Everyone’s a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but you may not want to be after reading this article. See, back when St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, it seems he neglected to get rid of a bunch of far more terrifying creatures roaming the forests and countryside of the region. That must be why in rural Ireland today, you can still hear old-timers tell stories about ghosts, fairies, and sea monsters, making the Emerald Isle out to be a pretty terrifying place. So take a look below at the scariest beings from Irish folklore, and hope that you don’t run into any of them on your way to the pub this March 17th.
Might as well get this out of the way, as it’s the one you’re most likely to be familiar with. But despite what you may think, Leprechauns traditionally wear red, not green. Said to have the appearance of a three-foot tall bearded man, these fairies are associated with shoemaking, which doesn’t sound that scary, but if you saw a tiny old man hammering away on a loafer in the middle of the woods, I’m betting you would need a change of pants.
Probably the second-most famous Irish creature, Banshees are female spirits who are more often heard than seen. Their horrific-sounding wail means death is coming for a member of the family who hears it, and no one can escape the cry of the Banshee.
This fairy is basically like the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, except way more metal. He carries his head in one hand and a human spine whip in the other, and he rides on a supernatural black steed. The Dullahan travels the countryside at night looking for souls to claim, and if he encounters you on your path and calls your name, you immediately die.
These are seals who are able to turn into humans on land. Selkie stories frequently involve someone unwittingly marrying a selkie, only to find out later on that their beloved spouse is, in fact, a creature of the sea. Now that I think of it, this would actually make for a pretty good reality show: “Help! My Wife Is a Seal!” Coming this fall to COMET (not really).
5. Aos Sí
Many of the creatures of Irish folklore can be categorized as different types of fairies, and the most prevalent of the bunch — and those that still inspire the most belief — are the Aos Sí. Irish for “people of the mounds,” the Aos Sí are a race of fae folk said to live in the mounds that are common across the Irish countryside. Often invisible, but capable of appearing as (usually beautiful) humans, the Aos Sí can cause all kinds of problems for you if you mess with their homes, including bringing you illness and bad luck. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to hear about sacred fairy trees or fairy rings that locals make sure to steer clear of.
A shapeshifting fairy, Púcas can take the form of different animals or can appear human, yet they will always retain some animal features. Often associated with the harvest, some farmers will leave portions of their crops in the field for the creatures to eat, so as to get on their good side. You never know if a Púca is going to be good or bad except on November 1 — Púca’s Day — when they have no choice but to be helpful to anyone who meets them.
Common across Europe and not just Ireland, these are fairy babies that have taken the place of a human baby. But sometimes, changelings can take the place of adults, too. The most notorious Irish changeling story happened in 1895, when a man named Michael Cleary murdered his wife, Bridget, claiming that she was a changeling and that his real wife had been abducted by fairies. The judge didn’t buy his story, and he was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Although more commonly reported across the sea in Scotland, Kelpies pop up in Irish folklore as well. They’re a type of water horse that appears to weary travelers, enticing them to hop on for a ride. But doing so seals your death warrant, as the kelpie will take you for the ride of your life before leaping into its watery home to drown and consume you. So if you ever come across a soaking wet horse in the woods that seems real friendly, probably best not to try and ride it.
These are restless spirits who are unable to find a home in the afterlife, so they travel the countryside looking for more souls to share in their misery. They appear as a giant flock of birds and always approach from the west, on the lookout for anyone near death whose soul they can claim. Smart families always keep their western-facing windows closed, just in case.
10. Fear gorta
A spirit that resembles a starving man, the Fear gorta (Irish for “man of hunger”) is said to spread famine, and some claimed to have seen him frequently during the Irish potato famine of 1845. They are also related to hungry grass, a type of grass in Irish folklore that causes anyone who steps in it to be cursed with unending hunger.
This handsome fella is a type of fairy who appears to women and makes them hopelessly fall in love with him. Without fail, though, he will eventually grow tired of his new girlfriend and disappear — but his supernatural hold over her will never go away, and she will be unable to move on for the rest of her life.
12. Leannán Sí
Any men who are giggling at the Gancanagh, should know that you’re not off the hook. The Leannán Sí is a drop-dead gorgeous female fairy that attracts men in a similar fashion to the way the Gancanagh goes after women. But the Leanhaum-shee is even more deadly, as she feeds off her victim’s life force like a vampire until he fades away to nothing.
Known as Alp-luachra in Irish, though “Joint-eater” sounds way cooler, this fairy takes the form of a newt and crawls into your mouth. Once inside you, it eats everything you eat — like a parasite — causing you to eventually starve to death. At least you’ll die thin, right?