For centuries women in Ireland have held positions of power and to get there many have had to be ruthless. Were they inspired by the supernatural? ANN MASSEY O’REGAN takes a look at the Irish Femme Fatale.
Sirens of the Irish Shores
The word Merrow comes from the old Irish Moruadh meaning ‘sea maid’. Merrow women have radiant hair and from the waist down the shiniest verdigris scales on an impressive fish tail. They are breathtakingly beautiful and have the most harmonious singing voices – and if you make them mad they will kill you.
Poor unsuspecting males would be lured into the sea by the enchanted music of the mermaids, taken beneath the waves to live in captivity. In the event one escaped, they would incur the wrath of the scorned Siren and be pursued and drowned, or in some cases, devoured.
Sometimes on a bad day, you didn’t need to have done anything at all to these bad tempered wily sea maids in order to incur their wrath. They would take pleasure in brewing up storms and shipwrecking and drowning innocent sailors just for crossing their watery path.
Spare a thought for one such misfortune, Roth, a son of one of the Fomorians, the demi-gods of chaos. Roth was scouting the borders of the Fomorian lands when the Merrows took umbrage at his presence. It started off pleasantly enough when the seemingly innocent beauties lulled him gently to sleep with their enchanting melody, however they then tore him limb from limb and joint from joint, sending his thigh floating to what has now become known as Waterford.
If you stumble upon the Merrow, your only course of action is to grab a hold of the special cap they wear called a cohuleen druith. This holds the power they need to live under water and by taking it you prevent the Merrow women from ever descending the waves again. That is unless the vocal magic of the Siren hasn’t already ensnared your senses and doomed you to a life at the bottom of the sea.
The Demon Bride
There are few greater superstitions and fears in Ireland than those associated with death. It comes as no surprise then, to learn of a ‘Demon Bride’ stealing the life force from grieving men.
The Demon Bride has been terrorising male funeral goers for at least two hundred years and the bodies of her tragic victims lay buried in the very churchyard where their fate was sealed.
Errigal-Truagh Graveyard in County Monaghan is the location of this malevolent spirit who brings heartbreak to the locals. It is said that the ghoul lies in wait as the deceased are laid to rest and the mourners slowly make their way from the graveside. When a young man falls behind, the evil spirit manifests as a beautiful young woman who encapsulates all the desires of the naïve male.
Rousing the ill-fated prey with ardour and yearning, the Demon Bride exacts a promise from the smitten man that he will meet her a month precisely from that day in the very graveyard that they met. She seals the promise with a passionate fiery kiss, sending waves of lust and longing pulsating through his veins, rendering him irresistible to her advances.
The moment the promise has been made by the willing victim the spirit disappears. Dazed and confused, the young man makes his way to the gates of the graveyard whereupon his blood runs cold as comprehension turns to horror and despair when he realises he has sold his body and soul for a kiss.
As dismay and terror take a hold of his sanity, the unfortunate youth descends in madness, each minute reliving his downfall and awaiting his ultimate demise.
One month to the very day of his costly mistake, the crazed young man dies in his own ravings and insanity and is buried in the very place he met the Demon Bride, his promise fulfilled.
Dearg Due, Female Vampire of Revenge
Arranged marriages have never been uncommon in Ireland and this story is no exception. A beautiful young woman had fallen in love with a local boy, but her father had promised her hand to a wealthy and notoriously atrocious clan Chieftain in exchange for riches and lands for himself and his remaining offspring.
The wedding took place and as all the guests partied through the night, the newlywed girl sat away from them all damning her father and vowing to seek revenge on those who had cost her love and life.
The Chieftain treated his new bride as but a trophy to be locked away for his pleasure only, savouring the knowledge she was his and his alone, where she simply wasted away, her life gone long before her body gave in.
The dead bride was so hellbent on revenge that the force pulled her from her grave on the first anniversary of her death. Consumed with anger and the need for retribution she climbed from her coffin and headed straight to her childhood home. As her father lay sleeping she touched her lips to his and sucked the life out of him.
Vengeance not yet sated, she called upon her callous husband finding him surrounded by women, fulfilling his lustful desires. In a furious rage she launched on the Chieftain sending the women screaming. His former wife was so full of fury and fire that she not only drew every breath, but drained every ounce of blood from his twisted and cruel body. The warm, red elixir of life gave her strength and immortality and she hungered for more.
The corpse bride used her beauty to prey on young men, luring them to their demise with seduction, and sinking her teeth into their exposed necks, draining their blood to quench her thirst and desire.
The remains of the Dearg Due are buried in Waterford in a place known as Strongbow’s Tree. Her lustful yearning can only be satisfied on the day she died, so on the eve of her anniversary locals have placed rocks upon her grave so that she will not rise and take the blood of the innocent.
Sometimes though the rocks are displaced, forgotten or her insatiable desire is stronger than any stone could ever be and she walks into the night, ill-fated men falling victim to the beauty and bloodlust of the Dearg Due.
Bothered, Bewitched and Beguiled
In Kilkenny you will find Kyteler’s Inn, the home and business of Alice Kyteler. Alice was the first person to be accused and charged with witchcraft in Ireland in 1324. A moneylender in the town, Alice was married a total of four times, with each husband dying under mysterious circumstances, leaving her more wealthy each time.
Kyteler’s Inn was a meeting place for local businessmen who all vied for the attention of the bewitching Alice, showering her with gifts and money. With her staff of luscious women, the premises were by far the busiest in Kilkenny.
As local envy and suspicion reached its peak, the surviving children of Alice’s four husbands had her charged with using poison, Sorcery, favouring her first born, denying the faith, blasphemy and animal sacrifices to the demons of the underworld.
Alice had many connections and her manipulative ways meant that she managed to avoid arrest for some time. After several twists including her accuser, the Bishop of Ossory being jailed himself, Alice was finally imprisoned to await trial.
First up for trial was Alice’s maid, Petronella de Meath who was tortured and confessed to practising Witchcraft with her mistress. Petronella was found guilty and burned at the stake.
In 1325 Alice escaped, only to be tried in her absence and found guilty of Witchcraft. Alice Kyteler remained at large, never to be heard of again. Did she use magic to finally be rid of the threat of execution, or was she simply a smart woman, able to use her skills and charm to be a success, bend men to her will and escape the stake?
So there you have it, Siren, Demon, Vampire and Witch – all women and all luring men to an early death for personal gain or for the sheer hell of it. Whoever said women need to be empowered really need to take a trip to Ireland, however if you are a man you had better make it a one way ticket.