Over the several thousand years since these stories first developed, Celtic traditions have told of the some of the craziest, creepiest and downright mad creatures and spirits.
From cannibal man-horses than live in Lochs, to snake-headed leopards and demon kings with killer gazes – the British Isles has supposedly been home to some truly fantastical entities in its deep glens and wild moors. These are just three of the most interesting we’ve picked out here, but an expert in Celtic storytelling would no doubt be able to pick out many more examples from the annals of spoken and written history.
One of many vampire legends in Irish folklore, the Dearg Due possibly inspired the most famous of all blood suckers – Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The Dearg Due however was a lot more feminine and a little less gothic than the famous vampire. The victim of a cruel father arranging a marriage to an even more sadistic local chieftain, the Dearg Due takes her bloodsucking revenge on the men of Ireland every year.
That is, when the locals of Waterford in Munster forget pile a cairn of stones upon her grave – by what is today known as the Strongbow Tree (which bears no relation to the popular cider though, sadly).
Balor, The Demon King
The foremost warrior of the legendary Formorians, who raided Irish settlements from under the sea or ground, Balor was a tyrannical giant who could exterminate whole armies with his magical eye. However, one prophecy very much scared the mythical titan – that his grandson would grow up to be the only man to defeat him. To stop this happening, Balor had his only daughter, Eithne, locked up in a tall tower on the island of Tory. However, his despotic exploits around Ireland made him many enemies – and one of them, Cian the Mighty, broke into the tower and seduced Eithne as an act of revenge for the theft of his magic cow.
Lo and behold, destiny proved inescapable and Eithne’s son Lugh would eventually defeat Balor in battle several decades later. However, it was only after Balor had become so old he couldn’t even lift his own eyelids anymore to use his magical powers and had to rely on human helpers to lift it for him.
Each-Uisge & Kelpies
These two horse-human creatures are quite similar, but the Each-Uisge is by far the scarier and crazier proposition. Most often appearing a pale but beautiful horse, the Each-Uisge convinces men and children to ride it – before heading to the sea or a nearby loch. Whenever it sights water, the game is up for the hapless victim as the horse’s flesh becomes super sticky.
With the rider pinned in place, the Each-Uisge will run to the deepest part of the water and drown its victim before devouring everything but their liver. So, next time you’re about to try and ride wild horses near an Irish loch – you might want to think twice!