If there is one thing Ireland has a lot of, it is stories. Folklore, fables and myths of every shape and size fill Irish history and culture. From fairies and giants to plenty more besides, you will have more than enough to discover on your trip to this magical part of the world.
To get you started though, we have compiled the below list of just three famous Irish legends. So read on for more on the good, the bad, and the ugly of mysterious Ireland.
The Good: Merrow
The Merrow, or Irish mermaid, is an ancient legend that has been particularly popular in print circulation since the 19th century.
The first legend goes like this; a beautiful merrow – a half fish, half girl creature with green hair and a good heart – is forced to marry a local man. Far from a happy marriage, it is said that the man kept the merrow from her magical cap, which meant she could no longer go beneath the water. Instead, she is trapped away from her home in a marriage she never wanted; a tragic tale.
Before this 19th century adaptation, the myth actually had roots in medieval and post-medieval folklore. Some variations included evil mermaids, sea-nymphs and sirens encountered by ancient Irish figures; all spoke of the way the creatures could captivate humans along the rocky coast of Ireland.
If you fancy your luck and you want to spot a merrow, why not head to the Irish coast and enjoy sights like the natural phenomenon, the Giant’s Causeway? Even if you don’t make friends with a merrow, you will be spoilt for choice with the view. The open water, the rugged coast, and the spectacular rock formations make for a fairy tale experience regardless.
The Bad: Banshee
The Banshee is perhaps one of the most famous, and most terrifying, Irish legends. Mythology describes her as a spirit sent as an omen, to haunt those about to die.
By way of warning, the banshee will let out a piercing wail that the soon-to-be victim, or their loved ones, can hear. Terrifying for those who come across them, this ancient myth has become an integral part of Irish culture though sightings have been reported as recently as 1948 (source).
The wailing woman is not the only variation of the banshee tale though. They have also been described as ghosts or fairies appearing before or upon a death to grieve and wail, or as a vision washing the bloodstained clothing of the dead.
We can only hope that you won’t encounter a banshee, even in passing, as you discover Ireland with Legends of the North. Don’t worry though, there are plenty more myths and legends to uncover.
The Ugly: Changeling
Fairies are nothing new in Irish, Celtic or Gaelic folklore. Faerie – or magic – is part and parcel of Ireland’s culture and history, and the fairies of the land play a lead role in many tales. Usually, they are portrayed as enchantingly beautiful, but human in appearance, though a defining characteristic is their magical powers which can help, harm and cause mischief in the human world.
There are different kinds of beings born out of the fairies, and one, in particular, is the changeling. Changelings are often rumoured to be the imperfect children of fairies, swapped for healthy human babies that are deemed more attractive by the superficial fairies.
The changelings left behind are normally less attractive than their human counterparts, and many often have physical deformities. On top of all of this, changelings are difficult beings, with mischievous and malicious behaviour that challenges their human guardians. Worst of all, changelings actually bring bad fortune to the family and house they live in.
Legend has it that no good will befall the family of a changeling. So in swapping their unattractive offspring for more aesthetically pleasing human babies, fairies release bad luck and misery into unsuspecting human homes. Consider yourself warned.
Of course, if you’d like to take your chances with a changeling, you can roam their beautiful homeland on one of our Northern Ireland tours. Just be careful they don’t take a liking to you!
These three legends are by no means the only ones out there to learn about and explore. There are interesting sights and stories across the country, all made better by experienced guides in the know. So book your place on one of our tours now and discover the real Ireland.