Everyone has heard of leprechauns. Those impish little bearded men who have an affinity for pots of gold, rainbows and the color green. But aside from these mischievous, but generally harmless characters, there are plenty of other interesting creatures in Irish folklore. Some aren't quite as innocent; in fact, they might even provoke a few nightmares.
Here are seven fascinating and sometimes terrifying Irish legends that don't get the same publicity but are as equally mesmerizing.
Although typically pictured as an old witch, the banshee (shown above) can take any of three forms: a young, attractive maiden, a full-figured matron, or an old crone. She has many names including the Little Washerwoman, Hag of the Mist and Hag of the Black Head, but is often simply known as just Woman of the Fairy Folk. Whatever her name or physical form, her arrival always foretells doom, disaster and death — often of a family member.
Known as the "dwarf king," this diminutive tyrant had powers that extended from beyond the grave. Legend has it that Abhartach rose from his crypt to drink the blood of his subjects. Stories say he could only be restrained if he were reburied upside-down, pierced with a sword of yew, or if his tomb was surrounded with thorns. Many people think Bram Stoker based his tale of "Dracula" on this earlier story of an evil walking-dead creature.
The sluagh is a spirit of the restless dead. (Photo: TheoJunior/flickr)
Sometimes seen as sinners who were welcome in neither heaven or hell, the sluagh were left to haunt the world of the living. Angry about their fate, these restless spirits are said to snatch the souls of anyone who happens across their path. Sometimes people will keep the windows closed on the west sides of their homes, especially if someone is sick or has recently died, for fear a mob of sluagh will come calling.
The far darrig or fear dearg — which means "red man" — is a loutish fairy wearing a red cap and coat. He's known for gruesome practical joking, including snatching children from their cradles and leaving sickly elves in their places.
Literally meaning the "man of hunger," the fear gorta is a being that wanders the Earth during times of famine. He looks like an emaciated human as he begs for help and promises good fortune on those who give it to him.
A variation on the leprechaun, the clurichaun is a fairy known for his love of drinking. He's famous for haunting wine cellars and helping himself to their contents. Small in stature, the elf is only a few inches tall and is often described as a trickster and practical jokester. The fairy is so much like his green-clad kin that some think he might just be a leprechaun on a drinking spree.
A selkie woman comes out of the sea and sheds her seal skin. (Photo: Carolyn Emerick/Wikimedia Commons)
These mythological sea creatures are said to live as seals in the water, but then shapeshift into humans, shedding their seal skin as they come to shore. Often described as incredibly handsome or beautiful, selkies have often been rumored to lure humans to the water, never to return. Likewise, humans have been said to romance selkies and hide their sealskin so they can never return to the sea.