Look, there’s been some serious misinformation here. What with Disney and various cereal manufacturers propagating the notion that the ‘wee folk’ are somehow not going to steal your children in the night and replace them with demonspawn, there’s a worrying misconception that being in Ireland without magical preservatives is an okay idea. Allow me to disabuse you of that. This episode of an Adventurer’s Guide to Beasties won’t be spending too much time on those little guys though, they are small potatoes. So to speak.
What you do need to know about is the plethora of ways in which mythical creatures in Ireland helpfully inform you of your imminent doom. Once this happens there’s no known way of fending off the inevitable, but at least in accurately identifying your fate-omen you can enjoy your final fleeting moments before shuffling off into the otherworld. The good news is that if you die in the otherworld you come right back here! Presumably! There are few verified accounts of this happening.
The most popular harbinger of the void is the bean sí (banshee to you), literally woman of the síde (fairy mounds), a messenger from the fairy kingdom. It was tradition for centuries in Ireland and parts of Scotland, one that continued long into the twentieth century, that at a funeral there were designated bean chaointe, ‘keeners’, women who would sing a lament for the departed. Five of the most highly regarded families in Ireland – the O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, and the Kavanaghs - were so awesome that their keening was performed by the fairy keeners: the banshee. So the good news is that provided you’re not part of any of these families, you’re probably not cool enough to get a banshee. No problem there.
What you may encounter is the badb (crow) or badb Catha (battle-crow), a happy little aspect of the triple goddess Morrígan, the ‘great queen’ of Irish myth. This info will come in particularly handy to those of you taking the Ancient Tribal Warfare tour of Ireland sometime around the 1st century BC. Badb appeared either as a crow before or after battle – her war-cries gaining her association with the banshee – or as a giant wolf during it. She would sow confusion among soldiers on both sides and feed on the chaos of the battle. If you’re lucky, you’ll only see her as an old woman washing your clothes covered in blood in a stream.
In one notable account during the battle of Maige Tuired, the Tuatha Dé Danann (basically the first mortal inhabitants of Ireland) were assisted by Badb in overthrowing the Fir Bolg (the previous occupants) by conjuring thick mist and a ‘rain of fire’ upon the enemy. So wear something waterproof and also flame-retardant.
Let’s be clear here. Ireland is pretty much as hardcore as it gets. You were warned. Also there’s a really nice second-hand bookshop in Waterford, Co. Mayo you should check out.
Where in the world do you want to go fully equipped for the supernatural? Let us know in ye comments sectioune.