The way our stories tell it, Ireland’s just a land of leprechauns frolicking among four-leafed clovers and fairy mounds, of starry nights filled with púcas and banshees. Well, not quite, but this stuff is not just the preserve of childrens books either.Ireland’s myths, legends and superstitions are the legacy of a rich oral tradition. Recounting them and the places they happened is fascinating, and fun. Brit McGinnis picked the best to keep in mind on your own supernatural, superstitious, and just plain super trip to Ireland.
If you’re one of those people who always makes a wish when blowing out your birthday candles, we have good news. Our ancestors, perhaps even before there were such birthday candles, developed wishing sites. Just perform a certain ritual and Poof! Whoosh! Wish granted. Your first stop should be the Mottee Stone: if you can walk around it three times without thinking of a goat, you’ll earn yourself one wish. At Glendalough, the deal is: hug a cross – make your wish.
Queen Maeve was the famous mythical Queen of Connacht, enemy (and former wife) of the King of Ulster, and is the star of the famous story Táin Bó Cúailnge, a.k.a.”The Cattle Raid of Cooley.” Her tomb at the summit of Knocknarea is bound with superstitions. They say if you bring a stone and leave it at the top of the mound, good luck will come from the Queen herself. Dare to take a stone from the mound, and bad luck will follow you all the way home…
You know that fabulous landscape of ours, the one that forces you to pull over on the side of the road and grab your camera to catch the shafts of sunlight breaking through the clouds onto the lake? Well, according to a few myths, it has plenty more tricks up its sleeve.
Legendary Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan (whom the O’Caralan Harp Festival is named after) fell asleep on a faerie mound and awoke with the gift of faerie music. Beats a sore neck, which is my sum experience of camping. Then there’s the famous tale (and tail!) of the Salmon of Knowledge, by the River Boyne.
Don’t look too hard for it, though. Hero of Irish legend Finn mac Cool ate it hundreds of years ago and earned great knowledge in one fell swoop. While stumbling about in the wilderness, he came upon an old fisherman who had been fishing for the Salmon of Knowledge. When Finn offered to wash his dishes, the Salmon appeared on the fisherman’s hook. Finn cooked the Salmon for his new friend, but when hot fish oil splashed on his finger he instinctively stuck it in his mouth to cool the burn and instantly gained all the knowledge from the Salmon. Oops! The poet forgave him, just about, and Finn mac Cool grew up to be a famous warrior being responsible, among other things, for building the Giant’s Causeway!
Kissing the Blarney Stone is probably our most well-known method of extracting superpowers from the land, in this case; ‘the gift of gab.’ The origin of the magic stone is unclear; it might have been given as a gift from a Celtic goddess to the builder of Blarney Castle, or it could be the deathbed pillow of St Columba. Millions of people have puckered up to kiss the stone over the years, including Mick Jagger, Billy Connolly and Winston Churchill. It was featured in a 1904 short film called ‘The European Rest Cure,’ and was one of the stars of the 1949 musical ‘Top O’ the Morning.’ The stone continues to be one of Ireland’s most iconic attractions, and if you dare doubt the power of the ‘gift of gab’, consider this ‘proof’ offered by the Blarney blog:
Laurel and Hardy visited Blarney early in the Twentieth Century. It’s no surprise to us that they were amongst the few that successfully made the transition from silent movies to talkies. They did kiss the Stone.Fairy dust…
Stealing from humans, conferring blessings, hiding in trees; we blame the ‘wee folk’ for a lot. That must explain the reverence for fairy mounds, which even today are never disturbed for fear of a fairy-shaped wrath. The same goes for hawthorn trees, seen as the gateways fairies use to get to the otherworld. Once an entire highway was diverted just to avoid striking down a hawthorn tree. The Glens of Antrim are particularly notable for their continued dedication to fairy fancies – with elderly gents still leaving the last inch of their pints for the fairies.
Púcas are the most mischievous creatures of our folklore, not least because they are changelings. Púcas take different forms for different parts of Ireland. Ask someone in County Down if they’ve seen a mischievous old man hanging around. Maybe someone in Waterford has seen an unusually large eagle? But the púca’s favourite form is a dark horse with golden eyes. Don’t worry about this one, though – púcas are usually pretty friendly to humans!
There are few sounds more feared than that of a Banshee. Hearing the wails of this woman at night meant someone in your family is going to die. The last banshee sighting was reported outside of St Columba’s Church in County Londonderry in the 1940s. That’s about 70 years ago, so we’re safe now, right? Right…?
So there you have it; enchanted sites, magical creatures, and even places that’ll help your deepest wishes come true. In Ireland, there’s enough magic in the air – it might just find you!
Up for more mystical adventures? Visit Ireland’s most haunted spots for a spooky good time, or take a tour highlighting Ireland’s most legend-worthy locations. Or come by Ireland at Halloween —we’ll not only share some barm brack , but a wicked good time as well!