The Solitary Fairies

: 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 vani
hes 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

and milkmaids.

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

some parts.

These are all the fairies and spirits I have come across in Irish

folklore. There are probably many others undiscovered.


CO. DOWN, June 1891.