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Ireland – A land of myths and legends

12 January 2018

Whether they are told in a rhyme, a ballad, or written in an ancient tome, the myths and legends of Ireland are some of the most well known in the world. From the mischievous leprechaun, nowadays seen as synonymous with Ireland, to the heroic deeds of Fionn mac Cumhail (pronounced fee-un meh-cool), one doesn't even need to be Irish to learn and speak of the tales of this mystical land, so famed are they.

It's so easy to see why Ireland became so filled with this myriad of tales and stories. The countryside, with its rolling swathes of hills, the almost impossible looking Giant's Causeway, and the numerous atmospheric and crumbling castles can, at times, seem like a portal to another world.

Perhaps, it could be the world of Tír na nÓg, the 'Land of the Young', where the Tuatha Dé Danann (the ancient gods of Ireland) reside. This is told of in the tale of Oisín, a human, and Niamh, a beautiful woman and a queen of the mystical land. It is said that a year in Tír na nÓg is a century in the mortal realm, and to beware of beautiful women who might lure you over. Fortunately, Ireland has all the beauty and none of the real-world consequences of Tír na nÓg, so the fate of unfortunate Oísin (who died after falling onto mortal soil and aging rapidly) is unlikely to happen to you.

Even with his rather anti-climactic end, Oísin already had a lot to live up to, as his father was none other than the most famous man in Irish mythology, Fionn mac Cumhaill, who can also be found in tales throughout Scotland and Wales. A hunter, warrior, and king, the tales of Fionn are told these days in the form of children's stories mostly, in 'the Boyhood Deeds of Fionn'.

Fionn seems to have been an incredibly busy man by all accounts. From trying to catch the Salmon of Knowledge in an attempt to gain all the knowledge in the world by eating it, to fighting, and defeating, the mighty Tolkein-esque Aillen (who would, every 23 years on Samhain, rise from the depths to commit various acts of arson with his fire breath). He is also said to have created the Giant's Causeway so he could get to Scotland, and even created the Isle of Man after trying to throw some of Ireland at an enemy. From all these legends, Fionn has become a hero akin to the Grecian Heracles. Even now, it is said that Fionn never died, but instead sleeps in a cave surrounded by his loyal soldiers (or Fianna), only to awaken to defend Ireland in the 'hour of her greatest need'.

Moving from the human realm to the land of the pixies, sprites, and fae, no blog about the mythos of Ireland could be complete without some of its most famous creatures. Prominent throughout the world today is undoubtedly the leprechaun. These cheeky fae creatures are not actually bad, but beware those who stumble across their paths, as they love nothing more than to play pranks on unsuspecting mortals. It may, therefore, be best to leave off chasing that rainbow for its pot of gold at the end.

The leprechaun being is, by far, the most cheerful of the mythical beings of Ireland, with most others signifying death or destruction. If one were to hear the keening cry of a banshee, for instance, it could mean that one of your loved ones is about to die. This wailing spirit takes the form of a long haired, red eyed woman, and she is most commonly associated with 'tumuli', a mound that is usually made over graves.

One creature that could really go either way is the Púca. Usually this spirit is depicted as a large black horse, but they are actually shape shifters who can look like many farmyard animals. Depending on how it feels at the time, and how someone treats it, the Púca can bestow good luck, or impose bad luck, on farms and ships. With its strong link to harvests, in some places around Ireland today some farmers leave what they call the 'Púca's share' in an attempt to try and appease.

Visiting Ireland, it is difficult to get away from its myths and legends, and why would you want to? Take time to listen to the beautiful music, with a legend set to each folk song, and roam the verdant countryside - who knows, you might even find (and then swiftly flee from) a leprechaun yourself.