Ireland is a country steeped in myth and mystery. You can’t turn around without someone telling you that this particular plot of land is haunted by some tortured soul or other. With Halloween right around the corner, it’s only fitting to learn all about the creepiest, scariest and downright terrifying Irish myths and legends. Whether you actually believe in the supernatural or not, we all love a good spooky story. But do know that all of these stories are true. Happy Halloween!
Let’s start from the very beginning. The origin of Halloween. It is widely believed that the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) became Halloween as we know it. The Celts, who lived 2000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the UK and northern France, celebrated their new year on the first of November. This day represented the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. It was a time of year that was often associated with death. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead became blurred. This was the night when the souls of the departed would return to their former homes and when potentially malevolent spirits were released and were visible to mankind. To ward off evil spirits, the Celts would light huge bonfires and wear costumes to confuse and prevent the spirits from being able to identify the individuals whom they had disliked during their own lifetime.
So there you have it. A brief history of Halloween. Now onto the stories!
Dearg-due, which means “Red Blood Sucker” in Gaelic, is a tale about a beautiful young woman who commits suits suicide when forced into a marriage and then rises from her grave to seek revenge by killing her father and husband. According to the legend, the Irish woman, who was known throughout the country for her beauty, fell in love with a common peasant boy, which was unacceptable to her father. Her father had very different ideas. He had promised the hand of his beautiful daughter to a rich man in exchange for wealth and lands for himself and his other children. Her husband was a horrible, mean and conceited man. He treated her like an object. He would lock her away so he could have her all to himself.
Some say that she later poisoned herself, due to no longer being able to live the life her father put upon her, while others claim that she died of a broken heart. The following year, on the very date she died, she rose from her grave and visited her father’s house. Finding him sleeping, she leaned over and placed her lips gently over his, and sucked every breath of life from him. She then visited her husband and found him in a room filled with young women. This made her go into a frenzied attack. Descending on her husband with such angry force, she not only drew his breath, but also his blood. The surge of blood through her dead body made her feel so alive again that it made her crave for more. The Dearg-due now uses her body to prey on lustful young men by luring them away to a quiet place with the promise of her beautiful body, only to sink her teeth into their throats and drink their blood.
The Sluagh, which means “host”, is a group formed from the darkest, most vile creatures imaginable. The Sluagh survives by stealing the souls of the living, and especially the dying. Huddling and hiding in forgotten and dark places, they lay in and wait for nightfall. Once the sun has left the sky, they strike out, in what, to the untrained or unsuspecting eye, appears to be a vast and ominous flock of large ravens. Flapping wings, screeching, and a whirlwind of undulating shadows are all you’d witness as the Sluagh descends for an attack. The Sluagh is believed to fly from the west to steal a dying soul, thus to this day, doors and windows on the west sides of houses are kept closed if there is a sick or dying person at home. So remember to lock all your doors and windows, because once your soul is taken, there is no escape.
A banshee, which means “woman of the mounds”, is a female spirit who heralds the death of a family member by wailing outside the family’s home. Her wails are so high-pitched and terrifying that no one dares to go near her. Her thin scream is referred to as “caoine”, which translates to “keening”. It is said that a banshee’s cry predicts the death of a member of one of Ireland’s five major families: the O’Grady’s, the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors or the Kavanaghs. Over time, as families blended, it was said that most Irish families had their own banshee. It is also believed that the banshees followed their families as they moved to other places across the globe, though some stayed behind to grieve at the original family estate.
There are various versions of the banshee that have been described, from a woman with long, red hair and very pale skin, to an older woman with stringy, gray hair, rotten teeth and fiery red eyes. She is usually described with a comb in her hair and this has led to an Irish superstition that finding a comb on the ground is considered bad luck. It is believed that a banshee can take on any of these forms and shift between them. Other forms of the banshee include the bean nighe, however this is more attributed to Scotland rather than Ireland. The bean nighe is believed to wander near deserted streams where she washes the blood from the grave-clothes of those who are about to die.
So there you have it! Some of the creepiest and scariest Irish stories. Can you think of any other Irish myths and legends? Leave them in the comments!