Celtic legend is the banshee, a fairy whose scream is believed to be an omen of death. A common misconception is that the Banshee’s scream causes death when all it is really a warning. The banshee is a disembodied spirit that appears in several forms, such as a beautiful, young woman with red hair or an old woman with frightening red eyes. Once spotted, they can vanish into clouds of mist creating a sound similar to that of flapping bird wings. There are tales of many different types of banshees. Some are said to be gentle and loving with strong ties to their past families, and only wish to warn the family of the upcoming doom. Others are so full of hate that they long to see their family’s demise that they can tear people to

shreds. It is unknown how banshees obtain their knowledge of who is going to die, but some theories say each family has a personal observer that reports to the family.

Changelings have a few books and movies about them to get their name out there, however the true legends tell a slightly different tale. Changelings are fairies that steal humans and carry them away to the Faerie Realm, leaving a fairy in their place, which is what becomes known as a changeling. Despite this, there are specific people at risk as they do not choose just anybody. Handsome, young men can be taken for lovers of female fairies, to enhance bloodline as humans are seen to be stronger and healthier. Midwives and new mothers can be taken as servants to tend to the young. Yet those most at risk are babies and young children because it is easier to integrate them into the fairy communities and there is less of a chance that they will remember their true families. After a child is taken, a fairy child is left in their place. Fairies are said to envy human babies because they are often happier, healthier, more sturdy beings. Be that as it may, there have been cases where a child has been taken because it is believed they are no longer loved enough or out of spite because in the family has disrespected someone from the Realm. The only way to tell a changeling from a baby is from its ill-tempered behavior and the child seems to look wizened with dark eyes and wisdom beyond their age. They will be thin and bony and have full sets of teeth in a few weeks. Changelings rid the family of any good fortune and it is difficult to get rid of them. If you ever wish to see your child again, the changeling must be loved and cared for as if it were your own child. If you treat it negatively, the fairies will treat your own child just as badly, if not worse.

Selkies are beings that can transform between beautiful people and seals by shredding their pelts and putting it on again. If someone manages to obtain a selkie pelt, the selkie will be bound to become their wife. Selkies are said to be good, docile wives if the husband is able to hide the pelt. Males are known to have the power to seduce women, especially those in unhappy marriages. If a woman cried seven tears into the sea during high tide, a selkie will come ashore, shed his skin, and love her. These tales were sometimes used to explain why women had affairs or ran away. Some legends even tell of woman who have gone missing because her selkie lover has taken her to his underwater home. There are many stories of webbed children, the most famous of which are the Mac Coddrum siblings. They are known as the gentlest of all the creatures in Celtic myths and some myths say selkies can only change once a year on Midsummer’s Eve, while others claim it is only every ninth night.

A kelpie is a shape-changing aquatic spirit and is said to haunt rivers and streams. It is shaped like a horse and our known as malevolent spirits. They often appear as tame ponies beside rivers, appealing to children, however once on the back of these creatures, their magical, sticky hide leaves one unable to dismount and soon the person easily becomes trapped. They then take the human into the river where they drown, and the kelpies eat their remains. They can also appear human as beautiful women trying to lure young men to their death or as hairy men lurking near the river, ready to jump at unsuspecting travelers and crush them in a strong grip. Kelpies have magical powers that can be used to summon floods to sweep travelers away into the water. The sound of their tail entering the water is said to resemble thunder, and if you pass a river and hear an unearthly wail it just may be a kelpie warning of an upcoming storm. The

kelpie is known to have one weak spot: Its bridle. Anyone who can get ahold of it will have command of all the kelpies. As captive beings they’re said to have the strength of 10 horses, and the stamina of more, as well as being highly prized.

Pooka, meaning goblin, are shapeshifters that can take any form it chooses. It is most common choices are a dog, rabbit, goat, goblin, or an old man. They can speak in human tongues and like to make a sport of those they speak with. They love to embellish the truth. They are seemingly the most feared faerie in Ireland since they only appear at night and enjoy creating havoc and mischief, but there are no records of Pooka harming any humans. Usually found in rural locations, every county in Ireland has its own Pooka. They live in open mountainous regions, so they can run free in the form of a horse. If you ever start a conversation with a Pooka you may sit and chat with him for hours, but he will suddenly disappear without saying goodbye, something they never say. You will be left with an uncomfortable feeling of not knowing if the past was real or not. Some legends say that when rain falls on a sunny day, Pooka will be out and about during that night, and if berries are killed by frost in the night, never eat them. The Pooka spit on them which makes them poisonous.

These creatures of Irish folklore are only a couple from a long list of legends and myths. There are many different versions of these talks and stories of creature and fairies both good and evil. Though some, like the leprechaun, are well known, the truth behind their tale still seems to be buried in mist.