The Púca (AKA Pooka/Puca): The Bringer of Good + Bad in Irish Folklore

the pooka aka the puca
Photo by Kamaronsky (Shutterstock)

Ah, the Puca / Pooka / Púca – one of the many characters to feature in the Irish folklore stories that I was told as a child that terrified me.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the Puca wasn’t all bad, as you’ll discover below, but it used to creep me out majorly when I was told colourful stories about it as a kid.

In the guide below, you’ll find out everything you need to know about the mythical Pooka / Puca, from the form it took and what it looked like to where it was said to appear.

What is a Pooka / Puca?

Although the word ‘Púca’ means ghost/spirit in Irish, we were always told as kids that the Pooka / Puca was a type of creature that had black or white hair. Now, that doesn’t sound that scary, I know, but wait until you hear what it looked like (see below).

Pookas were often mistaken for an animal due their ability to change shape and size (more on this below) and they were feared by many a human in rural Ireland.

Why rural Ireland, you ask? Well, the Puca was known to only frequent the quieter parts of Ireland.

In Irish legend, the Puca was known to only appear at night and was feared by many a human as it was said that it brought either good or bad fortune to those it appeared to.

Now, don’t take me up the wrong way – the Puca wasn’t the type of creature that went around doing physical harm to people. In fact, there’s no record of a Puca causing harm to anyone in Ireland.

What does a Pooka / Puca look like?

As kids, we were told that the Pooka / Púca took on the form of a creature that looked to be a mix between a dog, a rabbit and a goblin. In reality, this isn’t entirely true.

The Puca / Púca was a shapeshifter. Translation = it had the power to change its appearance at will. A Púca could take the shape of an old man if it believed that the appearance would benefit them or it could take the form of a dog.

In some stories, you’ll also hear it said that this creature took on the appearance of a black horse with a wild mane whos golden eyes shone brightly.

In other stories, you’ll hear of people that claim to have encountered a Pooka that had taken on the form of a human with jet black hair.

The eyes of a Pooka

Although many people dispute its appearance and what the Puca looks like, one common facial feature is consistent in many stories – its eyes. It has big bright golden eyes.

It’s widely accepted that the Púca has the ability to shapeshift. Now, if you’re wondering what I mean by that, according to Irish folklore the Púca has the ability to morph and change its appearance.

This is what terrified me as a kid growing up in Ireland. Why be scared of some vicious fairy when there are creatures that can change their appearance running about the place!

Where does the Púca live?

According to folklore, the Pooka can be found in rural corners of Ireland. Now, while many have tried to search for the creature, none have succeeded.

It’s believed that the Puca may live in small lakes deep in the mountains. In fact, some of these great lakes are known as ‘Pooka Pools’, which roughly translates into ‘the Demon’s Hole’.

Stories of the Pooka appearing to people in Ireland

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of people that have headed off on a journey to search for the Puca to see if they could uncover its true hiding place.

There have been two stories in particular that have come up time and time again. Now, these may or may not be true, but sure isn’t that what a fine tale is all about – it’s the unknown that adds to the magic.

A wild ride home

One of the Pooka stories that I’ve heard most frequently offers a nice insight into the temperament of the creature. If this story is to be believed, it may reveal that the Puca is a bit of craic.

The story goes that the Pooka often takes on the form of a friendly horse. The Pooka horse presents itself to weary humans that have usually just stumbled out of a house or a pub and are a little worse for wear.

The Pooka then takes its drunken passenger on a terrifying trip home – imagine if Formula 1 was held in a small rural town in Ireland and you should get the picture.

The weary passenger soon realises that something is amiss as the horse jumps over hedges and gallops around the area in search of ways to scare its passenger.

A fine aul yap

Pookas are known to love interacting with the human world. While their actions are sometimes considered boisterous, they are often helpful (even if they do enjoy a bit of play-acting).

The Puca is known to enjoy an aul yap (a chat). Pucas have been known to spend hours chatting away to unsuspecting people, taking the time to give advice and share their thoughts on problems.

I was once told that the idle benches that you tend to find in many towns and villages in Ireland are places where you’re most likely to encounter or see a Puca. It’s said that they approach those sat on their own and strike up a conversation.

Other names for this mythical creature

So, we’ve covered Pooka, Pookas, Púca and Puca. The other names that this mythical Celtic creature is said to have gone by is ‘Phooka’ and ‘Phouka’.

If you enjoyed learning about the Puca, you’ll enjoy these tales from Irish mythology that contain everyone from Fionn Mac Cumhaill to the Irish Vampire.

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