With Halloween just around the corner ANN MASSEY O’REGAN tells of the monsters that crawl out of our TV screens and into Irish folklore and everyday life!
Every Irish folklore tale starts with a grain of truth and every horror movie you’ve ever seen has monsters that are real. Whether eighth century zombies or Vatican accounts of Werewolves in the Irish midlands, the Emerald Isle puts Hammer to shame!
Werewolves were the main weapons of mass destruction for the Ancient Celtic Warriors. They would be sent out to rip the enemy limb from limb, although often the sound of the blood-curdling howl of the Werewolf was enough to send adversaries running!
Strange therefore, to find a documented Vatican account from 1182 relating to the diocese of Ossory in Kilkenny. It tells of a priest travelling to the south of Ireland, sat by his campfire when a great hulking shape emerged from the still of the night. It had matted fur, bloody flesh dripping from its jowls and sharp pointed teeth glistening in the light of the fire. Terrified, the priest began to pray but then the Werewolf spoke.
The clan of this wolf man had been cursed by an Abbot some years earlier and every seven years, two of his family would turn into werewolves and be banished into the forest. The werewolf’s wife was dying and the creature begged the priest to deliver the last rites. The priest realised that despite his abominable appearance, the creature and his wife were God fearing Christians. As his wife died she reverted to her human form. Despite his best efforts the priest was unable to ever again find the werewolf or his clan.
Long before the femme fatale vampire known as the Dearg Due, there was a Vampire Chieftain called Abhartach from Derry. A cruel and sadistic warrior, he was finally slain by a rival clan and buried standing up as was the tradition. The next night he returned from the dead, inflicting more torment on the village than ever before. Once more he was killed and buried, only to resurrect and drain the blood of his servants before terrorising the locals again. Finally, the rival Chief consulted a druid. Acting on the druid’s advice, the Chief took down Abhartach with a sword made of Yew, burying him for the last time head first and never to rise again, or so we are lead to believe.
Petticoat Loose was a hideous beast of a woman from Tipperary. She was large, angular and over six feet tall with a strength to match her stature. Her name came from her raucous behaviour while drinking and dancing and only one man would wed her. She was named as a witch as the milk from her herd was said to turn blue when poured into tea. She was also accused of murdering her husband and using dark magic for personal gain but avoided conviction. She finally died during a drinking game and was buried without priest or ceremony.
Years later she would be seen at the roadside terrorising travellers by jumping on their carts. One refused and she climbed on, stating she was weighted on every limb by magic. The cart sagged and the horse dropped dead. A priest banished her to the mountain lake to empty it with a thimble, yet she still escapes now in the form of a half-human, half-horse.
Leprechauns don’t always wish you ‘Top of the Morning’ and willingly give up their gold. Some of them can be downright nasty, like the Red Man. Dressed head to foot in red with a revolting yellow complexion, this magical being delights in evil mockery and torment, imparting sinister waking nightmares on unwilling victims, making them believe they are carrying corpses and being forced to dine on old hags. The only way to try and protect yourself is to cry out that you will not be mocked, however the Red Man’s magic is strong and this may not be enough.
The Dullahan is one of the Sidhe, or fairy beings. The headless horseman carries his luminescent head in the crook of his arm as a beacon and rides a steed of pure black. When out on business, the Dullahan adorns his horse and wagon with funeral apparel and brandishes a whip made from a human spine. The wheels are made from the bones of men and he lights his way with candle filled skulls, the light illuminating the dark, beady eyes and rictus grin on his dismembered head. Stay well away from this horrific sight, for if he stops in front of you and the gaping mouth speaks your name, you are dead.
In Roscommon in the eighth century, deviant burials took place outside of the cemetery walls. The bodies of several locals were unearthed with their limbs broken and folded in over their torsos. They were clutching a large rock embedded in their stomachs. A pebble was wedged firmly in each jaw and they were buried in the opposite direction to the consecrated burials. The reason? These individuals were believed to be zombies, rising to walk the earth, spreading fear and disease. The pebble was to prevent the spirit returning, the mouth being the portal for an evil spirit to return. The bones were smashed and body weighted with rock to ensure their feet never touched solid ground again.
Shucks, or Devil Dogs have long been written about in Irish history. They are black as the night, large, with glowing red eyes, some with cloven hooves instead of paws. Primarily they are raised to protect treasure such as the one that breathes fire at Castle Biggs in Tipperary, others simply to forewarn of death.
Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, however there have been sightings of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.
This evil being has the appearance of a wretched old hag, dress shredded, matted grey hair, pointed rotting teeth and long, yellow fingernails. If she sets her mind to have you as her prey, she will stalk you, forcing you to listen to her soul wrenching scream of despair until you go insane and your own soul is lost in the depths of her evil cry. Of course, if you are lucky you will have a quick death. Look into her blood red eyes, filled with enough loathing and agony to kill you instantly. For those who have been strong enough not to succumb to either? She will rip you to death with her bare hands.
So, if you find yourself in Ireland and curled up by the fire watching the latest horror movie, remember – it could be happening for real just outside your window.