With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, many of us will be donning the green, drinking mug after mug of beer, and keeping our eyes peeled for the merry leprechaun that can lead us to a pot of gold. There are a lot more mythical creatures in the Irish tradition, though, and meeting them rarely results in you reaching a new tax bracket. Generally, they result in your death. So this March 17th, be sure to keep an eye out for these five evil creatures of Irish mythology…if you know what’s good for you.
The dullahan are humanoid creatures who travel by horseback, and carry their severed heads beneath one arm. Their eyes are black and beady, and their mouths are permanently fixed in a rictus grin, the flesh moldy and without pallor. They are always on the move, and thus pull a covered wagon behind them, which is filled with gruesome objects. The wagon’s wheels are made of bones, the covering of stretched human flesh, and the dullahan wields a whip that is in actuality a human spine. Wherever a dullahan’s wagon stops is the spot where someone is scheduled to die, and if he calls out your name, that is the sign that you are next to perish. The headless horsemen from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was inspired by the tales of the dullahan.
An ancient cemetery in County Monaghan is said to be haunted by an evil spirit called the Demon Bride. If, following a funeral service, a young man remains alone after the other mourners have left, she will appear to him as a stunningly beautiful woman. She will seduce him and make him promise to return to visit her again on a designated date. If he agrees (which he inevitably does), the deal is sealed with a kiss that ignites a fiery passion within him. When the day arrives, the young man is struck dead, only to be buried in the same cemetery where he met the Demon Bride, and they are finally reunited.
Alternately, the Gancanagh is a smooth-talking little fellow who smokes a clay pipe and causes all wildlife to lapse into silence when he appears in the forest. A woman who stumbles upon him is entranced by his voice and succumbs to his advances. A mere touch from him causes an obsessive addiction, but the Gancanagh subscribes to a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em philosophy. After he’s had his way with the woman, he vanishes, leaving her so forlorn that she dies soon after of a broken heart.
Only those who committed the worst kinds of evil in life see their spirits transformed into the Sluagh in death. These malicious entities always travel from the west, and they come together like flocks of birds. They enter into the households of those who are sick and dying in order to steal their souls. Keeping westward facing doors and windows closed is believed to be effective in keeping the Sluagh out, but you can also inadvertently call them to you simply by uttering their name. (For the adventurous, it’s pronounced Sloo-Ah. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
The Far Darrig
With their obese frame, long crooked noses, hairy skin, and shabby attire, one would think that their appearance is the most frightening part of these creatures, but their actions are a lot worse. Their primary food source is carrion—rotting animal flesh that they happen upon in their travels—and they love to play practical jokes on mortals. These aren’t just harmless pranks, though, as the end result is sometimes a human trudging through the swamplands with a corpse attached to their back (though it’s hard to imagine how such a thing might unfold). One of their favorite tricks is kidnapping newborn babies, and leaving a changeling—a deformed or alien creature—in their place.