The Other Side of Faery Land
Folk customs, superstitions and beliefs abound in Ireland–this is part of the charm of the Emerald Isle in my mind. I’ve always envisioned faeries to be sweet, kind, and incredibly cute. They have fascinated me since childhood–my favorite Disney movie has always been Peter Pan due to Tinker Bell. My passion for Ireland and faeries has become even deeper thanks to my sister’s genealogy research on our Irish heritage.
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Faeries are often connected with Ireland and sources say different types of faeries are found in various areas of the country. Originally, faeries were feared by many people–often being blamed for such things as missing objects or failed crops. For a long time just using the word faery was thought to bring about bad luck!
According to the Book of Armagh faeries are the old gods of the earth who can still present themselves in the physical world if they wish. The book, also known as the Canon of St. Patrick, is a 9th-century Irish manuscript kept at the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.
Some sources say faeries are angels who either chose–or were chosen–to remain in the middle realm rather than transcending to Heaven. Others believe faeries reside here on Earth in remote places or as mermaids in the depths of the sea, always away from humans.
The Faeries Oracle by Brian Froud and Jessica MacBeth clarify that a Faery is an old term that includes elves, gnomes, fairies, angels and all the beings of the otherworld. Faery is also used to identify the place–the land of all faeries–the otherworld.
A Field Guide to Irish Fairies by Bob Curran offers a traditional, historical view of faeries. The descriptions provided in this book are quite different than my vision of faeries as cute little beings with butterfly wings. Following are eight of the major categories of Irish faeries provides a whole different perspective on faeries.
8 Major Classifications of Irish Faeries
The Banshee may be faery, spirit or mortal–this depends on the folklorist providing the information. Some say her mission is revenge on families who’ve harmed her. Others feel she’s an ancestral spirit sent by God to warn members of certain ancient Irish families of their upcoming death. She’s said to appear as a face in the window or a form from afar, often washing or combing her hair. Reports on the Banshee say she is not often seen, but when you hear her mournful cry it’s a sound you will never forget.
It’s said changelings are either faery child, senile faeries who are disguised as children, or a stock–a piece of wood that takes on the appearance of a child through faery magic. Whatever the situation–they aren’t cute to look at!
Changelings are swapped with a human child if the faery child is born with some type of deformity. Children who aren’t baptized are particularly at risk of being replaced by a changeling.
The changeling isn’t pleasant to live with, as they drain away any good fortune the family would otherwise experience. However, the one charm they possess is an aptitude for music. The changeling will often entrance the family with its ability to play a variety of instruments.
The Headless Horseman is what came to mind when I read about the dullahan. They’re said to carry their head–glowing, with a hideous grin–about with them. He’s typically seen on a large, black steed.
On nights of Irish festival days it’s advised to stay indoors with the curtains drawn–this is when the dullahan is particularly active. Typically, there’s no protection, as the dullahan has a mission beyond anyone’s control. Carrying a chunk of gold is the only thing that may ward off a visit by this faery.
Legend has it that wherever a dullahan stops someone will soon die. His purpose is to call the soul home, not actually cause a death. He’s thought to be the embodiment of the ancient Celtic god Crom Dubh.
Originally believed to be half-human and half-faery aborigines, the grogoch is thought to have come to Ireland from Scotland. He resembles an elderly man with the height of a small child, and is covered in coarse, red hair. They are hard workers and love to hang around and help with chores both inside the home and out on the farm.
Also known as a brownie, no female grogochs have ever been observed. It’s unknown how, or if, they reproduce.
The grogoch is the most sociable of all faeries, although he has a fear of the clergy. If the grogoch is at your home and is being a nuisance, simply invite the local clergyman over for dinner!
Described as Ireland’s national fairy, the leprechaun is typically drawn as a tiny, wrinkled old man. The fairy shoemaker is a vision that comes to mind with the leprechaun, and this is often their trade. They’re said to often be intoxicated, grumpy and very secretive. Historically leprechauns are considered to always be male, with no explanation as to how or if they reproduce.
Leprechauns keep to themselves, avoiding humans due to fear that their treasures will be stolen. They view humanity as foolish and flighty. Leprechauns themselves have excellent memories–they are always able to find the gold they hide in a wide variety of locations.
Merrows are said to take the form of a woman from waist up and a fish on the lower half. The merrow are fairy inhabitants of the undersea land of Tir fo Thoinn. They’re also able to live out of the water for extended periods of time. In some areas of Ireland it’s considered bad luck to see a merrow–due to the belief that they’re bearers of doom and gloom.
Some say merrows have affairs with humans as an escape from male merrows, who are ugly and disagreeable. Other sources indicate the merrow will have relationships with humans in order for their children to have human blood, allowing them entrance to Heaven.
The pooka is considered the most feared faery of Ireland. It has the power of human speech and takes on a variety of sinister forms–the bogeyman, goblins or a black goat with curling horns. However, the most common vision is that of a large, black steed with yellow eyes and a wild mane.
If a hen stops laying eggs or a cow is unable to provide milk a pooka may be in the area. The pooka is said to prey on late night travelers, playing nasty games like swooping them up and then throwing the traveler into a bog or a muddy ditch.
Sheerie appear as a floating sparkle of light at twilight. This may sound enchanting, but they often are the most dangerous of all faeries. Water sheerie live in marshy and coastal areas, while land sheerie are found in abandoned buildings.
This form of faery is said to be the soul of unbaptized children (who most likely died at birth) attempting to re-enter the mortal world. They possess dark faery magic and rejoice over the misfortunes of humans due to feeling envy toward living souls. Seeing a sheerie is a warning of bad luck and possible death.
I found an intriguing video that discusses this topic and is definitely worth watching– Legends of the Isles: Fairies and Leprechauns.
Faeries: Deluxe Collector’s Edition
A collector’s edition with gorgeous artwork by Brian Froud and Alan Lee.
Check out The World of Froud to learn more about the artist and his work.
Please check out my article on Ireland Quotes to Stir Your Soul & Tempt Your Wanderlust and my eBook Ireland: Blessings, Proverbs, Quotes & Toasts.
I encourage you to continue to explore the fascinating world of faeries through folklore, literature, art and song!
Till next time,