Ireland has a rich history of storytelling. We’re known for myths, legends, fairytales and folklore. A lot of the mythology from here has inspired TV shows, movies and books we see now. The Banshee (I was terrified of this auld bag as a child) has featured in the shows Charmed and Supernatural as well as being a character in X-Men. There’s also a series of books by Rachel Vincent that centres around banshees called Soul Screamers (I haven’t read it yet but it’s on the list….along with about 600 other books).
For the Irish Readathon, I wanted to share some of my favourite elements of Irish mythology with you.
Tir na nOg
The story of Oisin and Tir na nOg follows poor Oisin after he meets Niamh of the Golden Hair and goes to Tir na nOg (Land of the Young) with her. This is basically a fairy realm where you don’t age or die and Oisin was very happy there for 300 years when he began to miss Ireland. He decides to visit his home but is warned that if he touches the ground he will not be able to return. Of course, he does touch the land and instantly ages to an old man and dies soon after.
I really think Niamh could have given him a stronger warning here instead of just “you won’t be able to return”! Anyway, this is one of my favourites because I was fascinated by the idea of a magical realm that you could travel to on horseback. You just had to run into a fairy to bring you there.
The Children of Lir
I’ve always loved this story though I’m not sure why because it is not remotely pleasant. The story follows a group of siblings (Lir’s children 😉) who have been turned into swans by their father’s new wife because she was jealous of them. They remain as swans for hundreds and hundreds of years enduring unending torment and sorrow (mostly at the hands of the weather which is what Irish people complain about a lot even though our weather is generally quite mild). After 900 years the spell on them ends and they turn into very old people. They are found by a monk who baptises them just before they die and he buries them together.
The only thing I don’t like about this story is the rush towards Christianity at the end. This story must have been circulating around the time the island was being converted.
Loftus Hall is apparently the most haunted house in Ireland. It’s a mansion house in County Wexford close to Hook Head. The area is actually quite beautiful and I recommend visiting even if you don’t want to see the haunted house. There has been a resident on the site since 1170 when a Norman man built a castle there and it has gone through several changes and families over the years to become the mansion house it is now.
So what makes it a haunted house? It’s said to have been visited by the devil. The legend goes that a sailor showed up at the house seeking refuge during a storm. He was invited to stay by the family and they later sat down to a game of cards. The daughter of the house discovered the man had hoofed feet when she dropped a card under the table. When the man realised she’d seen his feet he shot through the roof in a ball of flames. The girl went insane and her family locked her away in one of the rooms of the house for the rest of her life.
The Banshee (or the auld bag as I like to call her) genuinely terrified me as a child. I’m not sure if she’s a demon or fairy or some kind of ghost but her shtick is to scream if a member of your family is going to die. As a child, I’d heard as well that if you saw her it meant that you were going to die. I grew up in the countryside with foxes and all sorts running around outside my window at night time. Any little squeal of a sound would have me terrified I’d heard the banshee and someone in my family was about to bite the dust. No one ever did though and I soon learned to recognise animal sounds.
Fairy mounds both frightened and captivated me. There was one in one of the lower fields by my house and my grandad told me to stay away from it because the fairies would come after me. Which to a child is like a scary thing and an exciting thing at the same time. It could have been my chance to get to Tir na nOg!!!
I’m pretty sure the one at my house was just a lump of earth my grandad decided to tell me stories about and not what people usually refer to as fairy forts/rings which are the remains of circular homes from the iron age. It was still pretty magical to me though.