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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

Nessie is Not Alone: Other Celtic Water Monsters

Nessie of Loch Ness is not the only monster lurking in Celtic waters.
Nessie of Loch Ness is not the only monster lurking in Celtic waters.

Nessie, the creature that reportedly resides in Scotland’s Loch Ness, is famous but she is far from alone. Celtic folk tradition claims a variety of supernatural beings lurk in and around the rivers and lakes of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Here are a few notable, if not well-known, Celtic water monsters.

Morag and Company

Situated in the northwest Highlands of Scotland, Loch Morar, is a beautiful spot for trout or salmon fishing. Surrounded by hills and within sight of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, the loch offers the opportunity for long walks among magnificent views of nature. The lake itself is the third deepest body of freshwater in Europe. But gazing at the water is risky. According to local legends, Loch Morar, like Loch Ness, has its resident monster. Her name is Morag. Descriptions of her physical appearance vary but one detail about her stays consistent. The locals claim she only appears when someone is about to die.

Beneath the misty waters of Loch Morar, Morag hides, surfacing only as a harbinger of death.
Beneath the misty waters of Loch Morar, Morag hides, surfacing only as a harbinger of death.

There are at least ten lochs in Scotland associated with loch creatures. These include Loch Awe’s Beathach Mór, Loch Maree’s Muc-shelich, and my favorite, Loch Oich’s Wee Oichy. It’s easy to dismiss the stories of these monsters as fiction created either by over-active imaginations or by a desire for tourist revenue. Before you do, though, consider this. As recently as 2021, a British man and his camping party claimed to have captured images of Nessie with his drone. According to the New York Post, the drone footage captured “the outline of a creature nearly twice the length of the beached 14-foot-long watercraft” which “appeared to approach the group while floating beneath the lake’s rippling waves.” The story goes on to say, the creature “bore an uncanny resemblance to a plesiosaur,” the dinosaur Nessie often is said to resemble. To read the New York Post article, click here.

The Joint-Eater

One of the scariest water creatures in Scottish folklore is the Joint-Eater. As ominous as its name suggests, this tiny malevolent monster crawls into the mouths of people who have dozed off next to water, such as a lake or river, after eating a meal. Once it’s invaded the person’s body, the Joint-Eater leeches all the nutrients from any food the person consumes so no matter how much the person eats, he or she will waste away. Fortunately, there is a cure. According to folklore, to rid yourself of a Joint-Eater lie down next to water with your mouth open and be patient. After a while, the creature will climb out of your mouth and return to the water. When it does, close your mouth, get up, and run!

The Afanc

The Welsh Afanc may look like a cute beaver but he's a deadly predator.
The Welsh Afanc may look like a cute beaver but he's a deadly predator.

Wales is dotted with sparkling lakes. The Afanc lives in one of them, but debate exists about exactly which one is his home. He resembles a giant beaver, but he is far from cute or cuddly. The Afanc is predatory and territorial. He will attack anyone who trespasses in his lake. A legend says that, while fighting off one invader, he thrashed about so violently he pushed masses of water from his lake, causing a devastating flood to the surrounding community.

The Water Leaper

Residing in Welsh ponds and swamps is the Lamhigym Y Dwr or, in English, the Water Leaper. He is an odd mashed-up concoction of a creature that is described as a frog-bat-lizard. Originally, it sustained itself on a diet of nearby livestock, but its tastes have evolved. This monster has now added fishers and farmers to its diet.

Fin Folk

The Fin Folk of the Scottish Orkney Islands are amphibious shapeshifters. Even when they take human form, though, their bodies are said to be clothed in fins. Both males and females of the species have well-formed, athletic physiques. The male is described as dark-complexioned with sad eyes. Unmarried female Fin Folk look stunningly beautiful to human men. If she marries a human, the lore goes, she will keep her beauty. If she is forced to marry a Finman, she will lose it and turn into an old hag.

Female Finfolk are stunningly beautiful but marrying one leads to enslavement.
Female Finfolk are stunningly beautiful but marrying one leads to enslavement.

Both male and female Fin Folk actively seek humans to marry. Using boats made invisible through magic, they row ashore and abduct unsuspecting humans, bringing them to the Fin Folk’s underwater kingdom, Finfolkaheem. This kingdom is said to be exquisitely beautiful, but the poor abducted human cannot look forward to a fairytale ending. Once the wedding ceremony is completed, the Fin Folk forced their human spouses into a life of harsh servitude

Water Horses

All three Celtic cultures—the Irish, Scots, and Welsh—have folk stories about water horses. These Faeries are shapeshifters who should be avoided at all costs. They are murderous and, in some cases, cannibalistic. The Scottish Each Uisge, like its Irish counterpart, the Capall Uisge, lives in the sea. It comes onshore and shape-shifts into a magnificent horse or a cute little pony to lure its prey. (The pony form is used to catch children). Once caught, the human is torn to pieces and eaten by the water horse. To capture women, this Faerie sometimes appears as a handsome young man.

Kelpies are water horses who inhabit Scottish lochs and streams. Sometimes, this faerie appears as an attractive young woman, sitting on a rock, and dangling her bare feet in the water. Most often, though, this faerie assumes the shape of a horse and lures victims into mounting it. Once on the horse’s back, the person is unable to get off. The Kelpie then gallops into the nearby water, drowns its victim, and eats it.

In Celtic lands, never approach a horse near water.
In Celtic lands, never approach a horse near water.

Ceffyl Dwr is a Welsh water horse. This one can fly. Once it reaches a good height, it vanishes, leaving the rider to fall to his or her demise. Unlike Kelpies, the Ceffyl Dwr doesn’t eat its victims. It seems to kill humans just for fun.

The Washer at the Ford

As you travel through Scotland, if you happen to see an old woman washing clothes in a river or stream, hurry past her. She is likely the Bean Nighe, a faerie who appears at a ford in a river, washing blood from clothes. She is a harbinger of death, so just to see her is a bad omen. But definitely don’t approach her. She might hit you with the stick she uses to beat the clothes. According to folklore, whatever part of your body she strikes with this stick will become paralyzed. You can win her protection by sucking one of her breasts and claiming her as your foster mother, but I would not advise attempting this. Unless you have a death wish.

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Slan go foil!

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