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Tales From Irish Folklore: 10 Mighty Myths And Legends

Tales From Irish Folklore: 10 Mighty Myths And Legends

Myths and legends from Irish folklore played a big part in my childhood.

When the clock hit 8 and bedtime arrived, my dad would transport me to magical (and often scary!) mythical worlds.

Figures like the Puca, Cú Chulainn and the Celtic mythological creatures that occupy the darkest corners of Irish myths and legends played a pivotal role in bedtime stories.

In the guide below, my goal is simple – to help you discover a mix of mad and magical Irish stories that I still enjoy to this day.

Our favourite myths and legends from Irish folklore

Irish Celtic Gods and Goddesses

Storytelling has played a key part in Irish culture for thousands of years.

‘Back in the day’, during the time of the Celts, written records of historical events weren’t kept.

Irish stories and Irish legends were passed between towns and villages and through generations via poem and song.

Which is while you’ll often hear many variations of the one tale. Here are my versions below (well, my dads!).


1. The Abhartach (aka the Irish Vampire)

The Abhartach

Imagine telling a child that’s about to head to bed a story about a Vampire that lives in Ireland… Yes, there was a vampire in Irish Folklore and it was known as the Abhartach.

There are many Irish legends about the Abhartach, but each follows a very similar tale that all begin with a historian named Patrick Weston Joyce.

Joyce published a book in 1869 titled ‘The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places’. It was in this book that the world was first introduced to the Abhartach.

The book tells of a wicked dwarf that possessed powerful magic and who was said to terrorise villagers near where he lived. Then, after reaching their wit’s end, the villages convinced a local chieftain to get rid of the dwarf.

If the beginning of this tale from Irish folklore has tickled your fancy, you’ll find the rest of it right here.


2. The Dearg Due

the Dearg Due

One of the more popular scary Irish folklore stories tells the tale of the Dearg Due – a woman turned ‘Red Blood Sucker’.

The story begins in a small town in Ireland where a young couple had fallen in love. The man was a poor farm worker while the woman was the daughter of a greedy villager.

The father found out that the couple was courting, and expressed his displeasure. If his daughter married this peasant, he would not benefit, so he hatched a terrible plan.

The father forced his daughter into the arms of a wealthy suitor. Alas, he badly mistreated her. So much so that she dragged herself from the grave and sought revenge.

If the start of this tale from Irish folklore has tickled your fancy, you’ll find the rest of it right here.


3. The Banshee

The Banshee

Another bit of scary Irish folklore tells the tale of the Banshee. Some say that Banshees take on the form of an old woman, while others say that it’s a fairy, of sorts.

However, one feature in the many Irish myths told of the banshee is consistent – its wail. The Banshee in Irish folklore is said to be an omen of impending doom.

Some people believe that if you hear the scream of a Banshee, a member of your family will meet their demise soon. Others believe that each family in Ireland has its own Banshee.

If you’d like to read about one of the creepier Irish legends, find our guide to the Banshee here.


4. The Morrigan

The Morrigan Irish Goddess

If you read our guide to Tuatha Dé Danann, or our guide to Celtic Gods and Goddesses, you’ll have come across the story of the Morrigan.

In a book from 1870 titled ‘The Ancient Irish Goddess of War’, the Morrigan is described as being able to predict the impending demise of warriors.

She used this power to terrify warriors about to enter a battle and to influence the outcome of war.

Imagine heading into a fight to the death after being told by a mythical figure that you were destined to lose?! Not exactly motivating…

There are many Celtic legends associated with the Morrigan, and you’ll find the best of them here


5. The Pooka

The Pooka

Now, although the Puca never hurt anyone in any of the Irish legends that I was told as a kid, something about it still freaked me out.

The true form of the Puca changes depending on who’s telling the story. I’ve heard some describe it as a fairy and others as a ghost.

However, the most common form that it’s described to take is that of a small creature with dark hair that looks like a mix between a dog and a rabbit.

The Puca could be found in rural Ireland and they were said to bring either good or bad fortune to those that it appeared to. They were also fond of a bit of mischief.

There’s many tales from Irish folkore that involve the Pooka – find our favourites here.


6. Cú Chulainn

Cú Chulainn

Cú Chulainn is one of the more prominent figures in Irish myths and legends and he is from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology.

The different Irish folklore stories about Cú Chulainn tend to start when he was a child and then work their way through his life.

One of the great stories from his early life is the Hound of Chulann, which involves Cú Chulainn defeating a massive hound with a hurl to hit the sliotar.

One of the more interesting tales is the Tain Bo Cuailnge, AKA the Cattle Raid of Cooley. In this legend, Cú Chulainn goes up against the formidable Queen Maeve of Connacht.


7. The Children of Lir

Children of Lir

The Children of Lir is one of many Celtic legends that kids in Ireland are told during their early school years.

It all begins with King Lir – the ruler of the Irish sea. His wife, and mother to his four children passed away, and the King went on to marry his sister in law – Aoife.

Although fond of her new stepchildren at first, Aoife went on to resent them. So much so that she had them turned into swans. 

The sentence lasted for 900 years and it would only be broken when a bell signalled the arrival of St. Patrick

If the start of this tale from Irish folklore has tickled your fancy, you’ll find the rest of it right here.


8. Fionn McCumhaill

Fionn McCumhaill

Image left: Public Domain. Others: Shutterstock

As was the case with Cú Chulainn, Irish myths and legends involving Fionn Mac Cumhaill play a key role in Irish folklore.

Fionn was present during what is known as the Fenian Cycle of Irish Mythology.

One of the most notable Irish stories involving Fionn are the Legend of the Giant’s Causeway. It tells the tale of a battle between an Irish and Scottish giant, the result of which was the creation of the Giant’s Causeway.

Another tale is the Salmon of Knowledge. This fish had the ability to make the person who ate it the most intelligent person in Ireland.


9. The Fianna

The Fianna

Photos in the Public Domain

The Fianna, led by Fionn Mac Cumhaill, were a fierce band of warriors from the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology that roamed around Ireland.

They are mentioned in the 17th century book by Geoffrey Keating, titled ‘Foras Feasa ar Éirinn’, which was published around 1634 to offer an insight into the history of the Kingdom of Ireland.

In order to become a member of The Fianna, you were required to pass a test to ensure your intelligence, defence, speed, movement, bravery and chivalry were up to standard.

There are many Irish legends involving The Fianna, which you can discover here.


What Celtic legends have we missed?

Irish Celtic Gods and Goddesses

I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant Celtic legends from the guide above.

If you have any Irish folklore stories that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!


FAQs about Irish lore

Since publishing this guide to Irish folklore and Irish legends back at the beginning of last year, we’ve had a fair few emails.

In the section below, we’ll tackle some of the most FAQs. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, let me know in the comments below.

What is the most famous Irish folklore?

Some of the most famous Irish myths revolve around Fionn Mac Cumhaill, Cú Chulainn and Tuatha dé Danann. However, tales vary from place to place and family to family.

What are some folktales from Ireland?

Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, The Legend of the Banshee, The Children of Lir and The Puca.

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Bob Gresh

Thursday 15th of September 2022

Keith, have you ever heard this folktale, which I've been unable to trace? A chieftain returning from a cattle raid stopped to count the creach as it crossed a ford. A friar accompanying the raiders watered his horse midstream, bending over to pet it, and exposing his white neck. The chief's henchman, or duine laider, couldn't resist and cut the monks head off with his two hands sword. The peasantry finally had to deal with the brute, since the chief feared him. They chased him into a pig sty and dealt with him with pitch fork and flail.

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