Irish Changeling in Ireland’s Folklore

In Ireland, the Faerie folk are always treated with respect, but many accusations are hurled at them as well, from making crops wither to milk tuning sour.

One of the most common accusations is that they steal humans and spirit them away to live in the Faerie realm, this person is known as a Changeling.

The humans most at risk are said to be midwives and new mothers who are taken so that they may become the servants of the Faerie queens and tend to the Faerie children. Faerie women find childbirth difficult and the Faerie children that survive are often deformed and stunted.

Handsome young men are also at risk, as they are taken to become lovers of the female Faeries. One theory why this happens is that the Faeries see humans as a sturdier and healthier race and are trying to strengthen their own bloodline by breeding with humans.

The humans most at risk though are babies and young children. They are taken and in their place a Faerie child is left, this child is known as a changeling although the term changeling can also refer to someone who has been taken and then returned to the mortal world a few years later.

The Faeries covert human babies as they tend to be happy, healthy, sturdy beings and have no hesitation in swopping them with their own sickly babes. On occasion they have been known to take a child because they believe it is not loved enough by its human parents or sometimes they take the child out of malice or spite, one can never be sure what a Faeries motive is.

How to recognise a Changeling?

It is said that you can tell a changeling baby by its appearance and manner as it will be ill-tempered and wizened and will have very dark eyes that if you look into them you can see wisdom well beyond their age. Within a few weeks the changeling will have a full set of teeth and their legs and arms will be really bony and thin.

A changeling doesn’t always appear as a baby and occasionally the Faeries will leave a piece of enchanted wood called a ‘stock’ in the cradle instead. This stock will appear to grow sick and die right in front of the ‘parents’ eyes.

It is told that babies are taken as it is easier to integrate them into the Faerie community and there is less chance of them remembering their real parents.

Very occasionally, some people leave the mortal world to live in the Faerie realm by choice. They don’t usually stay in the Faerie realm for life and will return to their home after several years. None of them return the same person and will be different they will have ‘changed’ in some way. Traditionally, the person who returns will possess a ‘gift’ of some type and may be a master of herbal or magical knowledge.

A real Changeling

In a little village on the Cavan/Leitrim border their lived a man whom it was said, had been taken as a baby by the Faeries but was returned to his loving family 10 years later. His story of being a real changeling is still told to this day.

Methods of returning a Changeling

The changelings’ new family will never have any good luck while the changeling resides in the family home as the changeling will drain the family of any good fortune that would come their way. A warning though to all those people who become parents to a changeling, it must be loved and cared for if you ever want to have a chance of seeing your own child again.

The unspoken threat is that if the changeling is harmed or abandoned in any way, the Faeries will treat your child just as badly or possibly even worse, a risk parents aren’t willing to take.

But don’t despair there are methods of returning a changeling from where it came from and ensuring the safe return of the child that has been taken. The most traditional methods in existence are:

  • Trooping Faeries leave their barrow, (their home) several times a year. A direct swop is possible at this time although to be successful specific spells and rituals need to be performed.
  • A Faerie changeling is often weak and feeble so they must be nurtured and loved so that he/she becomes healthy and happy. When this occurs the Faerie parents usually decide that they want their natural child back and will switch them, themselves. This is probably the best and safest way to return a changeling to its proper parents as I really wouldn’t recommend the next method myself.
  • In some areas in Ireland, Faeries are seen as demons so the stolen person is not seen as kidnapped but possessed and it is believed that Faeries can be exorcised just like demons. The victim is beaten or tortured in the hope that life within the ‘host’ will become so unpleasant the Faerie be cast out.

Faeries and Fire

In Ireland it is wildly believed that the Sidhe are terrified of fire and some alleged changelings have been badly burned or even killed by the efforts of others in order to make the Faerie leave. One well recorded case of this happening took place in 1895 and is of Bridget Cleary.

If all else fails

Now if after all these attempts at returning the changeling fail what can the unlucky ‘parents’ expect. A changeling will often grow up to be a snivelling, dim-witted person who will no longer be a changeling but will be known as an ‘ouphe’ which is an original ‘oaf’.

So if the changeling becomes an ouphe what becomes of the human child living in the Faerie realm? Some are reported to pine and grieve so much for their loved ones in the mortal world they wither and die. While others adapt well and live quite happily within the Faerie realm enjoying a long life filled with happiness, Irish music and Irish dancing.