Irish Myths & Legends!
Halloween is fast approaching and so it’s time to get into the spirit of things. Ireland is nation covered in history, myths and legends. This is the perfect time of year to remember these ancient stories. So grab a blanket, a cup of tea and imagine the sounds of a crackling fire as we dive into Ireland’s ancient myths and legends!
Many believe that Halloween actually began in Ireland. Here it is called Oíche Shamhna. In Irish, ‘Oíche’ means ‘night’ and so Oíche Shamhna refers to Halloween night. Samhain (Sow-in) was a festival that marked the end of the harvest season in Ireland. It would be celebrated from midnight on the 31st of October to midnight on November 1st (Day of the Dead). People would celebrate by dancing and telling stories around the fire. It was believed that the line between the living and the dead was very thin on this night so people dressed up in costume to disguise themselves from the spirits!
The Banshee is one of the most famous Irish legends. I even recall my own grandparents telling about her and the people that they knew who had heard her cry! It is said that the Banshee was the spirit of an ancient Irish woman. She could appear old and haggard or young and beautiful but was distinguished by her fiery red hair and green cloak. She would come down from the hills at night and sweep effortlessly across the land. It is said that any family that heard her cry would soon meet death!
I certainly remember hearing stories of the fairy fort as a child. The was one located on the hill next to my mother’s family home. A fairy fort is a collection of trees, bushes or earth banks that form a circle. There are many myths surrounding the forts. Some say that the fairies are kind, adding value to a property by making the land more fertile and making the cows who graze on it produce more milk. Some say anyone who steps inside a fairy fort will die inside it! All I know is that my family would never let me go near it. I even remember my grandmother telling me stories from when she was a little girl. Her mother told her of all the people who visited the fairy forts at night. Apparently you could see them with their lanterns making their way up the hill in the darkness. They would beg the fairies to remedy tragedies that were going on in their lives - a pure act of desperation. For example, there was a woman who went to the fairy fort and begged the fairies to return to her a child that she had lost. Apparently the woman was given a changeling and was to be haunted by the child forever!
The Salmon of Knowledge
Yes, this sounds like a crazy story and - well, it is! It is said that there once was a salmon that was extremely elusive and contained all the knowledge of the world. Whoever tasted the salmon first would immediately absorb all of the fishes knowledge. And so, an ancient poet and philosopher, Finegas, set off to catch the fish with his servant Fionn. Finegas spent seven years trying to catch the fish and eventually got him! He gave the fish to his servant Fionn for preparation and cooking. While cooking the fish, Fionn burnt his thumb and sucked it to relieve the pain. In that instant, Fionn absorbed all of the knowledge of the world much to Finegas’ dismay! It is said that from that day forth, any time Fionn wanted to know something, he just sucked his thumb!
Tír na nÓg
Tír na nÓg (‘Land of the Young’) is another famous Irish legend. Tír na nÓg is a magical world in which people are forever young, beautiful and peaceful. The most famous version of the story is that of Oisín and Niamh. Oisín was a human hero from Ireland who fell in love with Niamh, a beautiful young woman from Tír na nÓg. Niamh vows to take Oisín to her land on her magical horse that can ride across water. They leave Ireland and go back to her home for 3 years at which point, Oisín begins to feel quite homesick for his land and family in Ireland. He wishes to return to visit and Niamh allows him to take her magical horse back but warns him not to touch the ground when he returns. Upon arrival back in Ireland, Oisín soon learns that 300 years have passed is his absence. He falls off the horse to the ground where he instantly ages 300 years and dies of old age!
I hope you have enjoyed these Irish myths and legends. Let us know what you think in the comments down below and feel free to suggest any future blog ideas. Is there something you’d like to learn about Ireland? Let us know!