The Solitary Fairies
Category: APPENDIX CLASSIFICATION OF IRISH FAIRIES
Source: Irish Fairy Tales
These are nearly all gloomy and terrible in some way. There are,
however, some among them who have light hearts and brave attire.
1. The Lepricaun (Ir. Leith bhrogan, i.e. the one shoe
maker).--This creature is seen sitting under a hedge mending a shoe,
and one who catches him can make him deliver up his crocks of gold,
for he is a miser of great wealth; but if you take your eyes off him
the creature vanishes like smoke. He is said to be the child of an
evil spirit and a debased fairy, and wears, according to McAnally, a
red coat with seven buttons in each row, and a cocked-hat, on the
point of which he sometimes spins like a top. In Donegal he goes clad
in a great frieze coat.
2. The Cluricaun (Ir. Clobhair-cean in O'Kearney).--Some writers
consider this to be another name for the Lepricaun, given him when he
has laid aside his shoe-making at night and goes on the spree. The
Cluricauns' occupations are robbing wine-cellars and riding sheep and
shepherds' dogs for a livelong night, until the morning finds them
panting and mud-covered.
3. The Gonconer or Ganconagh (Ir. Gean-canogh, i.e.
love-talker).--This is a creature of the Lepricaun type, but, unlike
him, is a great idler. He appears in lonely valleys, always with a
pipe in his mouth, and spends his time in making love to shepherdesses
4. The Far Darrig (Ir. Fear Dearg, i.e. red man).--This is the
practical joker of the other world. The wild Sligo story I give of 'A
Fairy Enchantment' was probably his work. Of these solitary and mainly
evil fairies there is no more lubberly wretch than this same Far
Darrig. Like the next phantom, he presides over evil dreams.
5. The Pooka (Ir. Puca, a word derived by some from poc, a
he-goat).--The Pooka seems of the family of the nightmare. He has most
likely never appeared in human form, the one or two recorded instances
being probably mistakes, he being mixed up with the Far Darrig. His
shape is usually that of a horse, a bull, a goat, eagle, or ass. His
delight is to get a rider, whom he rushes with through ditches and
rivers and over mountains, and shakes off in the gray of the morning.
Especially does he love to plague a drunkard: a drunkard's sleep is
his kingdom. At times he takes more unexpected forms than those of
beast or bird. The one that haunts the Dun of Coch-na-Phuca in
Kilkenny takes the form of a fleece of wool, and at night rolls out
into the surrounding fields, making a buzzing noise that so terrifies
the cattle that unbroken colts will run to the nearest man and lay
their heads upon his shoulder for protection.
6. The Dullahan.--This is a most gruesome thing. He has no head, or
carries it under his arm. Often he is seen driving a black coach
called coach-a-bower (Ir. Coite-bodhar), drawn by headless horses.
It rumbles to your door, and if you open it a basin of blood is thrown
in your face. It is an omen of death to the houses where it pauses.
Such a coach not very long ago went through Sligo in the gray of the
morning, as was told me by a sailor who believed he saw it. In one
village I know its rumbling is said to be heard many times in the
7. The Leanhaun Shee (Ir. Leanhaun sidhe, i.e. fairy
mistress).--This spirit seeks the love of men. If they refuse, she is
their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by
finding one to take their place. Her lovers waste away, for she lives
on their life. Most of the Gaelic poets, down to quite recent times,
have had a Leanhaun Shee, for she gives inspiration to her slaves and
is indeed the Gaelic muse--this malignant fairy. Her lovers, the
Gaelic poets, died young. She grew restless, and carried them away to
other worlds, for death does not destroy her power.
8. The Far Gorta (man of hunger).--This is an emaciated fairy that
goes through the land in famine time, begging and bringing good luck
to the giver.
9. The Banshee (Ir. Bean-sidhe, i.e. fairy woman).--This fairy,
like the Far Gorta, differs from the general run of solitary fairies
by its generally good disposition. She is perhaps not really one of
them at all, but a sociable fairy grown solitary through much sorrow.
The name corresponds to the less common Far Shee (Ir. Fear Sidhe), a
man fairy. She wails, as most people know, over the death of a member
of some old Irish family. Sometimes she is an enemy of the house and
screams with triumph, but more often a friend. When more than one
Banshee comes to cry, the man or woman who is dying must have been
very holy or very brave. Occasionally she is most undoubtedly one of
the sociable fairies. Cleena, once an Irish princess and then a
Munster goddess, and now a Sheoque, is thus mentioned by the greatest
of Irish antiquarians.
O'Donovan, writing in 1849 to a friend, who quotes his words in the
Dublin University Magazine, says: 'When my grandfather died in
Leinster in 1798, Cleena came all the way from Ton Cleena to lament
him; but she has not been heard ever since lamenting any of our race,
though I believe she still weeps in the mountains of Drumaleaque in
her own country, where so many of the race of Eoghan More are dying of
starvation.' The Banshee on the other hand who cries with triumph is
often believed to be no fairy but a ghost of one wronged by an
ancestor of the dying. Some say wrongly that she never goes beyond the
seas, but dwells always in her own country. Upon the other hand, a
distinguished writer on anthropology assures me that he has heard her
on 1st December 1867, in Pital, near Libertad, Central America, as he
rode through a deep forest. She was dressed in pale yellow, and raised
a cry like the cry of a bat. She came to announce the death of his
father. This is her cry, written down by him with the help of a
Frenchman and a violin.
He saw and heard her again on 5th February 1871, at 16 Devonshire
Street, Queen's Square, London. She came this time to announce the
death of his eldest child; and in 1884 he again saw and heard her at
28 East Street, Queen's Square, the death of his mother being the
The Banshee is called badh or bowa in East Munster, and is named
Bachuntha by Banim in one of his novels.
Other Fairies and Spirits.--Besides the foregoing, we have other
solitary fairies, of which too little definite is known to give them
each a separate mention. They are the House Spirits, of whom 'Teigue
of the Lee' is probably an instance; the Water Sherie, a kind of
will-o'-the-wisp; the Sowlth, a formless luminous creature; the Pastha
(Piast-bestia), the lake dragon, a guardian of hidden treasure; and
the Bo men fairies, who live in the marshes of County Down and destroy
the unwary. They may be driven away by a blow from a particular kind
of sea-weed. I suspect them of being Scotch fairies imported by Scotch
settlers. Then there is the great tribe of ghosts called Thivishes in
These are all the fairies and spirits I have come across in Irish
folklore. There are probably many others undiscovered.
W. B. YEATS.
CO. DOWN, June 1891.
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