Ireland's fairy folk have folks spellbound! If you don't believe all you have to do is look around. They're everywhere.
Ireland has a huge association with mythical beings, including fairies, a link that has been reinforced time and time again in popular culture through the years.
A major cultural impact
References to Ireland’s fairies and folklore have been made across a range of different areas in the last few decades. One of the most famous has perhaps come in the food world, with the Lucky Charms cereal produced by General Mills proudly featuring its famous leprechaun mascot Lucky on the front of its boxes.
On a more general entertainment level, a range of examples of Irish folklore creatures is making an appearance in film and TV. Leprechauns have been immortalized in everything from the cult horror film series of the same name to the recent adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, while some slightly lesser-known creatures have also made a breakthrough.
For example, the Colin Farrell movie Ondine touched on the idea of selkies, while banshees have made an appearance in shows ranging from Charmed to Supernatural. The links between Irish folklore and TV look set to continue in the near future too, with news emerging last year that the Irish Fairy Door Company had agreed a deal with DHX Media which will see an animation based on its creations brought to the small screen.
Another area where creatures from Irish folklore have proven popular is in video gaming, with games including Smite being among the many titles to reference the culture. The idea of fairies and other creatures is even used in the world of online slots, with Fairygate by Quickspin being just one example of a slot featuring a range of fantasy and folklore-related imagery, with its features and scenery all centered around magic and fairies.
Rich and ancient heritage
As all of the above touches upon, Ireland’s rich fairy folklore is about more than just colorful, family-friendly creatures. There is a dark edge to the culture including creatures like the Puca and also the Dullahan, the headless horseman which no doubt provided some element of inspiration for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
But just where did all of this talk of mythical beasts and fantastical creatures come from? Well, as Britannica.com outlines, the ancient history of this incredible country is steeped in Celtic mythology. The Tuatha Dé Danann is a race thought to have inhabited Ireland prior to the ancestors of the modern population known as Milesians. As legends have developed, these beings - who are believed to have been magical - have gone on to be linked intrinsically with the fairy phenomenon for which the country has become famous.
There are no doubt many reasons why such ideas from ancient mythology and culture endure, but one factor which has undoubtedly played a part has been the existence of structures often referred to as fairy forts. It is thought that there are tens of thousands of the forts – or rath – in the country, with many regarding these small embankments as sacred places which should not be touched. Incredibly, several stories have emerged through the years of people tampering with such sites and going on to have bad luck. One of the more recent claims suggested that issues that emerged on a road in Kerry had been caused by the fact that forts and other ancient sites were located nearby, while some also famously suggested that Sean Quinn’s business empire collapsed as a result of his decision to allegedly move an ancient tomb in the early 90s.
An Irish Fairy Tree. The wee folk, the Good People, na Daoine Sidhe, or The Gentry, live around (or under) these trees. Disturb them at your peril. The fear of incurring fairy wrath is so strong that the belief persists. In Irish myth fairies are *very* vengeful #FolkloreThursday pic.twitter.com/tx7RlXRAQ4— AshClarke (@AislinnClarke) July 26, 2018
Similar stories of bad luck have also been linked to fairy trees, bushes found across the country which are generally stood on their own in fields. Like fairy forts, the trees are said to be sacred sites and should not be touched for any reason.
A core part of our culture
All of this undoubtedly highlights that the John Bishop’s Ireland series made a sensible decision when it came to covering off Ireland’s fairy folklore in the show. The mythology is a core part of so much of the culture within the country and has evidently had a major impact on people across the world too.
It is a fascinating area full of mystery and intrigue and the chances are it will not be too long until another TV show chooses to examine the area and dive deeper into the superstitions that are so important to this country’s rich culture.
* Originally published in 2019. Updated June 2021.
Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.