The ten best-known myths and legends in Irish and Celtic mythology
Myths and legends have been a part of Irish culture and folklore since the very beginning. Ireland is a place which appreciates storytelling and as such, tales of goblins and fairies are commonplace.
Here’s our guide to the ten best-known myths and legends in Irish and Celtic mythology.
1. The fairies
It is said that they live in “cnocs” (hollow hills, in Irish), which are located in the “sidhe”. The “sidhe” are mounds where megalithic monuments are erected in many places on the island. There the fairies are ruled by a king or queen.
One of the most famous legends about fairies is that referring to the “Lady of Death”, a fairy that appears during the night with hair loose and red eyes. According to it is said that she arrives at the home of a family to mourn for several days the death that will fall on one of its members.
2. The Pooka
They are one of the most feared mythical beings in Ireland. These are little goblins that usually dress up and go out at night to terrorise people. They always wear a long, wild mane and their eyes are sulphurous.
Depending on the area, the pooka can become large furry ogres, huge eagles or black goats with twisted horns. In Downland, in particular, they turn into small, deformed goblins that demand a portion of the harvest from the peasants.
3. The message of the butterflies
For the Irish, the butterflies are a message of the fairies, a sign of metamorphosis of the spirits waiting to be reborn. Likewise, they represent journeys between worlds in search of knowledge.
Depending on the colour of the butterflies, they acquire a different meaning, being able to predict bad or good events. The browns and blacks announce little trips or inconveniences and enemies in sight, while white announces positive news and stability.
According to this myth, if you see a yellow butterfly, then you have found yourself face to face with success.
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4. The myth of mermaids
Although we always refer to them as female, the truth is that also exist male sirens. They differ from them in that they are uglier; have a pig face and sharp teeth.
In Ireland, it is said that mermaids have a unique jewel, and if a man manages to keep the treasure, the mermaid will be forced to marry him. This will give a man a beautiful wife and great wealth; but if she recovers it, she will leave husband and children to return to the sea.
5. The Leprechauns
These beings are one of the liveliest symbols of Ireland, and they are a race before the arrival of the Celts. Its name derives from the Gaelic expression “leath bhrògan” which literally means “shoemaker”. They can be kind or fierce.
They are small creatures that wear a special hat on their reddish hair. They have blushes on their faces and wear green suits, like any pixie. They are free, wild and untamable, and can be helpful or greedy according to the circumstances.
According to the legend, if you find one of them and you stare at him, the Leprechaun will be trapped, and you will be able to get the treasures he hides in his big cauldrons. But if you look away for a single second, he will disappear.
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6. Macha, goddess of the horses
They say that in the Ulster area, a magic and mysterious woman was challenged to run pregnant in a competition against the king’s horses, all because of the audacity of her husband.
The name of the female was Macha, goddess of the horses, and for having made her run in such a state, she cast a curse on the whole town.
At the end of the race, the woman gave birth to a pair of twins and lifting one in each arm and said: “All the men of the village would suffer labor pains for five days, like those suffered by their wives.” And so it happened for nine decades.
7. The legend of the pixie in love
This legend is about the leprechaun Coll and his encounter with Áine, an evil fairy who had transformed into a beautiful goblin. She, with her false appearance, managed to capture all the attention of Coll, with whom she spent hours talking.
After a while, the queen of maleficent fairies appeared on a trunk. The empress cast a hex on Áine and turned her into a magpie. Coll sought help until he found the queen of the protective fairies. She promised to remove the spell if Coll found Áine with his heart and kept it in his hands.
After much searching through the forest, suddenly Coll’s heart began to beat hastily and there, in the same trunk as before, was the magpie. He took it in his hands and confessed his love. That was how love could transform the evil fairy and undo the spell.
8. The legend of the harp
It is said that Dagda, the main god of Irish Celtic mythology, possessed the first harp, but it was stolen by the gods of cold and darkness.
Since then the sadness takes over the population. Dagda turned to the divinities of light and art, and they gave it back to her.
This was how joy returned to men, and the harp became a national icon that is still part of the country’s folk music. This instrument is also part of the historical tradition of Ireland, given the relevance of the harpist musicians, who occupied a prominent position in society during the Celtic era.
9. The Shamrock
This curious name in Ireland named the three-leaf clover, which became a national symbol based on a historical-religious fact. It happened at the time when St. Patrick preached before the Celts, trying to explain what the Holy Trinity is.
Finding himself overwhelmed because the Celts could not understand that trilogy, Saint Patrick saw before him a clover. He showed the clover to the audience and explained that, as from a stem come three different leaves, so the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, and the Celts understood the trilogy.
10. The Dullahan
Through the Irish countryside rode sinister creatures, with their heads in their lap at high speed. They were called Dullahan, and it is said that they lived in the counties of Down and Sligo. Legend has it that when a Dullahan suddenly stopped, someone from the environment died.
Part of this legend gave rise to the character of Sleepy Hollow, played by Johnny Depp.
After these stories, let yourself be carried away by your childhood curiosity, visit Ireland and do not get stuck in the metropolis. Follow the many legends and myths and, probably, you can return home loaded with a large cauldron full of gold.