Every culture on earth has its myths and folklore. They are not only the vehicle by which a culture can explain its origins, but myths are also a means by which various strands of a culture, such as clans or tribes and even diverging nations will find commonality.
Origins of Irish Myths
Ireland’s myths, are contained in collections first written down by early Christian Irish monks but, in common with all other Celtic societies, related orally by countless generations before that.
Although heavily influenced by the Christian ethos of the monks, the original pagan magic and majesty are not entirely lost in the tales of our prehistoric ancestors. They tell how the first people came to Ireland. They talk of ancient gods and ancient heroes, of magic and bravery. They bring to us the people of ancient times giving us names such as Deirdre, Oisin, Niamh, Diarmuid, Fionn and Gráinne; names that are not just remembered but are still very much in use today. We will hear of terrifying gods and courageous warriors, of a monstrous cyclops and of women of great beauty and mystery.
The Four Cycles of Irish Mythology
The tales are, in the main, related in four cycles which sometimes are intertwined, The Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle and the Historical Cycle.
There are also other sources such as the Book of Hy Maine, The Great Book of Lecan, the Yellow Book of Lecan and also the Book of Ballymote. These books are thought to have been written down in the 14th Century.
In the 1600’s the Anglo-Irish priest, Séathrun Céitinn (Geoffrey Keating) wrote the History of Ireland (Foras Feasa ar Éireann) and describes Ireland’s first settlers. However, even until today, the main source of the myths is the tongue of the seanachie, the man or woman telling them.
The Irish have for thousands of years passed the stories to the next generation. The myths, the stories of our pre-historical past are kept alive by the telling, for the oral tradition allows for small variations in the story, home to home, glen to glen, county to county.
There is a magic and a joy in looking to see how the stories differ from place to place and we hope you enjoy some of the stories shared here.
Stories & Myths of Ireland
Here are just some of our favourite folklore stories and legends from Ireland.
Sidhe – Faerie folk – Find out what Sidhe means and the different beliefs that can be found in Ireland.
The Irish Leprechaun or wee folk – The most famous legends to come from Ireland. Discover what a Leprechaun is and how it could be lucky to catch one.
The wailing Banshee of the Faerie mound – When people think Banshee they may think of a ghost or death but there is more to a Banshee than most people know.
What is 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.
Pooka’s – The most feared Faerie in Ireland – A Pooka is a shape-shifter and can take any form it chooses. Traditionally seen as a dark, sleek horse with a long wild flowing mane and luminescent golden eyes.
Fionn mac Cumhal (Finn mac Cool) is a famous warrior from Ireland’s ancient legends who shaped had help shape various parts of Ireland as we see it today.
This article was first published on 03-02-2012 and last modified on 19-03-2017.