From shapeshifting pooka and mischievous leprechauns to seriously cool warriors, magic salmon of knowledge, bottomless cauldrons, irate giants and more – Celtic mythology is full of badass and ridiculous stories. The folklore of the ancient Irish culture that spread across Europe spans centuries of intriguing and captivating tales, that bring to life the wild and mysterious lands of the Emerald Isle.
These are just a few of the most famous of these legends, although Celtic mythology is a rich storytelling vein – so no doubt we will cover more of them in the future.
Dagda and His Magic Harp
The Dagda was the big bossman of Celtic mythology, for the most part. Usually depicted as a tall bearded man in a hooded cloak, he owned a variety of magical possessions that gave him untold powers.
Included in these were a bottomless cauldron and a club that could kill with one end and revive the dead with the other. However, chief among them was Dagda’s magic harp Uaithne. Only The Dagda could play the fine strings, and he would use the songs he played to beguile and charm his enemies and fellow deities alike. Most notably, he used his harp to cause an entire army of Formorians to fall asleep on the battlefield after they attempted to steal it from him.
Finn McCool and the Giant’s Causeway
Sadly, this epically cool name is a relatively modern twist on this hero’s traditional Celtic name of Fionn mac Cumhaill. But we’ll stick with Finn McCool for now. A legendary hunter and warrior, Finn was responsible for many storied exploits including catching the mythical Salmon of Knowledge and defeating the fire-breathing demon of Aillen.
However, today he is most famous for supposedly building the now world-famous tourist attraction of The Giant’s Causeway. Although we know now it to be a totally natural phenomena caused by ancient lava flows, according to folklore Finn McCool built the basal columns out of the sea. He did so in order to run across to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner, who had been shouting insults at him from across the channel. Although in several versions of the story Finn runs straight back and disguises himself as a baby when he sees how big Benandonner actually is. Not quite so ‘Cool’ now, right?
Swan Lovers: Oenghus and Caer
Oenghus was the Celtic god of love, poetry and birds. The illegitimate child of the Dagda, the elder God froze the Sun for nine months while Oenghus mother was pregnant – thus meaning he was technically conceived and born on the same day. That is not the weirdest thing about Oenghus life, however. One day, he fell in deep and obsessive love with a beautiful young woman called Caer. Unfortunately, Caer had been cursed to turn into a swan for each alternate year.
When Oenghus found this out, he waited a year until her transformation was due again and then used the power of poetry to turn himself into a fellow swan. Circling the lake by which she lived, he cast a powerful spell that freed Caer from her curse. She then moved in with him at his castle in Brugh na Bóinne, where they continued to occasionally take trips together as swans.