My Five Favorite Faeries from Irish Folklore
Updated: Sep 9
I love Irish faeries (and all Celtic faeries, for that matter). As I said in a 2019 post, these faeries are no Disney princesses. They’re not cute little beings with butterfly wings and star-tipped magic wands. Celtic faeries vary in size and appearance, and most don’t have wings. Trying to narrow down my favorite Irish faeries into a list of five was challenging, but I finally managed—with the help of three bonus faeries and an honorable mention. Speaking of the honorable mention, she is the banshee. I haven’t put her on the list simply because I’ve devoted an entire post to her alone. Click here to read about her. Please note: the list isn’t in order of preference. Also, just because they’re on a list of my favorites doesn’t mean I find them as cuddly as a cocker spaniel. Some, specifically, the Dullahan and the Sluagh Sidhe, made the list because they are just too interesting and formidable to ignore.
1. Trooping Faeries
Irish poet and folklorist, W. B. Yeats classified Irish faeries into two categories: Solitary faeries and Trooping Faeries. Most of the faeries I’ve listed are solitary faeries who, as the name suggests, live apart from society, human and faerie. Trooping Faeries travel as a group and are highly sociable—with each other. Although they tend to be wingless and not necessarily small in stature, they are what many people imagine when they think of the “little people.”
Trooping Faeries get their name because they often are seen traveling the Irish countryside in procession. They also sometimes are found partying around fairy trees. They love having fun: singing, dancing, making music, feasting, and having sex. They may seem like a happy lot, and they have been known to give magical assistance to humans they’ve taken a liking to.
But be careful. Faeries—all of them—are capricious and easily offended. A human who stumbles across their merry-making may find himself cursed with life-long misfortune for intruding. At other times, a person may be invited to join the party, but that can be dangerous too. Irish folklore is filled with tales of humans who spent the night partying with the Good Folk only to discover, when they return home, that decades had passed and that all their friends and family have grown old or even died. Others who’ve spent time with the faeries have lost their senses, never to recover them.
There. You’ve been warned.
The Puca is found across Celtic folklore. Often, he’s depicted as a mischievous prankster. But some stories paint him as malevolent. He might be both. Remember: Irish faeries are capricious.
Although he often appears as a black horse with golden eyes and a long mane, the Puca is a shapeshifter and takes any form. But even when he appears human, he usually has an animal attribute of some kind, such as cat ears or a bunny tail.
He sometimes helps humans he likes, offering them wisdom or advice. But he also enjoys giving incorrect directions to travelers just so he can sit back and watch them get lost and confused. I said he could be mischievous. But he has an even darker side.
Folklore says that the Puca has been known to stop at a person’s house and call the person by name. If that person does not come out, the faerie will respond vindictively, destroying the property. He’s also been known to sneak up behind travelers at night and throw them into bogs and ditches. And there is a plethora of other tales about his mischief and dark deeds, but I’ll save them for another time. Maybe Halloween.
I love this faerie. I just want to pick him up and hug him. But that would be highly unadvisable. Grogochs are helpful, domestic faeries, similar to Scottish Brownies. The difference is Brownies clean the house and do other chores quietly and efficiently while the family sleeps. The Grogoch tries to help in the daytime, spilling and breaking things, and getting in the way. But he means well.
Grogochs look like small old men. They wear no clothes. Instead, they are covered with reddish hair entangled with twigs, leaves, and other debris picked up on their travels. They are dirty and have no regard for personal hygiene. Even though they have the gift of invisibility, they will reveal themselves to humans they like.
Hard-working and well-intentioned, a Grogoch will adopt a family, move in, and help with the chores. But, as I mentioned above, Grogochs can be clumsy and tend to get underfoot. You may feel the Grogoch is more of a pest than a help but getting rid of one isn’t easy. You can’t just ask him to leave. He’ll be insulted. And it’s never wise to insult an Irish faerie. One way to get rid of him is to give him clothes. This is a surefire way to get a Grogoch to leave and never return. However, he will be insulted by the gesture, so…you get the picture.
4. The Sluagh Sidhe
This collective is among the scariest and most dangerous of Irish faeries. They look like something out of a nightmare, human in form but skeletal with only a bit of flesh dangling from their bones. A few strands of dark hair hang from their skulls. Their beak-like mouths have protruding and pointed teeth. Their hands and feet are nothing more than bony claws. The Sluagh Sidhe are among the few Irish Faeries with wings, but their wings are not beautiful. Instead, they are leathery, bat-like wings that resemble a cloak when they’re held close to the body.
On Samhain’s Eve, this faerie collective flies out of Hell Gate in the western province of Connacht. Soaring into the human realm, looking like a flock of crows against the sky, they spend the night ruining crops, killing cattle, sheep, dogs, and cats. They also carry off humans who are out traveling alone in the dark.
But the Sluagh Sidhe are not a danger just on Halloween. Throughout the year, they search for souls. Folklore claims they will fly in through open, west-facing windows of sickrooms and anywhere a human lies dying. They steal the souls of those weakened by illness and especially those who’ve died without receiving last rites.
These faeries will try to steal the soul of a healthy human as well. It’s more of a challenge, but the Sluagh Sidhe will try nevertheless. To protect yourself from them, avoid dark, secluded places such as woods and lonely country roads, and traveling alone at night. If the Sluagh captures a human soul, it is doomed forever to be a part of the Faerie Host, helping to catch other poor souls.
5. The Dullahan
The Dullahan resembles a headless man riding a black horse that snorts flame from its nose. He is dressed in black and wears a cape. For a whip, he uses a human spine. In his right hand or the crook of his arm, he carries his grinning head. The head glows in the dark and the Dullahan uses it as a lantern. But it does more than light his way; its dark and darting eyes are said to be able to see far distances no matter how black the night. It’s said that anyone caught watching him will go blind in one eye or have a bucket of blood thrown into his or her face. Sometimes, he rides the Coiste Bodhar, the death coach, accompanied by a banshee. Wherever the Dullahan stops, someone will die.
Bonus: Leprechauns and their Cousins
I know Americans picture the happy guy on the cereal box and think of him as an elf. But Leprechauns are faeries and, while they’re not evil, they are mischievous and magical. Also, they are liars and con artists. If you have any thoughts about intimidating them or tricking them into giving you their pot of gold, think again. A solitary faerie, the leprechaun mostly just wants to be left alone to make shoes and drink. He probably won’t bother you if you don’t bother him.
But if you corner him and insist on getting that pot of gold, he’ll promise you great wealth and anything else you want just to get away. But he doesn’t mean a word of it. He may even give you gold or silver with the promise of more if you let him go. But once he gets away, he’s gone. And so’s the money. The silver will return to him, and the gold will turn to ashes.
Leprechauns have a couple of lesser-known cousins. One is the Clurichaun, who will take up residence in your house, get drunk routinely, and cause havoc. The other is the Fear Daerg (Red Man) who is much more sinister. You can read about the Clurichaun in my post, “Irish Faeries: They’re No Disney Princesses,” and the Fear Daerg in my “Irish Vampires and Other Lesser-Known Celtic Beings.”
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Slan go foil!