4 Monsters from Ireland that Go Beyond the Leprechaun
4 Monsters from Ireland that Go Beyond the Leprechaun
Saint Patrick’s Day might have ended last week, but just because the green beer isn’t flowing and you’re probably just now starting to get over your hangover, don’t think for a second that the Irish festivities have ended just because everyone is banishing their shamrock and Leprechaun holiday decorations back to the attic.
Leprechauns might be the symbol of St. Patrick’s Day as it is celebrated in America, but there’s plenty of less famous Celtic creatures from Irish mythology who deserve their day in the lime-green limelight. Many of these creatures play huge roles in the lore and legend of Ireland; and definitely ought to see more love during this time of celebrating all things Irish.
(These creatures are almost as scary as the green food dye they dump into the Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day. Photo from TDKR Chicago 101.)
Now then Steem, let’s show some love for Irish culture and learn about some of the more obscure monsters from the Emerald Isle, the ones that haven’t starred in a franchise of B-movie slasher flicks that are the worst (… Or best?) movies ever made. Grab your best Shillelagh, bring your darkest beers, and let’s make ourselves familiar with these 4 monsters from Ireland, starting with…
(Selkie, by Carolyn Emerick, 2013)
While not all of the creatures featured in this list are directly harmful or dangerous, the Selkie arguably inflicts the worse pain a mythical creature can, the pain of a longing after a lost love.
As far as emotional pain goes, Selkies are cold-hearted heartbreakers. Appearing in not only Irish but also Scottish, Faroese, and Icelandic folklore, these aquatic vixens are shapeshifters, and much like the Germanic ulfsarks who wore wolfskins to transform into wolves, and the Navajo skinwalkers who wore animal skins to transform into pure nightmare fuel; the Selkie dons a seal skin cloak to become a seal.
According to mythology, the Selkie lives most of her life in the ocean as a seal, swimming and frolicking in the waves. But she can also remove her seal skin coat to walk among humans on dry land, where she seduces human men in the form of a beautiful maiden. It seems that along with legends about mermaids and sirens, Selkies are just further proof that before electricity was invented; guys were just really, really fixated on boning stuff that came out of the ocean.
And yes, before you ask, there were indeed male Selkies, so don’t feel left out, ladies! Just like their female counterparts had a penchant for seducing human males, the male Selkie also liked to seduce himself many a fair lass, and had the looks to do it. Male Selkies are described as naturally handsome and drawn to women in unhappy marriages, apparently making them the aquatic mammal equivalent of poolboys.
(Faroese postage stamp, depicting a male Selkie as a human woman's babydaddy.)
Of course, any relationship with a Selkie is a one-night stand; if left to her own devices, the mischievous Selkie is unable to resist her inner Pinniped, and she will inevitably return to the water, breaking the hearts of her landwelling lovers. Once a Selkie has returned to her home in the ocean, she will forever be unable to return to her heartbroken lover.
As folklore has it, some men will attempt to avoid this fate by trying to steal and hide their Selkie lover’s seal skins, leaving the Selkie unable to return home in seal form. Selkie women apparently make fine wives, and can bare human children. But there is a price to hot seal wives, and they will never feel truly at home with their husbands or children (Pups?), and will always stare longingly at the ocean.
(Forever longing for a simpler life where all a woman has to worry about is playing in the surf, eating fish, and building up enough blubber for winter.)
Of course, according to these same legends, the Selkie is never bound to marriage for long. Eventually the story will usually conclude with her finding her missing seal skin, often mistakenly brought to her by a son or daughter, and then escaping to the ocean; abandoning her family and leaving her husband’s heart broken.
The Salmon of Knowledge
As its venerable title might imply, the Salmon of Knowledge is smart. How smart? Well, according to the Fenian cycle of Irish mythology, the salmon literally had all the knowledge in the world. And this common salmon didn’t get this intelligent by wasting its time and going into debt by going to college or some stupid crap like that; NO! The Salmon of Knowledge earned its smarts the REAL way, by which I mean eating nine hazelnuts.
According to the story of The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn, a plain ol’ salmon ate nine hazelnuts that fell into the Tobar Segais, or Well of Wisdom, that had dropped from the nine hazel trees that surrounded the well. And with that, the salmon gained all the knowledge in the world.
The moral of the is clearly this: Don’t stay in school kids, just eat nuts until something good happens. Or until you get an allergic reaction, whichever happens first. But wait!
Before you go and eat a bucket full of hazelnuts, know that there's an easier way: Anyone could consume the salmon’s flesh and gain the condensed knowledge contained in the fish.
According to folklore, the poet Finn Eces was a determined bastard who spent seven years trying to catch and eat the fish to gain its knowledge.
(Finn Eces, pictured here, probably would have caught the salmon a lot quicker if he didn't spend so much time gooning around in the woods.)
He finally manages to catch the salmon, and passes it onto Fionn, his servant, with instructions not to eat it. Fionn cooks the salmon like a good servant, but when he touches the fish with his thumb to see if it’s cooked, he burns himself on the fish's hot cooking fat.
By instinctively sucking on his thumb to ease the pain, little did Fionn know that he had actually just imbued himself with all of the Salmon’s knowledge that had been condensed into the single drop of fish fat. Finn Eces quickly notices the boy’s eyes are full of unseen knowledge, and instead of flipping the fuck out and smacking him for eating his magic knowledge fish, Finn Eces is chill AF and just lets Fionn eat the rest of it. Fionn would gain the power to draw upon his infinite knowledge by sucking or biting on his thumb, which is a power cool enough to make up for having to be a literal thumbsucker.
The gluttonous Alp-Luachra of Celtic myth is one of many fairies from traditional European folklore that are much more malign than their modern Disney counterparts. Although it’s also known by the way scarier-sounding name of Joint-Eater; this fairy doesn’t munch on knees and elbows, the name Joint-Eater refers instead to its parasitic lifestyle.
The description of the Alp-Luachra that follows next is essentially the Celtic version of the show Monsters Inside Me: The fairy lies in wait by a stream or spring, waiting for someone to fall asleep beside the water. Then the Alp-Luachra takes the form of an invisible newt and crawls into the sleeper’s mouth and then down their throat. Once chilling out in the GI tract of its host, the Alp-Luachra then proceeds to establish itself as a magical fairy tapeworm; consuming half of it’s victim’s food.
It’s said that someone carrying an Alp-Luachra will never gain wait or grow fat, because the “pith” or “quintessence” of their food is being consumed by the parasitic fairy, whatever the hell either of those words mean.
Now, I can hear you typing at your keyboard right now; googling “do I have a joint-eater,” so I know what you’re thinking: What do I do if I have one of these parasites? According to Douglas Hyde's collection of folk tales, Beside the Fire, a farmer rid himself of an Alp-Luachra with just One Weird Trick You Won’t Believe!
He was instructed to eat large amounts of salt-cured meat, as if anyone ever needed a reason to eat large amounts of salted meat. Then he was told to go lie down with his mouth open, just above the surface of a stream. Dehydrated by the salt in the meat, the offspring of the parasite were driven out of his stomach by thirst, and eventually the mother Alp-Luachra herself lept from his mouth and into the water.
What seems like just a gross fairy tail apparently was meant to serve as an old-fashioned public service announcement: People who ate newts were evidently plagued by this condition. You could probably make the argument that it was actually a guide to avoiding infection by tapeworms, which infect humans through the undercooked flesh of freshwater fish, and the meaning of not eating freshwater fish had probably become corrupted into newts over time.
Your familiarity with the Banshee might begin and end with the saying “howling like a banshee” or some variant; but after the Leprechaun, the Banshee is still probably the second-best known monster of the Emerald Isle, and definitely the best known on this list by people outside of Ireland. It's typically imagined as a ghostly hag with a horrible wail, appearing before someone about to die. However, there’s more to this legendary portent of doom than previously thought.
The word Banshee comes to us from the Old Irish ben síde, meaning “woman of the fairy mound” or simply “fairy woman,” because “shrieking undead hag of doom” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it. While you probably wouldn’t expect something called the fairy woman to appear as a screaming old woman, Banshees actually come in a diverse array of women doing ominous things to predict misfortune, including some who don’t even wail. These different Banshees differ from legend to legend, and include such forms as: Young maidens preening their hair, crones washing bloody laundry by the riverside, women dressed as veiled mourners, and even young women spilling bowls of blood.
(As if doing the laundry had to be any scarier, bloody laundry is even worse.)
Sources also sometimes differ on what these women are. Though they’re often regarded as a type of fairy somehow tied to ancient rock mounds throughout Ireland, there are also Banshees who take the more modern approach of spectral apparitions, by basically being ghosts who haunt folks about to cross over to the other side. Naturally, a lot of these undead-type Banshees have the usual tragic backstories that ghosts so often do, such as being the ghosts of women who were murdered or who had died in childbirth.
(Illustration by Philippe Semeria, 2009)
During my research, the edgy origin story for the Banshee which proved to be my favorite was that they’re supposed to be the undead form of a certain type of female mourner, known then as a Keener. These Keeners often appeared at funerals to mourn the deaths of people outside their own families, and were apparently paid for their services in alcohol. Due to some seriously excessive drinking, these women would be punished for their sinful drunkeness by being forced to haunt the earth as mournful shrieking Banshees, making them the ultimate “sad drunk.”
Unlike the Grim Reaper; who takes a way more hands-on approach in the department of shuffling people off of their mortal coils, no telling of the Banshee mentions it actually doing anything to directly harm the human about to die. And just like all the other differences between Banshees, there are apparently both even “good” and “bad” Banshees, and the former will show up to warn you about threats you can actually prevent from happening.
Now, the unlucky mortal who witnesses the Banshee also depends on the telling of the story; some legends say only the soon-to-be-deceased will hear the Banshee’s cry, while other legends say the rest of the family get to join in the haunting fun as well. Sometimes it’s said that the Banshee will appear ominously before the families of folks who have died far from home, before news of their death has arrived.
Not to mention, some tellings actually make the appearance of the Banshee almost seem like a privilege restricted to a chosen few. In these stories, there are Irish families who are forewarned by a specific Banshee familiar only to the family.
By the way, if you’ve ever wanted solid-proof that you’re full-blooded Irish before, here you go! All you have to do is be haunted by a supernatural woman ominously fortending your death. If you ever happen to witness a Banshee, you can now tell all your friends that according to some legends, the Banshee will only appear before those of ethnically pure Irish stock, especially those with “Mc” or “O’” in their surname.
Wear your full-blooded Irishness with pride. Now you’ll never be pinched on St. Patrick’s day again! Well, at least until your time to kick the bucket comes as the Banshee has predicted.
And there you have it, folks. 4 monsters from Ireland who you can now have bad dreams about. Keep your wits about you, don’t eat newts, and hope you don’t see the Banshee for another day.
I hope you enjoyed the article, and if you did, tell me what you Steemians found the most interesting about it. Which monster was your favorite? Would you eat the Salmon of Knowledge? Ever had your heart broken by a Selkie? Criticism is great, too. Any and all discussion is anticipated and welcome!
If you want to suggest anything else I could write about in a future article, please do so. Stuff about the paranormal, mythology, natural science, history, ect. are all huge favorites of mine. What are some of yours?