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The name leprechaun may have derived from the Irish leath bhrogan (shoemaker), although its origins may lie in luacharma'n (Irish for pygmy). These apparently aged, diminutive men are frequently to be found in an intoxicated state, caused by home-brew poteen. However they never become so drunk that the hand which holds the hammer becomes unsteady and their shoemaker's work affected. Leprechauns have also become self-appointed guardians of ancient treasure (left by the Danes when they marauded through Ireland), burying it in crocks or pots. This may be one reason why leprechauns tend to avoid contact with humans whom they regard as foolish, flighty (and greedy?) creatures. If caught by a mortal, he will promise great wealth if allowed to go free. He carries two leather pouches. In one there is a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to the purse each time it is paid out. In the other he carries a gold coin which he uses to try and bribe his way out of difficult situations. This coin usually turns to leaves or ashes once the leprechaun has parted with it.However, you must never take your eye off him, for he can vanish in an instant.
The leprechaun 'family' appears split into two distinct groups - leprechaun and cluricaun. Cluricauns may steal or borrow almost anything, creating mayhem in houses during the hours of darkness, raiding wine cellars and larders. They will also harness sheep, goats, dogs and even domestic fowl and ride them throughout the country at night. Although the leprechaun has been described as Ireland's national fairy, this name was originally only used in the north Leinster area. Variants include lurachmain, lurican, lurgadhan
Dullaghan Variants: dullaghan, far dorocha, Crom Dubh
The dullahan is one of the most spectacular creatures in the Irish fairy realm and one which is particularly active in the more remote parts of counties Sligo and Down.
Around midnight on certain Irish festivals or feast days, this wild and black-robed horseman may be observed riding a dark and snorting steed across the countryside.
W. J. Fitzpatrick, a storyteller from the Mourne Mountains in County Down, recounts:
"I seen the dullahan myself, stopping on the brow of the hill between Bryansford and Moneyscalp late one evening, just as the sun was setting. It was completely headless but it held up its own head in its hand and I heard it call out a name. I put my hand across my ears in case the name was my own, so I couldn't hear what it said. When I looked again, it was gone. But shortly afterwards, there was a bad car accident on that very hill and a young man was killed. It had been his name that the dullahan was calling".
Dullahans are headless. Although the dullahan has no head upon its shoulders, he carries it with him, either on the saddle-brow of his horse or upraised in his right hand. The head is the colour and texture of stale dough or mouldy cheese, and quite smooth. A hideous, idiotic grin splits the face from ear to ear, and the eyes, which are small and black, dart about like malignant flies. The entire head glows with the phosphoresence of decaying matter and the creature may use it as a lantern to guide its way along the darkened laneways of the Irish countryside. Wherever the dullahan stops, a mortal dies.
The dullahan is possessed of supernatural sight. By holding his severed head aloft, he can see for vast distances across the countryside, even on the darkest night. Using this power, he can spy the house of a dying person, no matter where it lies. Those who watch from their windows to see him pass are rewarded for their pains by having a basin of blood thrown in their faces, or by being struck blind in one eye.
The dullahan is usually mounted on a black steed, which thunders through the night. He uses a human spine as a whip. The horse sends out sparks and flames from its nostrils as it charges forth. In some parts of the country, such as County Tyrone, the dullahan drives a black coach known as the coach-a-bower (from the Irish coiste bodhar, meaning 'deaf or silent coach'>. This is drawn by six black horses, and travels so fast that the friction created by its movement often sets on fire the bushes along the sides of the road. All gates fly open to let rider and coach through, no matter how firmly they are locked, so no one is truly safe from the attentions of this fairy
Pooka Variants: phouka, puca
No fairy is more feared in Ireland than the pooka. This may be because it is always out and about after nightfall, creating harm and mischief, and because it can assume a variety of terrifying forms.
The guise in which it most often appears, however, is that of a sleek, dark horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and a long wild mane. In this form, it roams large areas of countryside at night, tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock in terror, trampling crops and generally doing damage around remote farms.
In remote areas of County Down, the pooka becomes a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest: for this reason several strands, known as the 'pooka's share', are left behind by the reapers. In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a massive wingspan; and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns.
The mere sight of it may prevent hens laying their eggs or cows giving milk, and it is the curse of all late night travellers as it is known to swoop them up on to its back and then throw them into muddy ditches or bogholes. The pooka has the power of human speech, and it has been known to stop in front of certain houses and call out the names of those it wants to take upon its midnight dashes. If that person refuses, the pooka will vandalise their property because it is a very vindictive fairy.
The origins of the pooka are to some extent speculative. The name may come from the Scandinavian pook or puke, meaning 'nature spirit'. Such beings were very capricious and had to be continually placated or they would create havoc in the countryside, destroying crops and causing illness among livestock.
Alternatively, the horse cults prevalent throughout the early Celtic world may have provided the underlying motif for the nightmare steed.
Changelings Variants: stocks
It appears that fairy women all over Ireland find birth a difficult experience. Many fairy children die before birth and those that do survive are often stunted or deformed creatures.
The adult fairies, who are aesthetic beings, are repelled by these infants and have no wish to keep them. They will try to swap them with healthy children who they steal from the mortal world. The wizened, ill tempered creature left in place of the human child is generally known as a changeling and possesses the power to work evil in a household. Any child who is not baptised or who is overly admired is especially at risk of being exchanged.
It is their temperament, however, which most marks the changeling. Babies are generally joyful and pleasant, but the fairy substitute is never happy, except when some calamity befalls the household. For the most part, it howls and screeches throughout the waking hours and the sound and frequency of its yells often transcend the bounds of mortal endurance.
A changeling can be one of three types: actual fairy children; senile fairies who are disguised as children or, inanimate objects, such as pieces of wood which take on the appearance of a child through fairy magic. This latter type is known as a stock.
Puckered and wizened features coupled with yellow, parchment-like skin are all generic changeling attributes. This fairy will also exhibit very dark eyes, which betray a wisdom far older than its apparent years. Changelings display other characteristics, usually physical deformities, among which a crooked back or lame hand are common. About two weeks after their arrival in the human household, changelings will also exhibit a full set of teeth, legs as thin as chicken bones, and hands which are curved and crooked as birds' talons and covered with a light, downy hair.
No luck will come to a family in which there is a changeling because the creature drains away all the good fortune which would normally attend the household. Thus, those who are cursed with it tend to be very poor and struggle desperately to maintain the ravenous monster in their midst.
One positive feature which this fairy may demonstrate is an aptitude for music. As it begins to grow, the changeling may take up an instrument, often the fiddle or the Irish pipes, and plays with such skill that all who hear it will be entranced. This report is from near Boho in County Fermanagh.
"I saw a changeling one time. He lived with two oul' brothers away beyond the Dog's Well and looked like a wee wizened monkey. He was about ten or eleven but he couldn't really walk, just bobbed about. But he could play the whistle the best that you ever heard. Old tunes that the people has long forgotten, that was all he played. Then one day, he was gone and I don't know what happened to him at all."
Grogochs were originally half human, half-fairy aborigines who came from Kintyre in Scotland to settle in Ireland. The grogoch, well-known throughout north Antrim, Rathlin Island and parts of Donegal, may also to be found on the Isle of Man, where they are called 'phynnodderee'. Resembling a very small elderly man, though covered in coarse, dense reddish hair or fur, he wears no clothes, but sports a variety of twigs and dirt from his travels. Grogochs are not noted for their personal hygiene: there are no records of any female grogochs. The grogoch is impervious to searing heat or freezing cold. His home may be a cave, hollow or cleft in the landscape. In numerous parts of the northern countryside are large leaning stones which are known as 'grogochs' houses'.
He has the power of invisibility and will often only allow certain trusted people to observe him. A very sociable being, the grogoch. He may even attach himself to certain individuals and help them with their planting and harvesting or with domestic chores - for no payment other than a jug of cream.
He will scuttle about the kitchen looking for odd jobs to do and will invariably get under people's feet. Like many other fairies, the grogoch has a great fear of the clergy and will not enter a house if a priest or minister is there. If the grogoch is becoming a nuisance, it is advisable to get a clergyman into the house and drive the creature away to inadvertently torment someone else.
The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs. Intermarriage has since extended this select list.
Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.) She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman).
Although not always seen, her mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die. In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress or banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. This is an example of the banshee in human form. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In Kerry, the keen is experienced as a "low, pleasant singing"; in Tyrone as "the sound of two boards being struck together"; and on Rathlin Island as "a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl".
The banshee may also appear in a variety of other forms, such as that of a hooded crow, stoat, hare and weasel - animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.
The word merrow or moruadh comes from the Irish muir (meaning sea) and oigh (meaning maid) and refers specifically to the female of the species. Mermen - the merrows male counterparts - have been rarely seen. They have been described as exceptionally ugly and scaled, with pig-like features and long, pointed teeth. Merrows themselves are extremely beautiful and are promiscuous in their relations with mortals. The Irish merrow differs physically from humans in that her feet are flatter than those of a mortal and her hands have a thin webbing between the fingers. It should not be assumed that merrows are kindly and well-disposed towards mortals. As members of the sidhe, or Irish fairy world, the inhabitants of Tir fo Thoinn (the Land beneath the Waves) have a natural antipathy towards humans. In some parts of Ireland, they are regarded as messengers of doom and death.
Merrows have special clothing to enable them to travel through ocean currents. In Kerry, Cork and Wexford, they wear a small red cap made from feathers, called a cohullen druith. However, in more northerly waters they travel through the sea wrapped in sealskin cloaks, taking on the appearance and attributes of seals. In order to come ashore, the merrow abandons her cap or cloak, so any mortal who finds these has power over her, as she cannot return to the sea until they are retrieved. Hiding the cloak in the thatches of his house, a fisherman may persuade the merrow to marry them. Such brides are often extremely wealthy, with fortunes of gold plundered from shipwrecks. Eventually the merrow will recover the cloak, and find her urge to return to the sea so strong that she leaves her human husband and children behind.
Many coastal dwellers have taken merrows as lovers and a number of famous Irish families claim their descent from such unions, notably the O'Flaherty and O'Sullivan families of Kerry and the MacNamaras of Clare. The Irish poet W B Yeats reported a further case in his Irish Fairy and Folk Tales: "Near Bantry in the last century, there is said to have been a woman, covered in scales like a fish, who was descended from such a marriage". Despite her wealth and beauty, you should be particularly wary about encountering this marine fairy.
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