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Mythical Creatures and Fairies: Irish

From creatures that signify bad omens to fairies that enjoy seducing humans, the Irish have many legendary creatures that appear in their myths. Some are associated with love, while others are feared because of their link to death.

Alp-luachra

In Irish myths, the Alp-luachra appears as an evil fairy , full of greed. If someone is unlucky enough to fall asleep by the side of the stream, it is said that the Alp-luachra takes the form of a newt and crawl inside of the person’s mouth. His main goal is to feed off of the food that its host has eaten. One tale describes revenge on the Alp-luachra, where someone ate large amounts of salted meat and slept by the stream. When the Alp-luachra went to feed on him, he became so thirsty that he jumped into the water.

Bean Nighe

Known as a specific type of banshee, the Bean Nighe is known as a death spirit that appears in Scottish Gaelic and Irish tales. This fairy is used to symbolize an omen of death. It is a messenger that comes from the Otherworld , often called the “Washer at the Ford.”

The Bean Nighe is female and wanders about isolated streams where she washes the blood from the grave-clothes of individuals close to death. Some believe that the Bean Nighe are the spirits of women who have died during childbirth and are doomed to work as these “washers” until they live out their days until the point in time that they would have normally died.

In The Ulster Cycle (an ancient Celtic epic), the hero of the tale, Cuchulainn rides out to war, where he crosses the path of the Morrigan (seen in the role of the Bean Nighe). She is dressed as a hag washing his bloody armor in the ford. He sees this omen as a sign that this battle will be his last. Some stories describe a Bean Nighe as having webbed feet and breasts that hang long. Oftentimes, they are dressed in green.

It is said that if a human has enough courage to sneak up on the banshee while she is washing and suck on her breast, he can claim to be her foster child and gain one wish from the Bean Nighe. If a mortal asks nicely, the Bean Nighe will reveal the names of the chosen who are about to die.

Gancanagh

A Gancanagh appears in Irish tales as a male fairy with a habit of seducing human females. It is believed that these enchanting creatures possess a toxin with additive properties in their skin. They use this feature to make women fall in love with them. Usually, the women who fall under this spell will die from the withdrawal, intense desire to be with their love, or fighting to the death to win the love of their Gancanagh. In myths, the Gancanagh is interestingly described as carrying about a clay pope (even though they do not smoke and actually cannot stand to be around smoke).