From A Field Guide to Irish Fairies by Bob Curran:
There are numerous types of fairies in Ireland, and their distribution is wide. There may be one or more close by at
any time. What they all have in common is a reluctance to be seen by humans...
Who are Fairies and why are they so feared? One theory claims they are fallen angels, those who sat on the fence
during the great rebellion in Heaven and who were thrown out for their indecisiveness. They were not, however,
consigned to Hell with Lucifer and his followers, being neither good enough to be saved or bad enough to be lost.
According to this theory, St Michael (the patron saint of all fairies) interceded with God and they were given the
dark and remote places in which to dwell, well away from human habitation. Some were granted the depths of the
oceans and became merfolks; others were sent to lands under the earth and became goblins and trolls; others were
granted the air and became spirits and sheeries; while others were given the harsh and barren areas of the
countryside and became leprechauns and grogochs...
Fairies can be willful and capricious creatures, easily offended and quick to anger. They are often spiteful and jealous
of mankind which enjoys a special relationship with God which they cannot. Nevertheless, they can also be
good-hearted and merry and many accounts assert the beauty of their music and their love of sport and revelry.
The grogoch is a fairy coming originally from Scotland before settling in Ireland. It seems that this type of fairy
includes only males, because no grogoch females have been observed. According to tradition "They look like very little
old men covered in fur or coarse red hairs. They do not wear clothes, but wear a variety of twigs and other dirt
they have accumulated during their travels; they are known for their lack of personal hygiene. The grogoch does not
fear the most extreme temperatures and is content with little like home; a cavern, a hole or any fault is very
good. According to Tradition, In many parts of the Irish countryside are large sloping stones called grogoch houses.
He can make himself invisible and he allows only a tiny number of people to observe him. The grogoch is a very
sociable being who is not of the diabolical or mischievous kind and will not hesitate to help someone in his work if he
likes him, sometimes to the point of being a nuisance. As just compensation, he only asks for a jar of cream.
Further, the grogoch, like many other fairy types, has a blue fear of the clergy and will not enter on any pretext
into a house where there is a minister of religion. On the other hand, if the presence of a grogoch could prove to
be harmful, it was recommended to bring in a clergyman to make him flee; the grogoch would then go,
unfortunately, to bother another family.
The Grey Man
In Irish and Scottish folklore, An Far Liath, or The Grey Man, is a dangerous fairy being associated with fog and mist.
In appearance, the Grey Man is said to vary. Some describe encountering a dark shadow in the fog or else a fog that
appears to be alive. Other people claim the fairy appears as old, bearded man dressed in a cloak made of fog which
obscures his body. Still others describe the entity as a hairy bigfoot-like creature swathed in fog. According to lore,
sightings of The Grey Man are omens of ill-fortune. The Gray Man is said to delight in causing human fatalities with
the fog and mist that accompanies him. In olden times the Gray Man was said responsible for many a shipwreck.
Today, the fairy might be blamed for horrible car wrecks due to fog. The Grey Man has power over fog and mist as
well as having the power to sour milk and ruin peat-moss used for kindling (dampening it so that it will not light).
The Grey Man is also blamed for potato rot or blight, which he is said to cause with a mere touch. The Grey Man
has a knack for causing intense panic in people who sight him.
As a fairy, The Grey Man would fear iron objects and salt. Holy objects and prayer are said to be helpful as well.
One can tell that The Grey Man is near for the presence of an unusual fog and of his overpowering earthy or musty
smell. The Grey Man is said to be incapable of speech. It is also believed that The Grey Man (An Fir Lea) originated
as a pagan weather god associated with fog and mist who was worshipped around 1500 b.c. in the coastal
communities in and around Ireland and Scotland. With the arrival of Christianity the former god was demoted to
fairy. The Grey Man is believed to be found of specific locations, such as Ben MacDhui, a mountain peak in Scotland,
as well as various rock formations or natural bridges.
Sheerie fairies are phosphorescent glimmers of light that move from cover to cover. They combine elements of fairy
and human nature. It is thought that Sheerie are the souls of unbaptized children trying to gain entry to the
mortal world. Given this problem, they tend to be very jealous of and angry toward humans. This may be the
reason that they are believed to be behind human misfortune. These fairies are can be found on land or water. For
instance, the water types confuse humans into thinking bogs are safe when they are not (and other misfortunes
associated with water). Land fairies do similar things to humans like getting them to wander off cliffs. These fairies
do not have the power of speech but do put out a mewling sort of sound. They can be warded off with iron, a
crucifix, or holy water.
Fairies are thought to have a difficult time birthing. Many times new born fairies are borne with deformities, mental
deficiencies, and so forth. The fairies can not abide such impurity and seek to exchange the deficient baby with a
healthy human baby...thus the name changeling. Infants who are much admired or infants who have not been
baptized, are often the targets of these fairy exchanges. When such exchanges occur, the human household is in for a
rough time. The changeling is very demanding and brings a variety of misfortune to the household. Changelings usually
have a wizened appearance, thin frail limbs, darkened eyes, and yellowed skin. One positive attribute of these fairies is
that they are often gifted musicians and bring much joy when they perform. Although less frequent, older children
can be the target of a fairy exchange. One can't tell the change has occurred by the changeling appearance as in the
case of infants because the changeling will appear much like the child did. However, one can tell by the extreme
personality change. Fairy changelings tend to be cold and unresponsive. In all cases, the changeling has little regard
for humans and is indifferent to the burdens placed on the family. For instance, they will eat everything in the
house and expect more. In most cases, the changeling does not live more than a couple of years. It's true nature can
be revealed by examining the burial mound. Instead of the body of an infant, one will find bog roots or some other
aspect of a tree rather than an infant. The best way to ward off an exchange is to lay an element of the father's
clothing over the infant. Religious objects (crucifix, etc.) placed around the crib are also thought to be effective
deterrents. It is also thought possible to drive out the changeling by getting it to reveal it's true age. If it does,
the human infant will be returned. Heat and fire may also be effective.
The Pooka Fairy is feared by many. It is a shape shifter and is out and about most nights. One usual form is as a
horse. In this form, it rampages around the country scaring livestock, tearing down fences, and causing havoc. In
other forms, it demands shares of crops... those not sharing suffer the consequences. It has the power of speech
and can let it's wishes be known. In some cases, it has been known to be helpful by letting people know what the
future holds. One legend has it that the Pooka in horse form was only ridden by the High KIng of Ireland Brian
Boru. He rode the horse to submission and got the Pooka to promise never to bother the Irish again unless they
were drunk or lawbreakers. However, the years seem to have eroded the promise because the Pooka's antics continue
to this day with no regard given to your situation (sober or drunk, law breaking or not, Irish or not).
In most parts of the world Merrows fairies appear as Mermaids. However in Ireland, they appear in human form with
flatter feet and webbed hands. Merrows love the sea but can live ashore. There are many instances reported of
unions between men and Merrows. One of the reasons for this is that Merrows have to shed their cloaks to come
ashore. They need these cloaks to return to the sea. Anyone who finds such a cloak has power over the Merrow
to whom the cloak belongs. Some men steal these cloaks and leave Merrows little choice but to marry them.
Merrows make good wifes in the sense that they attend to all their duties. However, they are not affectionate and
want only to return to the sea. If they find their cloaks, the urge to return to the sea is so strong they walk out
on their husbands and children and do so.
Some Merrows are not Merrows at all. They are humans taken by Merrows to raise as their own. If these children
ever stand on land they regain their human roots and can not return to the sea. It is also said that sighting a
Merrow can bring ill fortune... fishermen who see them immediately return to port. They also have a tendency to
attack those who fall asleep on the shore and attempt to drown them. As with other fairies, a crucifix will ward
off such attack as will the sound of a church bell.
The Banshee is one of the most widely known of the Irish fairies... probably due to the appearance of Banshees in
movies. There is considerable debate over the exact nature of the Banshee. Is she a true fairy, a spirit, or a
mortal form? No one knows for sure but all are agreed that the Banshee is associated with death. Some think the
Banshee forewarns certain families of the death of its members. Others think the Banshee was offended in some way
by a family causing the fairy to follow the family and rejoice when a family member dies. Whatever the reason for
the appearance of the Banshee, the fairy generally appears in one of three forms... a young woman, a matron, or as
an old hag (she has also appeared in a variety of other forms... e.g. a crow... but these are her usual forms). Folk
wisdom has it that the Banshee only cries when members of certain Irish family are about to die. However, it is
generally thought that the intermarriage of these families with other families has led to the Banshee appearing more
generally. Unlike other fairies, the Banshee appears not only in Ireland but anywhere Irish immigrants are found.
The Banshee's cry foretells the death of someone. On those occasions, one may get a glimpse of her washing her
hair, blood from a blanket, a face reflected in a window, etc. Whatever the form, it is unwise to disturb the
Banshee because those who have done so have met untimely deaths.
Leprechaun's are far and away the most recognizable of the Irish Fairies... some even refer to the Leprechaun as
Ireland's national fairy. Leprechaun's appear as old, diminutive men who are shoemakers and bankers for other
fairies. It is argued that the name Leprechaun derives from the Irish term for shoemaker (leith bhrogan).
Many Leprechaun's drink to excess but never to the point of losing control of themselves. Leprechauns have long
been associated with money often being depicted along with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. One reason
for this is that they seem to have an endless supply of money. They are thought to always have a silver and a gold
coin, each in a different pouch. When they part with the silver coin, it magically returns to their purse. When
they part with the gold coin usually to bribe their way out of a difficult situation, the coin turns to leaves or ashes
in the recipient's pocket.
In addition to being shoemakers, Leprechaun's are thought to be the bankers of the fairy world. Many believe they
have found and hidden treasures lost by others. These treasures are buried in crocks and pots. Leprechaun's are able
to recall the exact location of these buried treasures. These banker fairies are thought to have very dour
dispositions and to avoid contact with humans because they consider humans to be shallow. They also worry that
humans will steal their treasures. Leprechauns are very hard to catch or see because they can move very quickly. If
one is caught, he usually promises great wealth if allowed to go free. Once released, he quickly zips out of sight.
There seem to be two different types of Leprechaun's the dour, banker type who wears green and avoids humans and
the friendly type who dresses garishly and delights in making mischief for humans (some argue this latter fairy is not
really a leprechaun but a close cousin who should be called a cluricaun). Banker fairies know all about money while
cluricaun know nothing about money and have no knowledge of where treasures can be found.
The Dullahan fairy rampages about the countryside on festival/feast days. He is a headless horseman but carries his
head in his hand. The head glows and can be used to light the way. The head can only speak once on a journey and
does so to call out the name of the soul it is out to collect. The Dullahan is different from the Banshee because
the Banshee follows certain families and forewarns of death. The Dullahan brings the fact of death. Some say the
Dullahan is the legacy of the time when beheading was an acceptable form of sacrifice to the gods and represents the
remains of the Celtic god Crom Dubh (or Black Crom). There is really no way to avoid encountering this fairy if you
are the one sought. He can go anywhere and go rapidly. However, to avoid encountering him, stay indoors with the
curtains drawn (if you look at him and you are not the one sought, you may be blinded or worse). Some believe
that he fears gold so always have a bit of gold on hand on festival/feast days.
Butter Spirits are thought to be related to Leprechauns but more focused in their pursuits. They are small men
(less than 2 feet tall) and are found throughout the Emerald Isle and England. In general, they are mischievous and
steal anything not nailed down. Their first love is fresh butter (thus the name) and will get it out of fresh milk
even before it is churned. It is claimed they only steal from the rich. They are very resourceful and can reach
inaccessible places. The best way to keep them away is to mark things with the sign of a cross.
The Watershee looks very much like the image many people have of fairies. This fairy appears as a small, delicate,
attractive, female with gossamer-winged (she might also appear as a beautiful woman). Unfortunately, this
appearance is deceiving. Like the Sheerie, the Watershee lures the innocent into water with her appearance and
mesmerizing singing. Once a person falls into this trap, they drown and the Watershee devours their souls. The best
defense against falling under the Watershee's spell is to wear a cross (or other holy object) and to pray.
Skeaghshees or tree fairies act as guardians of trees/bushes. They often protect lone trees. If the unwary inflict
harm on a fairy tree, woe betide them. Skeaghshees are capable of serving up all sorts of retributions to those who
kill or damage the tree/bush they are guarding. The offending party might be visited by poverty, illness, or other
misfortunes. If the fairy is angry enough, the punishment might extend to the person's family. So, before
undertaking any landscape alterations, be sure a fairy tree is not in your way.
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|Irish Fairies and Folklore
Other mythological characters to investigate from other cultures.
Wizards and Mages
Witches and Warlocks
Hob or Hobgoblin