We would love to get you acquainted with the Celtic culture in our series Keltfacts. In this blog we are looking into Celtic legendary animals and places where you might even find them!
Celtic mythology and lore are full of mythical animals and creatures. We can’t tell you about every one of them in just one blog, so we’ll talk about three of the most popular creatures we know.
The Loch Ness Monster
One of the first monsters you might think of whilst thinking about folklore would probably be the Loch Ness monster, also known as ‘Nessie’. This creature makes Loch Ness the most famous lake in Scotland. Where did the legend of Nessie start, and where does she reside now?
The first mention of a monster appearing in this lake was written in the sixth century by Adomnán. Ever since this first time, the story of a sighting of a lake monster has been repeated through the ages. One of the stories is about a man who swam across the lake. Halfway he got pulled down and eaten by a creature, bystanders sent a boat to rescue him, but they were too late.
In order to test whether it was indeed a man-eating monster, an Irish monk, Columba, sent someone to swim across the lake. When the monster appeared, Columba showed it his cross and told it to leave the man alone and never show itself again. This is one of the first stories about Nessie.
A more modern view on the legend of Nessie appeared in 1933. George Spicer and his wife spotted a huge creature in front of their car. The same year, Hugh Gray took the first photograph ever that should depict the monster, but there are speculations that it is actually a blurry photo of his dog in the lake.
Historians also mention that stories of beasts, mainly water beasts, were very common around the time this first report by Adomnán was written.
Different studies have resulted in different answers on reports, photos and videos of the creature residing in the lake. One of them speculates that Nessie would be a large eel. There is a large amount of eel-DNA in the lake and divers have seen eels as thick as their own thighs. Others even mentioned the eels could be around four meters long!
Nevertheless, many more people have reported seeing Nessie, but not once was anyone able to take a clear photo or video. Leaving us ever guessing... is Nessie real?
Who or what are Kelpies? What do they look like, and where can we find them?
We’re staying around water for a little longer; Kelpies are mythical water horses. They could shapeshift into humans. In some stories, they would keep their hooves, which lead to a Christian idea of Satan or satyrs. Kelpies could be found near rivers or lakes and almost every lake in Scotland has a Kelpie-story related to it.
A wanderer in the woods would spot a lost horse, usually white or grey, sometimes black of colour with dripping manes that wouldn’t dry. They would feel drawn to the horse, and a desire to ride on its back. Once on there, the horse would take them right to their deaths, drowning them in the lake, eating them and leaving their entrails floating back to shore.
Kelpies could be captured with a cross-stamped harness. The Laird of Morphie succeeded in capturing one of the water horses and used it for work on his castle. This was so much to the distaste of the animal, it cursed Lake Morphie and the family.
There are several retellings on the legends of the Kelpie. In some, they are discussed as lonely animals luring their next victim. In others, they are in a group and working together. Some stories say they only live near rivers. In which case, the legends would be told to keep children away from dangerous streams. In other stories, the Kelpies also inhabit lakes and other bodies of waters.
According to some stories, the legends of the Kelpie were told in relation to the gods and goddesses of the waters. They would come and get the (human) sacrifice sent to the gods by the surrounding villages, as sort of a messenger.
The Leprechaun we know now thanks to St. Patrick’s Day is very different than how the fairy was described in the earlier days.
For starters, they weren’t wearing green clothes, but red. Along with small buckled leather shoes and a large belt. Some say they changed colour every season, others say it changed to green because it matches the shamrock better. Some researchers say that the word Leprechaun is derived from the Irish ‘leath bhrogan’ which translates to leather maker. Many of the Leprechaun tales are talking about them working with or as leather workers. Helping, or tricking a hard-working man at night whilst he is sleeping, depending on their mood. Nevertheless, they favourite a practical joke over work.
If you managed to capture one of them, you could barter their freedom for their pot of gold. One story talks about how a man managed to capture a Leprechaun. The Leprechaun took him to his pot of gold, hidden below a tree. However, the man didn’t bring a shovel so he marked the tree with a garter. When he returned, all the trees in the field had red garters around them, so the man wasn’t able to find the pot of gold. Leaving the little fairy with his freedom and money. Smart!
These little creatures live underground, which is how they often hide their treasures as well. Hidden in hills and rabbit holes in the Irish landscape. Some stories claim they inhabited the lands before the Celts came. They love music and usually know one or two instruments themselves as well. If you’re walking along the hills in Ireland, place your ear on the grass, be super quiet and you may hear them play a little song.
Of course, the Celtic, Irish and Scottish lore holds way more creatures, monsters and animals. Do you have a favourite one already? Which creature would you like to learn more about?
Article by Dewi van Zeggelaar