Irish Folklore: Mythical Monsters and Terrifying Creatures

Updated On: September 12, 2023

Irish Folklore

Irish folklore is thousands of years old. It offers a variety of myths and legends that have been passed down from one generation to another. Irish folklore became even more popular through Bram Stoker’s Dracula but the prince of darkness is just one of many mythical monsters in Irish folklore. In fact most of the Irish monsters in this list are part of Celtic mythology and have existed for millennia and are just waiting to be discovered.

These stories and tales have stood the test of time, often focusing on the scary mythical monsters that locals claimed to have encountered, according to legend at least. In this article we will explore Irish monsters and Celtic creatures that are both terrifying and fascinating.

Fairies in Irish mythology

In Irish mythology, fairy was a broad term used to describe magical creatures. There are two types of fairy classifications, namely the Aos Sí (good fairies) and lone fairies. The Aos Sídhe were actually descendants of the Ancient Gods of Celtic Ireland, known as the tribe of Danu or the Tuatha de Danann.

The story goes that the people of Ireland descend from a race called Milesians. Milesians were once part of the Gaels tribe, but they had left Ireland and travelled the world for centuries. They eventually returned to Ireland to reclaim their home from the Gods at power. According to legend the Tuatha de Danann could make prophecies (The Morrigan had the gift of foresight for example) and knew they would not win this war, so they agreed to reside underground in the Otherworld while our ancestors remained above ground.

Irish Folklore
Irish folklore: Most Prominent Gods of Tuatha de Danann

Over time the Gods became the Aos Sídhe (which means people of the fairy mound) and were known as fairies. They retained their human features for the most part and were creative and generally kind beings.

Alternatively, Irish mythical monsters more commonly derive from the lone fairy category. This classification has many more sub categories but in general, these fairies or Irish monsters are smaller, with less humanoid features and are generally more mischievous than the Aos Sídhe. Lone fairies include everything from Leprechauns to the Dullahan.

Fairy Trees (lone Hawthorn trees), burial grounds and water were some of the ways for fairies to travel between our world and the Other world.

When Celtic Christianity was formed (by merging Celtic customs with Christian ideals) some things were easy to adapt as they were positive, but more myths and creatures were either left out of Irish folklore altogether or portrayed as purely evil. Magical creatures for example were either phased out of beliefs systems or presented as evil.

In this article we will explore Irish monsters and Celtic folklore creatures including:

  • The Leprechaun
  • Creatures similar to the Leprechaun
  • The Banshee
  • The Dullahan – The origin of the headless horseman
  • Changelings
  • The Púca / Pooka – The trickster spirit
  • Failnis – Wolves in Irish folklore
  • Fear Gorta – The Hungry man
  • Irish Vampires – The real origin of Dracula?
  • The Sluagh – Wandering souls
  • The Kelpie – A ferocious sea creature
  • The Selkie – The Irish mermaid?
  • Caorthannach – Evil’s mother
  • Gancanach – A fairy who meddles with love and obsession

The Leprechaun in Irish folklore

Perhaps the most notable “fairy” in Irish folklore, leprechauns are mostly known as friendly small creatures that like to cause mischief every once in a while. Leprechauns were first referenced in the medieval tale of Echtra Fergus mac Léti (Adventures of Fergus, the son of Léti), where the King of Ulster who was called Fergus mac Léti falls asleep on the beach only to wake up as he’s being dragged into the sea by three leprechauns. He manages to capture the mischievous creatures, who grant him three wishes in exchange for their release.

Stories differ about whether leprechauns are actually harmless or evil creatures and they usually fall somewhere in between the two extremities. Most tales of leprechauns in Irish folklore describe their love of shoe making and general avoidance of humans. If they are left alone to make shoes they will be satisfied. It is only when humans interfere with their work that they get annoyed and cause mischief.

Of course modern pop culture has a different idea, leprechauns are portrayed as a wholly chaotic force to be reckoned with. They will go out of their way to cause mischief and trick humans. There is a bit of a pattern of seeing Irish folklore describe creatures as harmless or nuanced, only for pop culture and modern depictions to be simply evil.

Leprechauns are considered lucky in modern times; they even hide a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! But did you know that the term ‘the luck of the Irish’ has nothing to do with the leprechaun? In reality the origin of the saying originates in California of all places, and it wasn’t exactly a compliment… You can read the full story in our blog about the true story behind the saying ‘the luck of the Irish‘ or check out other Irish sayings explained!

Irish folklore: An interesting perspective on the origin of Irish myth

Creatures similar to the Leprechaun in Irish myth

Fear dearg / Far darrig

A far darrig or fear dearg is another faerie from Irish mythology. The name far darrig means Red Man, and it was named as such because they are said to wear a red coat and cap. These types of faeries are also sometimes known as Rat Boys as they are rather fat and have dark, hairy skin, long snouts and skinny tails.

According to Irish folk tales, the far darrig is a solitary fairy, like the leprechaun, that is described as the “most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantom”. The far darrig is also described as the one who “busies himself with practical joking, especially with gruesome joking”, like replacing babies with changelings. They are also said to cause nightmares and give bad luck.

However, they can also give good luck to those who pass through their practical jokes unscathed, or take them in good humour. They also reward those who offer them hospitality.

The Clurichaun

Somewhere in between the Leprechaun and Fear dearg in terms of pure chaos is the Clurichaun. The Clurichaun haunts breweries. Some claim that the Clurichaun is simply a Leprechaun on a drinking spree!

While the Leprechaun is usually 2 or 3 feet tall, the Clurichaunin its earliest appearance in myth was only a couple of inches tall, so it is hard to know for certain if they are one and the same.

In one tale, the Clurichaun tricks a human into drinking a drink he offers him and as a result the human is forced to serve the little fellow for seven years. The human escapes the ‘contract’ by blessing the Clurichaun which breaks the spell. Another story sees a man leave his house after being unable to tolerate the Clurichaun. Much to his dismay however, the little fellow follows him into his new home and settles himself in the new wine cellar!

The modern Leprechaun definitely draws inspiration from the 3 fairies we have discussed above which makes for an interesting character to say the least.

The Banshee in Irish folklore

A banshee is a female spirit that originated in Irish mythology. It is said that her wails or shrieks herald the death of a family member. Descriptions of what a banshee looks like have varied over time. She is either depicted as a beautiful woman or an old hag.

The banshee is sometimes depicted as a crow on a windowsill or a woman washing the armour or clothes of someone about to die. For these reasons she is likened to the Morrigan, the Celtic triple deity and goddess of war and death.

The Banshee is also associated with Irish Wakes due to her keening which is a type of mourning.

The Banshee isn’t a monster but for completeness we have included her in this list. In Irish folklore she didn’t cause death, she could only predict it moments before it happened and mourned with the family. She only ‘haunted’ specific families, each ancient Irish family had their own banshee who resided near their home and watched over the family lineage, helping to guide the souls of the dead into the afterlife.

The banshee is said to have long streaming fair hair and red eyes from weeping. She usually wears a grey cloak over a green dress. In another description by Lady Fanshawe, an English memoirist who lived in the 17th century, a banshee is dressed in white with red hair and a ghastly complexion. How would she know? Well, it is said that she saw one for herself.

Irish myth: A great description of the Banshee that reflects the original depiction and true nature of the otherworldly woman.

The Story of the Banshee

In 1649, Sir Richard Fanshawe and his wife, Ann, Lady Fanshawe lived in Cork, Ireland. However, when the city rose against the English King in October of the same year, they were forced to flee and stay with several of their friends at different estates on their way to Spain. For three nights during that time, they stayed at the castle of Lady Honara O’Brien.

On their first night there, around 1 am, Lady Fanshawe was awakened by a voice at the window of her room. She got up and drew the curtain open, only to discover a woman leaning into the casement of the window from outside. The figure was wearing white, she had red hair, and a “ghastly complexion.” The woman called out loudly in a strange tone “Ahone, Ahone, Ahone”, followed by a sigh “more like wind than breath,” and then she vanished “more like a thick cloud than substance.”

Terrified by what she had just seen, Lady Fanshawe woke her husband, who was surprised by what his wife told him. In the morning, Lady Honara O’Brien told them she had stayed up all night because her cousin, whose ancestors once owned the home they were in, was severely ill in his chamber and had eventually died at two o’clock that morning.

She went even further as to tell them that she had forgotten the myth that the spectre of woman who had become pregnant and murdered by a former owner of the home now appeared in the window of the room when anyone in the family were dying. Needless to say, the Fanshawes left as soon as possible.

More Stories of Banshee Sightings

Lady Fanshawe was not the only person to report seeing a banshee with her own eyes. Lady Jane Wilde (mother of famous Irish author Oscar Wilde), an Irish poet who had a special interest in Irish folktales and helped gather them, gave another account in Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, with Sketches of the Irish Past (1887):

“Sometimes the Banshee assumes the form of some sweet singing virgin of the family who died young and has been given the mission by the invisible powers to become the harbinger of coming doom to her mortal kindred. Or she may be seen at night as a shrouded woman, crouched beneath the trees, lamenting with veiled face; or flying past in the moonlight, crying bitterly: and the cry of thus spirit is mournful beyond all other sounds on earth, and betokens certain death to some member of the family whenever it is heard in the silence of the night.”

Lady Jane Wilde also goes on to tell some of the tales she had gathered of the effect banshees had on locals, even those who lived in faraway lands:

“A branch of the ancient race of the O’Gradys had settled in Canada, far removed, apparently, from all the associations, traditions, and mysterious influences of the old land of their fore-fathers. But one night a strange and mournful lamentation was heard outside the house. No word was uttered, only a bitter cry, as of one in deepest agony and sorrow, floated through the air.

The inquiry was made, but no one had been seen near the house at the time, though several persons distinctly heard the weird, unearthly cry, and a terror fell upon the household, as if some supernatural influence had overshadowed them.

The next day the gentleman and his eldest son went out boating. However they did not return at the usual time for dinner, so an alarm was raised and messengers were sent down to the shore to look for them.

But no tidings came until, precisely at the exact hour of the night when the spirit-cry had been heard the previous evening, a crowd of men were seen approaching the house, bearing with them the dead bodies of the father and the son, who had both been drowned by the accidental upsetting of the boat, within sight of land, but not near enough for any help to reach them in time.

Thus the Ban-Sidhe had fulfilled her mission of doom, after which she disappeared, ‘and the cry of the spirit of death was heard no more.”

Origins of the Banshee

Accounts of banshees go as far back as 1380 when they were mentioned in the Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh (Triumphs of Torlough) by Sean mac Craith.

While sometimes banshees are thought of as fairies or descendants of the aos sídhe, they can also be speculated to be the ghosts of murdered women, mothers who died in childbirth or any woman who died unjustly before their time.

The origin of the legend of the banshee may have come from the female profession of keening, a specific type of wailing lament performed when someone dies. This used to be a traditional part of mourning in Ireland and parts of Scotland as well.

Barn owls are the source of many myths due to the fact that they are nocturnal, often inhabit derelict buildings and have an eerie yet distinctive cry. It is more than possible the banshee cry people heard was in fact the barn owl, and this combined with the superstition around keening could have created the banshee legend.

Thus came the idea of the banshee, who laments someone’s death or impending death. It is often stated that the banshee laments only the descendants of the pure Milesian stock of Ireland, and according to some accounts, each family has its own banshee. It is also said that when several banshees appear at once, it indicates the death of someone great or holy.

The reputation of the banshee is undeserved in Irish myth. In most stories she has no control over death and is actually sad a member of the family had passed away. She is simply the messenger of death and mourns with the family as she breaks the tragic news. The fact that she usually stays loyal to one family is a sign of this. It is also sad as she sometimes finds out about a death before it happens, but can’t do anything to stop it.

Dullahan – The Headless Horsemen of Irish folklore

Irish folklore: The Headless horseman

The Dullahan, which translates to “without a head” in Irish, is a type of fairy in Celtic mythology. He is depicted as a headless rider on a black horse, carrying his own head under one arm. Although it is usually depicted as a male, there are some female versions of the tale as well. The terrifying fairy’s mouth is usually in a gruesome grin that touches both sides of the head. The horseman’s eyes are said to be quite sharp and can see across the countryside, even during the darkest of nights.

If that description isn’t terrifying enough, the Dullahan is said to a human spine as a whip, and the wagon it’s dragging behind it is adorned with funeral objects. It also has candles in skulls fashioned as lanterns to light the way. The spokes of the wheels are made from thigh bones, and the wagon’s covering is made from a worm-chewed pall or dried human skin.

Like banshees, the Dullahan can foreshadow deaths but unlike the banshee the Dullahan seems to have more control over who lives and dies, as the ancient Irish believed that when the Dullahan stops moving, a person is due to die. The Dullahan calls out the person’s name, drawing away the soul of his victim, at which point the person immediately drops dead.

In ancient times, it was said that golden objects can force the Dullahan to disappear. At the time, gold was very valuable, so it was considered to be a sacrifice. The Dullahaun was believed to be an embodiment of Crom Dubh, a Tuatha de Danann God of storms, death, sacrifice and eternity.

The Dullahan in American Folklore

The Irish legend of the Dullahan has spawned many similar stories in different cultures, including American folklore. The Americans call the creature the Headless Horseman. The fictional character appears in the short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by American author Washington Irving. The story has been countlessly adapted into film and TV, including the 1999 Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp.

According to the story, which takes place in Sleepy Hollow, New York, during the American Revolutionary War, the Horseman was a Hessian trooper who was decapitated by an American cannonball during the Battle of White Plains in 1776. Eventually, his comrades buried his body, without the head, in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, from which he rises as a ghost, furiously seeking his lost head.

The Headless Horseman is also a novel by Mayne Reid, first published in 1865 and 1866, set in Texas and based on a south Texas folk tale. He is often depicted wearing a pumpkin as a head and because of this is associated with Halloween traditions around the world.

The Changeling in Irish folklore

The changeling is one of the most scary monsters in our list. A changeling was believed to be a fairy left in the place of a human (usually a child or baby) that was stolen by other fairies.

It was believed that looking at a baby, child or adult with envy would make them vulnerable to the fairies power. The only way to protect them was by saying a blessing for them. Irish curses were complicated to say the least!

In ancient Ireland, it was believed that during liminal times of the year or transitional periods such as Summer to Winter, fairies and evil spirits were able to come from the otherworld to our world. This occurred during ancient Irish festivals such as Samhain and other Celtic festivals as well as in transitional periods of life such as marriage, birth and death. At this time people were especially vulnerable to evil spirits.

It was usually a tailor who was the first to recognise that the changeling had replaced a human oddly enough. There were various ways for a person to tell a changeling apart from their loved one, even if they looked identical. This is because the changeling would begin to show unusual behaviours such as playing an instrument the real person never learned how to play, or moving in a strange way when they thought they were alone.

In most tales, the family could recover their child by returning the changeling, catching the fairy in the act of stealing their child, or even tricking the fairy by blessing them. Síofra (Sheef-ra) is a modern Irish name meaning changeling which derives from Síobhra which means fairy people.

Across many cultures the Changeling lore is fascinating, in some myths the changeling is a dying fairy brought to the human world to see out the rest of its life. The Hole in the Ground (2019) is a horror film that explores the myth of Changelings in modern Ireland.

Irish Horror Film: The Hole in the Ground explores the Irish myth of Changelings

The story of the changeling is quite sad, if a child developed differently tan expected or behaved outside of what was considered ‘normal’ in the past, they could face grave consequences under the guise of being seen as changelings.

The Púca / Pooka in Irish folklore

Púca is the Irish word for ghost and so is a term used to describe many spirits in Celtic and Germanic folklore. The pooka can be good or evil depending on their mood and is usually a trickster that can transform.

Irish folklore: The Pooka

Failnis – Wolves in Irish folklore

Failnis is the mythical dog in Irish mythology belonging to the champion of the Tuatha de Danann, Lugh lamhfhada. Failnis was gifted to Lugh as a reparation by the Children of Tuireann after they killed his father Cian.

The dog was invincible in battle, it caught and held dominion over every beast it encountered and could even turn water into wine. It was multi-coloured and larger than regular dogs.

There are many more interesting stories of dogs, wolves and even werewolves in Celtic mythology and Irish folklore. The men of Ossory were able to leave their human body and become wolves which was useful during in battle. You can find out more by watching the video below!

Irish folklore: werewolves in Irish mythology

Fear Gorta

The fear gorta (literally means ‘hungry man’) is a phantom that takes the form of an emaciated man and is believed to arise from times of famine in Ireland. It was considered good luck to donate alms such as money or food to the fear gorta.

There is not much more information about the fear gorta but there is something inherently sad about this spirit considering its connection to the famine and the Irish diaspora which resulted from it. The reality behind the myth was even more scary as over a million real people died during the Great Famine in Ireland.

The Abhartach – An alternative version of Dracula’s origin in Irish folklore

Ever since Bram Stoker popularised vampires with his famous novel Dracula in 1897, the world has been held captive by the mythical creatures. By now almost everyone knows that Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler, who allegedly did many gruesome things and lived in Transylvania.

However some scholars claim that the Abhartach inspired Dracula. The Abhartach was a type of dwarf who could not be killed in Irish folklore. He was a chieftain who was buried upright the first time he died. He would rise from his grave the next night, and in some versions he even drank the blood of his enemies. He was killed many times but would rise again the following night haunting the locals. How could you defeat something that was already killed?

A brave warrior eventually found out that the Abhartach could only be slain with a certain weapon after consulting with a druid (or Christian priest/saint depending on the version of the story). The druid/saint explained that the only way to kill the Abhartach was with a sword made of a yew (not unfamiliar to a stake) and to ensure that he was buried upside down afterwards. The grave would then be surrounded by thorns and a large stone was placed on top of it.

Abhartach’s grave is now known as Slaghtaverty Dolmen, or “The Giant’s Grave”, located in the townland of Slaghtaverty in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. What do you think inspired Dracula? Personally I’d like to think Stoker was inspired by a mix of both stories!

Want to watch a movie adaptation of the Abhartach? The 2021 Irish Comedy/Horror film Boys from County Hell (2020) depict the Abhartach as a tall vampire who can absorb the blood of others just by standing close to them. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted!

Irish folklore: Another story of the Abhartach

Female Vampire (Dearg Due) – A tragic tale in Irish folklore

Dracula is not the only blood-sucking creature out there. In Irish mythology and folklore, there is also a tragic tale of a female vampire that we had to add to this list.

The legend of the Dearg Due starts two thousand years ago when there lived a young girl who was a legendary beauty, with blood-red lips and pale blonde hair. Men travelled from far off lands to ask for her hand.The girl fell in love with a handsome and kind-hearted local peasant, but her father refused the match because the peasant lacked money. Instead, her father married her off to a much older and cruel, but of course rich, clan Chieftain.

The poor girl suffered abuse at the hands of her new “husband.” Among his heinous forms of torture included drawing blood from her and locking her away in a tower cell. The girl waited in vain to be rescued by her former love, but when it became apparent that he wasn’t coming to save her she became so depressed and lonely, she lost hope and began wasting away, not eating or drinking, until her body gave in. Some say that before she released her final breath, she vowed a terrible vengeance on the men who had wronged her.

The girl was buried in a small churchyard, near Strongbow’s Tree in Waterford County, Southeast Ireland. Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, founded by the vikings over 1100 years ago!

Her husband took another wife before she was even cold in her grave and her family was too engrossed in their new found wealth to give her a second thought. Only her lost love visited her modest grave every single day telling her of his undying love and praying for her return to his arms.

Sadly it was revenge, not love that pulled her from her grave on the first anniversary of her death. It is said that she was driven by her anger and lust for revenge, so much that she climbed out of her coffin and went back to her childhood home. She found her sleeping father and killed him.

She still had not had enough, so she visited her callous husband next, only to find him surrounded by women. In a furious rage, she launched herself at him and drew every breath and every ounce of blood from his body.

After all of this, she realised that she developed a hunger for blood that could not be sated. She used her ethereal beauty to seduce and prey on young men, luring them to their death by sinking her teeth into their necks and drinking their blood to quench her thirst and desire, but it was never enough.

Since she wakes up to sate her lustful desires on the day she died, locals gather every year on the eve of her anniversary and position rocks upon her grave so that she will not rise and take the blood of the innocent.

Long before myth came to be, Irish folklore dictated that you should pile stones on the graves of the newly dead, to prevent them from rising again. It was a mistake that they did not pile rocks on her grave that first night, though and was probably due to how little they thought of her. This is just a theory on our part, but what if the peasant man removed the stones, as his role in the story seems like it should have been bigger. Who knows, such is the joy of folklore!

Sometimes, though, if the rocks are not placed on her grave or they have been moved for some reason, or if her desire is stronger than any stone, she manages to escape her dark grave and walk into the night, preying on young men who fall victim to her beauty.

She calls them to her with a haunting siren song that invades their sleep, luring them out into the night with her to her grave. Those who go missing, fall ill all of a sudden or die inexplicably, are all attributed to the cursed, wandering, and insatiable Dearg Due.

Sadly, nothing of the young woman’s beauty or kindness is remembered as the legends only focus on and warn against the blood-sucking female vampire that roams the night in Waterford, eeking vengeance because she was so wronged in her own life.

Irish Giants in Irish folklore

Giants are usually menacing by nature due to their sheer size, but in Irish myth Finn MaCool was a hero giant who created the Giants Causeway among other locations across Ireland. Conversely Balor of the Evil eye was a threatening giant.

Balor (The Evil Eye)

The Tuatha de Danann were enemies with the Fomorians but that didn’t stop members of each race falling in love or marrying. Brigid the goddess of fire and light married Bres who was the king of the Tuatah de Dannn and half fomorian. Bres favoured the fomorians and made the Tuatha de Danann their slaves for a time in the myth. Brigid was the first to keen (that thing we spoke about in relation to banshees) when her son died fighting on the side of the Fomorians.

In Celtic mythology, Balor was the chief of a demon race called the race of Fomoirans that threatened the Irish people until they were subdued in the second great battle of Mag Tuired (Moytura). One interesting thing about the Fomorians in mythology is that their race was really varied, some were identical to humans while others took the form of hideous monsters and everything in between.

When he was a young boy, Balor happened to glance into a potion being brewed by his father’s Druids, and the fumes emanating from it caused him to grow a huge, poisonous “evil” eye. The eye was covered with seven, very heavy eyelids so it took four strong men to open it and its gaze killed anything within its sight.

Balor ruled tyrannically in Ireland before the arrival of other settlers. He was afraid of no man; there was only one thing truly scared him, a prophecy about his eventual fate. The Druid’s prophecy said Balor would be killed one day by his own grandson. In an attempt to escape his fate, Balor imprisoned his only daughter, Ethniu, in a tower on Tory Island away from all contact with men.

Balor’s greed leads to his downfall, as he stole a magical cow of fertility, the Glas Ghaibhleann, which has the ability to produce copious amounts of milk. The magical cow belonged to Cian a member of the Tuatha de Danann (Kian the Mighty).

Cian went to the tower to steal the cow back, but that was when he first laid eyes on Balor’s daughter, Etain. They fell in love instantly and their union resulted in three children, one of whom was Lugh. When Balor discovered what had happened, he mercilessly ordered the children to be drowned.

Only Lugh survived by pure chance and was secretly raised in times of continuous conflict between the Tuatha de Danann and the Fomorians. The Fomorians continued to prey upon the settlers until they were finally defeated by the Danaans in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired and Balor was eventually killed by his grandson who became champion of the Tribe of Gods.

Balor has also made an appearance in pop culture through movies like Hellboy: The Golden Army.

Irish folklore: Balor of the evil eye

Other creatures in Irish folklore

The Sluagh

Like demons, the Sluagh are scary creatures from Irish and Scottish folklore that hunt down souls. They are said to be dead sinners that came back as malicious spirits. They work in groups and try to enter a house where someone is almost dying to take away their soul. Since it is said that they come from the West, Irish families used to keep their west-facing windows completely shut to keep them out. It is even bad luck to build a house facing west according to some Irish superstitions.

The Sluaghs were said to be souls unwelcome in heaven or hell who roamed the earth and took their anger out on the recently souls of the dead.

The Kelpie

In Celtic mythology, the kelpie is a shapeshifting monster that usually appears in the form of a horse. It galloped around Ireland, looking like a lost pony, which tricked women and children into riding on it. The unique thing about this horse was that its mane would always be dripping with water. If anyone hopped on it or tried to ride it, the kelpie would run into the water, drowning the rider, then taking them to its lair to eat them.

Celtic mythology / Irish folklore: An animation depicting the true nature of the kelpie

The Selkie

The Selkie is another creature on our list that is not a monster but is worth a mention nonetheless. The Selkie is Ireland and Scotland’s take on the fabled marine creature, similar to mermaids, sirens and swan maidens in other cultures. It is a creature that takes the form of a seal in the water, but is able to take off the seal skin on land and emerge as an irresistible human to land dwellers.

The selkie story usually highlights the evil of mankind as human men steal a female selkies seal skin so she cannot return home to her family. She is forced to live as a human with her captor until she finds her unique selkie skin hidden somewhere in the area.

Conversely male selkies seek out women dissatisfied with their lives, usually they are wives of fishermen who spend long periods of time out at sea . With irresistible beauty and powers of seduction, male selkies intentionally lure humans to the sea. Unlike their male counterparts, female selkies are often captured by humans, and stolen from their families.

The female selkie usually escapes back into the sea but it is not a happy story as she usually has to leave behind human children who she loves to escape her husband and return to her selkie family.

You can read the full story about selkies, by checking out our legend of the selkies blog!

Irish Folklore
Celtic folklore Legend of the Selkies


The Caorthannach is a creature so evil that it is thought to be the devil’s own mother. This demon was fought by St. Patrick when he banished the snakes out of Ireland. It is said that St. Patrick stood on the mountain now known as Croagh Patrick and banished all the serpents and demons out of the Emerald Isle into the sea to drown. However, one monster escaped: Caorthannach, a fire-spitter. When Patrick spotted her, he chased her down, riding upon the fastest horse in Ireland.

Knowing that St. Patrick would need water to quench his thirst along the way, Caorthannach spitfired and poisoned every well along the way. Though he was desperately thirsty, Saint Patrick refused to drink from the poisoned wells and prayed for guidance. He eventually reached the Hawk’s Rock, where he hid in waiting for Caorthannach. As the demon approached, he jumped out and banished her from Ireland with a single word.

The evil demon drowned in the ocean, leaving a swell behind that transformed into the now-famous Hawk’s Well.


The Gancanagh (or lover talker) is a fairy known for seducing women. The gancanagh is similar to the Leprechaun, but unlike him, he personified love and idleness, and always appeared with a dudeen or pipe in his jaw in lonesome valleys, It was his custom to seduce shepherdesses and milkmaids. The dudeen, or ancient Irish tobacco pipe, found in raths or burial mounds is still popularly called a “gean-cánach’s pipe.”

It is said that the Gancanagh have an addictive toxin in their skin that seduced humans who became literally addicted to them. The seduced women end up dying from withdrawal as they pine away for the Ganacanagh’s love or they fight each other to the death to win his affection.

Final Thoughts about Irish folklore

These are only some of the most popular legends and myths from Irish culture and folklore. Wherever you go in Ireland, you’ll come across a fascinating story that has been told for hundreds of years, some of which are scary or even terrifying, while others are heroic and exciting. One thing is certain, they are always a bit bizarre but leave you wanting to find out more!

Whether the stories revolve around demons, shapeshifters or magical creatures, we can guarantee that you will be entertained by the fascinating tales. Here are some Irish myths you may like:

The Children of Lír | Scáthach: the famous female warrior | Curious Irish Curses & the Cursing Stone | Irish Wake Superstitions

One comment on “Irish Folklore: Mythical Monsters and Terrifying Creatures

  1. Banshees are definitely real! I’m not even fully Irish, and I’ve seen one! The family I live with currently has heavy, heavy Irish blood. They have traces in major events and people, and were a royal family back in the day. They are even related to Bonnie Parker (bold claim I know, but I’m convinced it’s true because I saw a picture they had of their kindred next to Bonnie inside a barn). While I was living in their main house, many times I would see a lady dressed in white wandering through the kitchen. I would always think it was my chosen brother’s grandma, but when I’d go see or take a second glance, the apparition was gone. When I finally mentioned this to him, he told me about the old woman, that he believed was a Banshee, that would wander the house and sometimes cry or scream, before someone in the near or distant family died. One night when he was younger he had been sleeping on his bed when he woke up and sat up. When he turned on the light, a women’s face was in his, and she screamed at the top of her lungs before vanishing. He was a child so he was absolutely terrified and ran in to sleep with another family member. But the next morning they received news that a distant cousin had died of a heart attack. Another similar thing happened to his sperm donor (father, whom the family has recently rejected due to his being a really bad dude). One night when he was sleeping in his truck, what he described as a “demon lady”, was standing in front of the front house window, turned and looked at him, morphed her face into a terrifying form, and screamed with her jaws unhinged and her eyes blackened. She never appeared this terrifying to anyone else. She would scream or cry, sometimes very abruptly and fear inducing, but it never seemed deliberately malicious. So I suspect she could sense his evil and didn’t like him very much, and decided to give him the full experience lol. The next day though he received news his uncle had died that night.
    The other case I heard of, was my chosen brother’s uncle (not the guy that died, but the sperm donor’s brother). He too had been screamed at by her before, and heard wailing down the hall. Occurred when he was a child apparently.
    She never screamed at me, likely because I’m not blood related to the family, and I have far less Irish blood than them (mostly German, and then Irish, and then Native American). They have heavy, and I mean h e a v y Irish blood. I feel so out of place among them, but I love being at least on the outer edges of a family that has so much interesting history, as I know next to nothing about mine. But the Banshee is definitely real, I’ve seen her, described the same as they have described her. Can be frightening, but it’s nice to know they have someone trying to look out for their family.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *