As a kid, I used to be told stories from Irish folklore and Irish mythology before bed.
It was certain myths from Irish folklore (usually the ones with mad fairies) that used to freak me out. Tales like the one about the Irish vampire caused me many a restless night.
Irish Folklore: 5 Mad Myths
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.
Stories and legends were passed between towns and villages and through generations via poem and song. If you’d like to find more about the tradition of storytelling in Ireland, scroll to the end of this guide!
Below, you’ll discover five myths and stories from Irish folklore that used to frighten the sh*te out of me out as a child growing up in Ireland.
1. The Abhartach (Irish Vampire)
Imagine telling a child that’s about to head to bed a story about a Vampire that lives in Ireland… Yes, there was an Irish Vampire and it was known as the Abhartach.
I’ve heard many different legends about the Abhartach over the years from many different storytellers. Each story tends to vary a little but most follow 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.
An Evil Dwarf
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 kill the dwarf.
The search didn’t take long. The chieftain (some believe it was Fionn Mac Cumhaill) found and killed the dwarf and then buried him upwards in a field. The villagers were overjoyed.
But the happiness was short-lived – the following morning, the dwarf arrived back. It had escaped its grave and had returned with a fury that terrified the villagers. Word was sent to the great chieftain and he returned and killed the dwarf for a second time.
He buried the dwarf again and, again, the villagers were relieved. However, the very next day, the dwarf escaped again. This time, he spread his terror right the way across Ireland.
The chieftain was puzzled and decided to consult a local druid. The druid explained that the chieftain must kill the dwarf and bury him upside down. The chieftain tried this and it worked… finally.
Other versions of the story
If you read our guide to the Abhartach, you’ll find a different version of the story from a lecturer in Celtic history and folklore at the University of Ulster.
This version argues that the real ‘Castle Dracula’ can be found in Northern Ireland and it goes on to detail how the Abhartach was killed a number of times, but that it demanded blood from the villagers when it escaped its grave.
2. Dearg Due
The next of our five Irish legends is closely linked to the story above. The Dearg Due tells the tragic (and pretty damn scary!) story of 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 is 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.
He knew of a local chieftain who possessed great wealth. He would be a better suitor. The father travelled to meet the chieftain and offered his daughters hand in marriage in return for gold. The chieftain agreed and the pair were wed.
The Birth of the ‘Blood Sucker’
The chieftain wanted to keep his wife all to himself, so he locked her up for weeks on end. She fought in the beginning, but after time she gave in and eventually died.
The woman’s spirit was restless and was desperate for revenge. Soon after her burial, the woman awoke and dragged herself out of the grave. Her first stop was her father’s home.
After prising open his bedroom window, she pounced on him as he slept and sank her teeth into his neck, drinking his blood. She visited the chieftain and he met the same fate.
After consuming blood the woman felt energy that she had never experienced before. She developed a thirst for it. Discover what happened next in our guide to the Dearg Due.
3. The Banshee
Depending on who’s telling the story, the form of the Banshee tends to change quite a bit. Some will tell you 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 myths told of the banshee is consistent – its wail. The Banshee in Irish folklore is said to be an omen of death. It’s said that the Banshee scream is a warning of impending death.
Some people believe that if you hear the scream of a Banshee, a member of your family will pass away soon. Others believe that each family in Ireland has its own Banshee.
The Keening Woman
If you read our guide to the Banshee, you’ll hear the story of the Keening Woman. ‘Keening’ is a form of expressing grief for those that are dead or dying.
This practice was actually carried out by either one or a number of women and it’s widely believed that these women were paid to do it. It’s here that myth starts to meet reality.
Many say that this is one of many Irish legends that was influenced by old traditions. The Keening Woman is said to be where the legend of the Banshee stemmed from.
4. The Morrigan
If you read our guide to Tuatha Dé Danann, you’ll have come across the story of the Morrigan, a mysterious Celtic goddess that could shape-shift and that was associated with war, death and destiny.
In a book from 1870 titled ‘The Ancient Irish Goddess of War’, the Morrigan is described as being able to predict the impending death 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…
The Battle with Cu Chulainn
The story of the Morrigan and Cu Chulainn is one of the many Irish legends that still gets told to this day. It tells of how the Morrigan first encountered the warrior while he was defending Ulster from Queen Maeve.
The Morrigan fell in love with Cu Chulainn and tried to seduce him before he entered the battle, but he declined her advances. The goddess was infuriated.
It was this moment that ultimately led to the warrior’s death not long after. You can read about how Cu Chulainn was tricked in our guide to the Morrigan.
5. The Puca
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.
The Drunken Journey Home
One of my favourite Irish legends to feature the Puca is what’s often referred to as the ‘Drunken Journey Home’. The Puca is said to have been fond of transforming into a horse.
When it did so, it would wait outside of pubs for drunks to stumble out before making their way home. The horse Puca would offer the weary drinker a lift home.
Those that climbed aboard would be taken on a wild ride through lakes and over trees. When they got off, still full of drink, they’d be shaken but unsure of what had just taken place.
More Irish Mythology and Folklore Stories
If the stories above have given you a taste for tales for ancient Ireland, drop into our guide to Irish mythology. It’s packed with a heap of well-known and often missed myths, like:
- The story of the Salmon of Knowledge
- The pursuit of Diramuid and Grainne
- The Legend of the Tuatha Dé Danann (Irish warrior gods)
- The story of the Children of Lir
Or, just hop into our section on Irish culture. Here, you’ll find everything from drinks and jokes to slang and many more stories.