Irish Creatures Essay

Topics: Vampires


A myth is an extraordinary story. It can explore the love tales of the gods or the adventures of a fabulous animal, it can also explain how the first man was born and why the sun rises every morning. However, not all extraordinary stories are myths. A myth is a tale that is told by a people that believe it to be true in a certain place and time. Many different societies have their own myths, sometimes they share some similarities, but others are completely unique to their culture.

Typically, they involve gods, men capable of amazing feats or mysterious beasts from long ago. While almost all myths have an interesting background to explore, the fantastic creatures that are often described in these tales always amused me the most. There is something about the supernatural that captivates the mind of people because they do not see these creatures in everyday life. Most mythical creatures are portrayed as dangerous and to be avoided, and their lore is passed through by many generations, some surviving to this day.

These myths have a deep cultural impact on the communities that they belong to, as they become part of folk tradition.

Irish mythology is no different from others in this regard as it also features plenty of creatures with supernatural backgrounds and powers. Most of the Irish mythical creatures were originated during four cycles: the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle and the Cycle of Kings. Each cycle has their own unique features but together they also demonstrate a shift in Irish society and culture.

Get quality help now
Doctor Jennifer

Proficient in: Vampires

5 (893)

“ Thank you so much for accepting my assignment the night before it was due. I look forward to working with you moving forward ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

The first cycle was during a time where Ireland was still mostly pagan, but by the fourth cycle it starts to shift into a time where Christianity reached the nation. This shift also demonstrates within the stories that were written and spread during the time, as the supernatural began to fade into tales of kings and men. Irish myths are not just reserved to this period though, as some became popularized centuries after, during the Dark and Medieval ages.

This essay will explore some of the most popular Irish mythological creatures and give a sense on the importance of them to Irish culture even to this day. Some creatures are so established as representatives of the Irish background that they are used in popular culture as stereotypes, like the Leprechaun, while others are recognized as identities or symbols of local and regional communities in Ireland and Northern Ireland. After analysing some of the stories that gave light to these mythical creatures and exploring their deep significance in Irish culture, conclusions will be made on the importance they retain to this day in shaping tradition and influence on politics, religion and society.

AbhartachAlso known as the Irish vampire, Abhartach was, according to legend, a lord who ruled over a small kingdom during the 5th century. He was known for his brutality and his people had great fear for him, believing he had powers of dark magic. Eventually, his subjects decided to conspire against him and went to a neighbouring clan in hopes of appealing to their chieftain to slay Abhartach. The chieftain, Cathain, agreed to the task and later ambushed him, easily slaying his target. Cathain proceeded to bury Abhartach standing up in his grave, as was the tradition for kings and chieftains. Shockingly, the next day Abhartach awaken from his grave and goes to his subjects, demanding their blood. Cathain returned to slay him once again, killing him and burying him the same manner. But again, Abhartach rose. Bewildered, Cathain went to a druid for assistance who informed him that since the beast was already dead, it was useless to slay him again. Instead, he told Cathain to stab him in the heart with a wooden sword, bury him upside down in a grave, surround it with thorns and place a large stone on top. Cathain went to Abhartach a third time and did as the druid instructed. It is said that Abhartach is still there, under the ground, waiting for someone to remove the gravestone.

Nowadays, vampires are a common part of popular culture, with shows like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Blade being extremely successful in the late 90’s. However, the most famous vampire in history continues to be Dracula. In 1897, Irish author Bram Stoker published his gothic horror novel called Dracula, which introduced the now infamous character Count Dracula. This book helped establish many of the characteristics we associate with vampires today, and for years many believed Stoker had been inspired by the actions of Vlad III Dracula, more commonly known as Vlad the Impaler. The connection was a simple one: both the character and the historical figure were from Romania, adding the fact that they shared the same name.

However, more recent studies on the matter have established a possible connection between Abhartach and the Dracula character. Living in Ireland, it is possible Stoker had heard the tale of Abhartach before, especially since the Irish historian Patrick Weston Joyce included the story of the Irish vampire in his book The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, which was published in 1885, just 12 years before Stoker wrote Dracula. There is also the fact that the Celtic word “dreach-fhuola” translates to tainted blood, which may indicate the inspiration for the name of titular character of Stoker’s novel. The way Abhartach dies, a wooden spear through the heart, may also help explain the clich? we see in popular culture regarding the idea that only way you can kill a vampire is a stake-through-the-heart. All in all, Dracula and vampires will always be associated with Transylvania, but the true origin of vampire fantasy may have been an old tale from a small Irish village.


Changelings are part of stories from a variety of Celtic regions, but they are also significant to Irish mythological culture. Since stories of Changeling vary from country to country, the definition can be a little hazy. In the broadest context, a changeling is a fairy that has been exchanged with a human baby, usually stolen without warning. This replacement could a tiny adult elf, an elderly fairy hoping to be coddled by humans, a troll or a fairy child or even a magical creation mean to fool the parents until the magic eventually fades. Reasons for taking a human child and replacing it vary from hoping to raise a human as a servant, as a sacrifice or simply malice on their part. Some fairies hoped to have a human upbringing, or they required human milk to survive. Sometimes it was believed the changelings would grow up to be hideously disformed or ill-tempered, but it was also believed that changelings could continue to grow and masquerade as humans, even forgetting they are changelings. To ward off fairies from taking their children, parents would often leave iron near the baby believing fairies to be afraid of it, leave other simple charms around or just keep a constant watch over the baby. Unfortunately, things also took darker turns when parents were so convinced that their baby had been replaced that they would attempt to scare the changeling by abusing or torturing the baby. This included beating or whipping the child, with there being at least one reported case of a child being killed, when its mother placed it in an oven. Another case in Ireland in 1895 saw a woman named Bridget Cleary burned to death by her husband, who believed her to be a changeling.

The myth of the changelings was used many times to mitigate the sadness of parents, as it was used as a comforting story to a lot of people. Before the advent of industrial medicine or pathology, the infant mortality rate was quite a bit higher. The concept of changelings helped ease that pain, it allowed people to believe in a better alternative: that their child was not dead, just stolen or swapped at birth. Nowadays, people look back stories of changelings with greater cynicism or scepticism. The legends were likely born out of the unfortunate reality that some children are born with deformities or mental disabilities. Some parents may have just felt that because their child was not the same as other children, there had to be a supernatural explanation to it.

Other than physical deformities, it is likely that children born with autism were also regarded as changelings. Back then, the concept of autism was not universal knowledge as it is today, so autistic children were sometimes labelled as changelings due to their strange behaviour. Whatever the reason that caused people to believe in these mythical creatures, it is still a grim indictment of the mental gymnastics people are capable of in order to explain what they cannot understand.

Banshee (Bean S?dhe)

One of the most well-known Irish creatures, a banshee was a fairy spirit that was generally depicted as a pale woman, young or old, with long hair, either white or red, and bloodshot eyes from continually crying. An old funeral tradition from Ireland and parts of Scotland called ‘keening’ consisted of a woman or a group of women that would wail and cry in order to lament for the deceased. Some women were so skilled at ‘keening’ that they would be renowned as professionals and would be in high demand for funerals, with this believed to be the origin for the banshee, who would wail and cry in the night announcing the recent or imminent death of a family member. It is believed by some that each Irish family has their own banshee and whether a banshee is warning of an imminent demise or celebrating a recent death depends on the banshee’s relationship with the family. It was also said that especially hate-filled banshees would continually follow an individual and wail throughout the night until the person killed themselves.

In the old Irish legends, most Banshees were not described to be particularly threatening, even though they were scary. They were mostly seen as a tragic figure, doomed to roam this world in their state of continuous sadness. However, Banshees are nowadays seen as taking a more active role on causing the deaths, rather than just warning or foreseeing them. This is mostly due to American pop culture, who have transformed the concept of the Banshee to a dangerous entity capable of causing death and destruction. These are not true representations of the lore of the mythical creatures, as they underwent a serious transformation, going from tragic ‘keening’ women who would stick to family apparitions to monsters that feature in modern-day horror films.


The Dullahan is seen as spirit that comes to claim one’s soul, being usually depicted as headless rider dressed in black, riding a black horse (though at times it can be seen riding a carriage drawn by six black horses). Despite being what many considered to be the Headless Horseman, the Dullahan was not always seen as a man, as many believed they could also appear as a female, but there are no significant differences between the male and female versions. The head of the Dullahan may not be attached to its shoulders but that does not mean that it is not of any use, as the head is described as having an ever-present sinister grin with eyes that constantly move from left to right and whose glare can be seen in the darkest of nights. There are stories that say the head of the horseman has supernatural sight that allows the horseman to see great distances. By lifting his head up high above where his head should have been, the Dullahan can scout the land before setting out on his ride. It is said if you are not who the horseman seeks but are still unlucky enough to cross his path, he may spare you, but this still comes at a price, that being your sight. The Dullahan does not stop until he finds his target and can kill anyone by simply uttering its name. It does have one weakness, an aversion to gold, so carrying around a piece of gold, such as a coin, may buy you some time. The tales of the Dullahan riding through the countryside in a horse-drawn carriage, even being referred to as the Coachman to the Afterlife, are quite interesting because it is a recurring theme that we see in other cultures across the world. Greek mythology has its boatman and Hermes, Egypt has its guide Anubis, Japan has the Shinigami and in more modern times we all know of the Grim Reaper. The Dullahan essentially performs the same role except in his carriage that travels so fast it would set fire to nearby bushes and grass. Its arrival signalled the death of a family but unlike the Banshee that was seen primarily as a warning, wherever the silent coach went death shortly followed. There have been quite a few modern interpretations of the Dullahan and the legend of the Headless Horseman but one of the most famous being Washington Irvine’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which was later adapted into a film in 1999. It plays around with the idea that the horseman can be enchanted and manipulated into doing someone’s bidding, killing people on their behalf. With the resurgence in popularity it gained by the many adaptations it suffered throughout the centuries, the Dullahan is today commonly seen as an evil character in fantasy adventure stories and video games.

The Salmon of Knowledge

The Salmon of Knowledge was a creature who was the source of great wisdom. It started life as a regular fish salmon, who happened to eat nine hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom from the nine different hazel trees there. This salmon was gifted with all knowledge of the world and was magical from there on. But because it would impart all its worldly wisdom to whoever ate its flesh, a poet called Finegas dedicated seven years of his life to attempting to fish it up. One day, he successfully caught it and gave it to his servant, none other than the Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn), to cook it for him with strict instructions not to eat it. Predictably, Finegas warning went wrong, as Finn burned his finger while cooking the Salmon of Knowledge and stuck it in his mouth to soothe it. Finn’s finger was covered in the Salmon of Knowledge’s fat and in putting in his mouth, he gained some of its knowledge. Finegas noticed this and instructed Finn to consume the rest of the salmon, giving him all the wisdom in the whole world. It is still not clear if it was just a common fish or one magical being in salmon form.

Unlike many of the other creatures mentioned before, the Salmon of Knowledge is not particularly scary or is regarded as dangerous. It is what the salmon represents that is most important. By giving all the knowledge of the world to Finn, it allowed him to become one of the greatest heroes in Irish folklore. Every time he sucked on his thumb, Finn would gain the knowledge he needed to complete any feat and pass any obstacle on his way. However, the legend of the fish is still remembered by many. The city of Belfast in Northern Ireland decided to celebrate the return of fish to the river Lagan by constructing a sizable sculpture of the Salmon of Knowledge in 1999. It is clear to see that even if Finn will always be regarded as one of the biggest legends in Ireland, the Irish do not forget the creature that made it possible and will always associate it with positive events.

Leprechaun (Luchorp?n)

The most famous creature of Irish folklore, and perhaps the most altered Irish creature by popular culture. Its early depictions in folklore paint a vastly different picture. Leprechauns are originally depicted as wearing red coats rather than green, and their appearance varies based on region, sometimes wearing a cocked hat or carrying a sword. An early story involving leprechauns features a king falling asleep on a beach and waking up to see three leprechauns dragging him into the sea. In turn he captures them, who grant him three wishes in exchange for their release. However, leprechauns were most well known for being shoemakers and cobblers, and it was said you knew one was near by listening for a small sound of a tiny hammer on nails. Leprechauns have traditionally always been male and there exist no folklore records of female leprechauns, so perhaps they just spring out of holes in the ground. Traditionally, they have their own hordes of wealth and it was possible to relieve a leprechaun of his treasure by capturing or tricking him, but they were notoriously tricky themselves, loving practical jokes.

Leprechauns have certainly become emblematic of Irish culture, despite the alterations made to their design, likely due to their mischievous rather than malicious nature. But why have the Leprechauns gained so much relevance in popular culture and are seen as the biggest symbol of Irish folklore? A popular theory claims that it has all to do with the large immigration of Irish men and women to the United States during the 19th century. At first, the Irish had to deal with xenophobia, as many foreign groups did during this period, but after a time an effort has made to fight off that bigotry. In order to make the American public more receptive to the Irish, large Saint Patrick Day’s parades and celebrations became more inclusive, more focused on creating a positive image of the Irish people. In the United States, one of the first introductions to Irish culture was a 1903 book written by Herminie Templeton named Darby O’Gill and the Good People, which was a story about leprechauns. These creatures gave Irish Americans a sort of endearing avatar, something that made them more relatable, even lovable just by association. The leprechauns were not invented to be a mascot for the Irish, as they were just one of many legends that were popular back in Ireland. However, it does show how an old legend told by a people from a long time ago could become one of the most prominent symbols of an entire nation.


Irish culture has a long history of mythical legends and they have transcended their nation to make an impact worldwide. Each of these creatures have made an influence on their local communities and will always be part of Irish tradition, as tells of them have been passed on by many generations before and will continue to do so in the future. These stories are not to be taken as universal truths or as historical facts, but they are still part of a rich culture. The Abhartach was one of the first iterations of the concept of vampires as we know today and perhaps one of the biggest influences on the creation of Dracula and vampire fantasy, while the Banshees are also seen today as a cult figure in many forms of entertainment. The Dullahan and the concept of Headless Horseman seem present in many different cultures and it is interesting to notice how this figure could cross the stretch of continents just by word-to-mouth, while the Changelings show the lengths of imagination that human beings are capable of in face of the unknown. Finally, the leprechauns and the Salmon of Knowledge are important mythical creatures capable of standing as representatives of entire communities and seen as lovable parts of Irish folklore, to be cherished by many. These and many other Irish mythical creatures have been adapted to films, TV shows and other kinds of entertainment in popular culture. They will continue to be relevant for a long time, and even if the days of being extremely superstitious are gone, they still give an insight on the way Irish people interpreted what they could not easily explain.

Cite this page

Irish Creatures Essay. (2019, Nov 28). Retrieved from

Irish Creatures Essay
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7