The 10 most famous myths and legends from Irish folklore

There are many Irish myths and legends from Irish folklore to learn about as the Emerald Isle is a nation which is steeped deeply in mythology. Find out the ten most famous here.

The 10 most famous myths and legends from Irish folklore.

Storytelling has always been an important part of Irish culture and tradition with songs, tales and myths being passed down regularly from one generation to another, ensuring their stories remain told and their value enriched.

As such, this has naturally led to there being many Irish myths and legends from Irish folklore being told and taught about. In this article, we will list the top ten.  

10. Fairies – the fairy folk 

Fairies are an important part of Irish folklore.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Fairies have always been a regular staple when it comes to famous myths and legends from Irish folklore. According to Irish legend, fairies reside in “cnocs agus sibhe” which, in Irish, translates to mounds of earth that are said to be ruled by a fairy king or queen.

9. The Pooka – dangerous shape-changers

The Pooka – dangerous shape-changers.
Graffiti in Dingle, Co. Kerry. Credit: @eustacestephen / Instagram

The Pooka, or púca as it is referred to in Irish, are said to be creatures which are feared shape changers. It is said to be an omen of bad luck to witness the pooka, especially around harvest time.

They can appear in many forms, with the most popular depiction being a wild dog with glaring red eyes. Despite the negative associations with the pooka, there are conversely also tales of the pooka warning humans of accidents.

8. Butterflies – messengers from the beyond

Butterflies are an important part of the myths and legends from Irish folklore.

Butterflies, according to Irish folklore, are said to have the ability to move between worlds and bring with them messages and warnings. Butterflies with dark wings are said to be harbingers of bad news whereas white and yellow butterflies are bringers of good news.

7. Mermaids – beautiful, deadly or both?

Mermaids – beautiful, deadly or both?.
Mermaid on a wall on Clonfert Cathedral, Co. Galway. Credit: @CountStGermain / Twitter

Across Europe, mermaids are normally known to be beautiful women but, according to Irish legend, mermaids are said to be pig-faced with sharp teeth and potentially can be a very dangerous and alluring creature.

6. Leprechauns – one of the most famous myths and legends from Irish folklore

Leprechauns have become synonymous with Ireland and are an instantly recognizable Irish symbol. According to Irish mythology, these little people were said to roam throughout Ireland before humans and were known to wear a hat and have red hair.

It is said that they have pots of gold but beware if you meet one as leprechauns are notorious tricksters too. They are undoubtedly one of the most famous myths and legends from Irish folklore.  

5. Macha – the Irish Goddess of the Horses

Macha – the Irish Goddess of the Horses.
Artwork of the Irish goddess Macha. Credit: @deerfrida / Instagram

Macha is an old Irish legend of Ulster who was said to be a mysterious woman who, when suspected of having magical abilities, was forced to run against the king’s horses while pregnant in order to pay for her husband’s crimes.

For revenge, Macha cast a curse on the men of the town who were said to have suffered labour pains for over nine decades.

4. The Pixie who fell in love – a romantic tale

The Pixie who fell in love – a romantic tale.

According to Irish legend, there was once a leprechaun called Coll who encountered a fairy named Aine and, after talking for hours, fell in love with her. Unfortunately, the Empress of malevolent fairies cast a hex on Aine which turned her into a magpie. 

Coll pleaded with the queen of the good fairies to reverse the curse and eventually Aine was restored to her true form.

3. The Harp – the story behind Ireland’s national symbol

The Harp – the story behind Ireland's national symbol.

Evil gods once stole the first harp from an Irish king called Dagda which caused a lack of music in Ireland and led to sadness amongst the people.

Eventually, the evil gods gave it back to them and joy returned throughout the land, thus the harp became the national icon of Ireland ever since.

2. The Shamrock – a teaching tool used by St. Patrick

The Shamrock – a teaching tool used by St. Patrick.

The shamrock, otherwise known as a three-leafed clover, is very important in the myths and legends from Irish folklore, but also in Christianity in Ireland. When teaching and converting the native Irish Celts about the Holy Trinity, he used a three-leafed clover to explain the three strands of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as one. 

This helped the Celts to understand the concept and thus the Shamrock become an important symbol in Irish history.

1. The Dullahan – Ireland’s headless horseman

The Dullahan – Ireland's headless horseman.
Credit: @wrycrow / Twitter

The Dullahan in Irish mythology was known to be a headless rider on a black horse who was said to carry their own head in their arm as it rode through the counties of Down and Sligo. 

According to legend if the Dullahan ever stopped somewhere it was a bad omen that someone in that community was going to die.

That concludes our list of the top ten most famous myths and legends from Irish folklore. How many of them were you familiar with?