MERROW- SEDUCERS OF THE IRISH SEAS

soul cage merrow.jpg

Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, there have been folktales of oceanic Femme Fatales luring men to an early grave. These maidens of the sea have proven as lethal as they are beautiful and the Irish mermaid known as the ‘Merrow’, is no exception.

The name derives from the old Irish ‘Moruadh’ meaning ‘sea maid’. Although the literal translation is feminine, the term Merrow applies to both the male and female of the species. They are said to dwell in ‘Tir fo Thoinn’, orthe Land beneath the waves’.

Merrow Men

merrow male

Merrow menfolk really don’t have a lot going for them. They are hideously ugly to the point that the mermaids refuse to take them as a mate, despite their genetic compatibility.

There is actually very little documented about these loathsome creatures, however they have been described in stories as being covered in emerald scales with a stunted body and limbs. They have green course hair, grotesque pointed teeth and bloodshot eyes. Merrow men are so bitter over their appearance and loneliness, that they capture the spirits of drowned sailors and keep them incarcerated under the sea in a desperate attempt at revenge.

Merrow Women

Merrow women on the contrary, are absolutely striking. They have long, radiant hair and from the waist down, have glistening verdigris scales covering a quite remarkable fish tail. The beauty of the Merrow takes the breath of men away figuratively and literally. Their exquisite singing can mean both harmonious joy or death to those who succumb to the melodic enchantment.

Merrow female

Many human males have been seduced over time into mating with the female Merrow. Those with the Irish surnames of as O’Flaherty and O’Sullivan in County Kerry and MacNamara in County Clare, are believed to descend from such unions. Of course such relations were short-lived as the mermaid would become homesick for her subterranean way of life and would drag her suitor beneath the water.

Poor unsuspecting men would be enticed into the sea by the bewitching music of the Merrow women and be pulled beneath the waves to live in entranced captivity. In the event one absconded, they would incur the wrath of the scorned Siren and be hunted and then drowned. If an escaped prisoner really antagonised their captor they would be angrily devoured, bones and all.

Written accounts of the Merrow women luring unsuspecting Irishmen date back to the ancient Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, also known as the Annals of the Four Masters. Indeed, even the all-powerful demi-gods of chaos known as the Fomorians were not immune to their charms.

The Formorians and the Merrow

Roth was a Fomorian son carrying out his duties patrolling the coastal borders of Ireland. It would appear that the Merrows took umbrage at his presence within their seas and took steps to ensure he would no longer pose a threat. The seemingly innocent beauties of the waters began their attack by lulling Roth gently to sleep with their enchanting melodies.

Once he was sedated and clearly unable to fight back, they became bloodthirsty and homicidal. Violently they tore the poor misfortune limb from limb and joint from joint. Although much of him was consumed, the creatures sent his thigh floating over the current, the jagged femur pointing to what has now become known as the county of Waterford.

Of course, sometimes on a bad day there didn’t need to be a catalyst to stir up the wrath and destruction of these ill-tempered wily sea maids. They would simply take pleasure in brewing up storms, shipwrecking and drowning innocent sailors for no other reason other than crossing their watery path.

Luty of County Kerry and the Merrow

County Kerry lies on the Atlantic coast of Ireland and has strong links to the Merrow folk. Stories date back centuries and the most famous one of all involved a gentle fisherman who would rue the day he ever set eyes upon a Merrow woman.

Whilst walking on the beach, a young man by the name of Luty saw an incredible sight.  There, lying on the shingle was the most beautiful female he had ever seen. A woman in every way bar her fish tail that was floundering on the sand.

His kind nature took over from the disbelief and he realised quickly that the creature before him was in terrible distress. He lifted the woman into his two strong arms and carried her out to the waves. The Merrow was named Marina and she was so ecstatic at being rescued, her malicious nature was subdued and she granted Luty three wishes.

He asked for the ability to break curses brought about by dark magic, to be able to command malevolent spirits to carry out charitable deeds and the power to make good things happen for those in need. The young man’s selflessness impressed the sea maiden so much she added a final gift of prosperity to Luty and all his future descendants.

Luty was delighted and reached out to shake her hand. Sensing the pureness of his soul, her true wickedness came to the forefront and she began to seduce the unsuspecting hero with her alluring voice. A shocked Luty realised almost immediately what she was doing and reached into his pocket for his iron knife.

As with all fairy folk, Marina could be harmed with iron and he lashed out. The mermaid dived beneath the waves but not before uttering a terrifying promise to come back and reclaim Luty in nine years. Time passed and Luty married a local girl and had two sons.  He took his youngest son fishing and as Luty reached the shore, Marina rose from the ocean depths and grabbed the poor misfortune, dragging him down into the angry waves and he was never heard from again.

Protection from the Merrow

The Merrow wear a special enchanted cap called a cohuleen druith. The garment and indeed the Merrow penchant for capturing the souls of hapless sailors was spoken of in the nineteenth century Thomas Keightley book of folk tales, ‘The Soul Cages’.  The cohuleen druith holds the power of the Merrow that enables them to live under the ocean.

soul cages.png

If you are fast enough to snatch it from the head of the siren before she enchants you, she is no longer able to descend beneath the waves and she is very much at your mercy. Of course if you are too late and your senses are ensnared – well I am afraid you are doomed to an eternity in a soul cage, trapped at the bottom of the sea.

 

 

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THE DARK EMERALD ISLE -MAGIC, MYTHS AND MONSTERS

Triqetra

For generations, children of Ireland have been reared on mythology and folklore. Of course to us they are far more than the tales of ancient legends, they are where we are from and define who we are now.  From Cú Chulainn to Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge to the triple goddess The Morrigan, giants, demi gods and creatures from the ethereal realm have always been a part of our lives.

Most of Ireland’s regional and national festivals evolved from the gods and goddesses of ancient times, especially from the Tuatha Dé Danann, deities deemed as the forefathers of Irish culture and civilization.  Of course the Formorians, a wild and altogether darker and more sinister supernatural race, still have their part to play.

The goddess Brigid is immortalized in the spring feast of Imbolc and Saint Brigid’s Day, while Lughnasa is the harvest festival in the name of the god Lugh.  Lugh was actually the son of a king of the Tuatha Dé Danann and his mother a Formorian.  His games known as the Tailteann were a test of strength and agility among his people.  Today these games have become known as the Gaelic Games, played in every village, town and county throughout Ireland.

Lughnasa

Fear is at the source of the majority of folklore tales and practices, particularly in relation to death and the protection of the soul as well as safeguarding against the ethereal creatures of darkness. The festival of Samhain is a prime example, taking place at the end of October intertwining the light and dark, shielding against bad spirits and misfortune, but also welcoming back the dead with open arms.

The fear for celebrants was that malevolent spirits and evil entities could also cross with their loved ones as could the Devil himself.  As well as the dead, homeowners had to contend with the fairies travelling abroad to create mischief.  Gifts in the form of food or milk would be left on doorsteps to guarantee a fairy blessing and anyone foolish enough to not do so would be subject to pranks by the cheeky wee folk at best and victim to a fairy curse at worst.

Without a doubt the most terrifying of these supernatural beings are the harbingers of death.  Crom Dubh was the sacrificial god associated with death and slaughter and his incarnation was The Dullahan, a part of the ‘Unseelie court’ of the fairy realm.   The Unseelie fairies are those deemed the most evil and malicious of all the otherworld entities. Also known as Gan Ceann, meaning without a head, The Dullahan hunts the souls of the dying in the night.

 

Dullahan

Dullahan

Banshees have forever been known as portents of death and the goddess Clíodhna was the very first of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment as well as calling on those due to die. Individual families often having their own personal Banshee heralding a death to this very day.

From these gods and goddesses an entire culture and belief system has grown, with Ireland being home to a myriad of ethereal creatures and spirits, from both the ‘good’ Seelie Court and ‘sinister’ Unseelie Court.

Once again fear is the driving force behind the behaviour and response to these creatures and their accompanying threat, with fortification rites being fundamental.  Druidic runes for example focus on strength, energy, health and protection.  The markings on runes tend to come from Ogham, an ancient language of Ireland uncovered by archaeological finds over the centuries by way of Ogham Stones.  These Stones have been found all over Ireland, usually associated with burial stones of ancient kings and warriors, however they are not of the past – Druidic practices are not just ongoing in modern Ireland but growing in popularity.

In previous centuries much of the population of Ireland couldn’t read or write and hexes, protection spells and rituals involved symbolism to get the point across.  A Piseóg is a curse, placed on feuding neighbors, competing farmers and so on.  Often recognized by a circle of eggs found in the hay or a talisman placed on a wall, they are set to bring misfortune on the home.

egg piseóg

The power of the Piseóg lies in fear, a farmer would be so terrified of the curse he would destroy his own crops and cattle.  But these curses can’t still be happening today can they?  Tell that to the terrified man in Kerry I spoke to recently, who found a circle of eggs on his boundary wall and hasn’t slept properly since, his mind trying to figure out who would curse him and why.

What of the cute and friendly leprechaun? Don’t kid yourself! There are several types of leprechaun and not all of them guard a crock of gold! Around for over 1000 years, the leprechaun is descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann and are a part of the Sidhe or Fairy family.  The name Leprechaun has two sources, both from old Irish.  The first is ‘Leath Bhrogan’, meaning shoe maker and the second is Luacharmán meaning small body.

Leprechauns like to keep themselves to themselves and really don’t like mortals – or each other.  Very much loners they are happiest in their own intoxicated company, however there is one you should be afraid of and that is the Fear Dearg which translates as ’Red Man’.  Recognized by his blemished yellowy skin, Fear Dearg is dressed head to foot in red and his greatest delight is your fear and dread.  He has the ability to make your nightmare a reality.

leprechaun

Of course this is all just the tip of the iceberg.  We have Fairy Shock Troops riding the wind, devastating farmlands and cattle just for kicks, spirits of the eternally damned wandering the earthly realm looking for Irish souls to steal, serpents, mermaids and hellhounds.  We have the Púca, a shapeshifting creature who terrorizes the night and ghosts, demons and the Devil himself.

If you thought Saint Patrick had driven all the paganism and darkness from Ireland, you would be wrong. Far from Christianity banishing these beliefs and rituals, the early monks actually documented these mythological events into such manuscripts as the Book of Leinster and the Annals of the Four Provinces.  Instead of turning the Irish away from their gods and goddesses, the clergy fashioned their stories into those of Saints such as Saint Brigid.  This is why Christian and Pagan stories are intertwined in much the same way Irish History and Mythology can never be separated and why we are great storytellers, it’s in our blood, heritage and very essence of being.

Ireland is a land rich in mythology and folklore, mixed with dark history and truth, bound neatly in fear, magic and excitement.  Welcome to the Emerald Isle!

 

CELTIC HARBINGERS OF DEATH

Celtic Harbinger of Death

For centuries clans and bloodlines have been forewarned of imminent death within their walls by way of portents and harbingers.

I first learned of such things as a child when my mother would tell me of the banshees and the accounts of local families here in County Limerick, who would have strange phenomena occur during times of impending bereavement.

In Ireland it is extremely common for creatures and ethereal beings to appear in the days and moments preceding the demise of a relative. The most terrifying aspect is that one of these harbingers attaches itself to a lineage and hangs over them forever more, particularly when it comes to the families of high social standing and nobility.

THE FOXES OF GORMONSTON

 

Gormonston Castle

 

In Irish Peerage the title of Baron or Viscount of Gormonston belongs to the patriarch of the Preston family and has been around since the late fourteenth century, their residence being Gormonston castle in Drogheda, County Meath.

The castle remained in the family until the 1950’s when it was sold to a Holy Order to create a school. Prior to that however, it was the location of one of the strangest occurrences for generations.

With the first instance reported in the seventeenth century, it was documented that the foxes in the surrounding countryside would know when the head of the Preston household was dying, even if that fact was unbeknown to the family themselves.

Arriving in twos and amassing under the window of the Viscount’s bed chamber, the foxes would howl and cry all night long. Servants would do their utmost to drive the animals away, only for them to return to their place of vigil.

Once the Viscount had passed away, the foxes soundlessly faded into the night.

fox

BANSHEES

 

Banshee

Banshee

Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, however there have been sightings of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.

This evil being has the appearance of a wretched old hag, dress shredded, matted grey hair, pointed rotting teeth and long, yellow fingernails. If she sets her mind to have you as her prey, she will stalk you, forcing you to listen to her soul wrenching scream of despair until you go insane and your own soul is lost in the depths of her evil cry.

Of course of you are lucky, you will have a quick death by looking into her blood red eyes, filled with enough loathing and agony to kill you instantly. Those strong enough not to succumb to either, are ripped apart with her bare hands.

More often than not however, the Banshee is a herald of despair and even as a child I heard tales and indeed the chilling cries through the still of the night that led to the report of a death the following morning.

In the early sixteenth century in Bunratty Castle in County Clare, it was reported that a visitor to the O’Brien family home was staying in a room overlooking the river and was woken by a piercing scream. Upon investigation the guest was horrified to see a pale deathly face floating at the window, dishevelled red hair cascading over her face.

The following morning the Lady told of her experience, to be told a family member had died in the castle in the night. The Banshee was believed to be the spirit of the wife of a worker drowned in the river by a former castle Lord, with her revenge being to bring death to descendants of the Castle.

In Dingle on John Street, the Hussey family were settled in for the night when their blood ran cold. The pitiful gut-wrenching cry of the Banshee was at their door. Thankfully due to their lowly status, it would appear to have been a case of mistaken identity, as the Banshee left and the following morning a well to do man in the fishing village, also called Hussey, was found dead.

HELLHOUNDS

 

Shuck

Shuck

Shucks, or Devil Dogs have long been written about in Irish history. They are black as the night, large, with glowing red eyes, some with cloven hooves instead of paws. Sometimes they are raised to protect treasure such as the one that breathes fire at Castle Biggs in Tipperary, others simply to forewarn of death.

Quite possibly the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, they are seen in rural and isolated areas, although once your eyes set on the Shuck the mark of death is upon you.

In Kanturk, County Cork a local man by the name of Foley was walking home when he encountered the hell beast on the road, eyes glowing and snarling. He stood terrified as the Shuck brushed up against his leg. Unable to sleep that night, he told his family of his encounter and died just a few days later.

ORNITHOMANCY

 

Raven

Raven

Crows and Ravens have long been emblematic of death, made all the more foreboding by their predisposition to feed on carrion, the decaying flesh of animals, as well as their black plumage.

These birds were purported to be chaperones, guiding the souls of the departed into the next world as well as conduits between this world and the spirit plain.

In Ireland there are references going back to ancient times and in Celtic folklore, The Morrigan is symbolised by a crow. She is a goddess of battle, strife and sovereignty and a harbinger of doom for those men who cross her path.

 

The Morrigan

The Morrigan

No corporeal weapons were needed in order for the Morrigan to take her prey. She relied solely on magic and her ability to shapeshift at will and is known primarily for appearing as a crow to those at death’s door.

The belief has continued over the centuries that when a single raven or crow has appeared at a house, tapping on the window, a death within was looming.

In the late eighteenth century there is an account of the Ross-Lewin family in Kilchrist, in County Clare being terrorised by their own messenger of death. The father of the household was away on business and his children went to spend the evening with friends.

On returning home, they passed the old abandoned church where they saw an old hag crying and waving her hands in the air.

Thinking her crazy the terrified youth went towards her only for the old woman to vanish. They sped home and told their mother of their encounter and the matriarch expressed her fears of a death in the family.

At that moment an enormous raven landed on the window sill and tapped three times on the pane. A few days later the family were in mourning as news reached them of the death of Mr Ross-Lewin.

Of course birds of ill-news do not end there. Thrushes flying in the window and settling and white owls seen during the day are also signs of a bereavement in the home.

THE COACH OF DEATH AND THE DULLAHAN

death coach

By far the most fearsome of all the harbingers is the Headless Horseman and his Cóiste Bodhar. Unlike the other portents who are seen as messengers of death and attached to bloodlines, the Dullahan is Death and he has no master other than the sacrificial god, Crom Dubh. He will not be stopped and his malevolent call to the dying is a summoning of their very soul.

The Dullahan is believed to be an incarnation of Crom Dubh. The god did not want to be denied human souls following the introduction of Christianity and so disguised himself as the one without a head, a tribute to the sacrifices through decapitation that gave Crom Dubh his power.

He rides through the darkness on the blackest steed with glowing red eyes, breathing flame and sparks from its nostrils. The Dullahan carries a whip made from the spine of a human corpse as he stands on his coach, with wheel spokes of thigh bone and covered with dried human skin. Some say the carriage is headed by six horses, black as the darkest soul, however the rider is always the same.

The headless horseman lights his way with candles embedded into skulls, his own incandescent head that he carries, a beacon in the dead of night. He has supernatural vision and when he senses a soul for the taking he holds his head aloft, seeing for miles across fields and forests, through windows and into the darkest and dingiest of rooms.

The Dullahan is only permitted to speak once on each ride and that is to utter the name of the person who is going to die. When the horseman stops, he has found his quarry and speaks their name aloud, bringing forth their spirit to be devoured.

 

Dullahan

Dullahan

So all are harbingers of death, however with the exception of the Dullahan, are these messengers of doom a horror to be feared with the knowledge of what is to follow, or rather an old family friend, come to warn of loved ones being taken into the eternal night?

 

 

13 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT IRISH GHOSTS!

Banshee

From Orson Wells to half witch/half horse, here are my 13  little known facts regarding Ireland, Ghosts and Hauntings!

http://www.spookyisles.com/2015/02/13-spine-chilling-irish-ghosts-facts/