Ireland has long been a coveted destination for mythology and folklore buffs, drawing travelers to both its natural and manmade wonders through magical stories. The tales of Ireland’s landscape have been passed down through generations for centuries, one even more prolific than the last telling stories of unmatched bravery and imaginative creation. Reading up on these legends is sure to intrigue the young and old alike, but you’ve got to visit the sites for yourself to truly spark the mystical energy!
Here are some of our favorite stories and locales of mythic Ireland:
Fionn Mac Cumhaill & The Giants Causeway
Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) was an Irish Giant who had a bit of a dispute with his foe from Scotland. The pesky giant Benandonner from across the pond was feeling like a brawl and challenged Finn to a fight. Finn, clearly an overly excited brute, grabbed handfuls of Ireland’s Antrim Coast and chucked them across the sea, building a bridge for the giants to meet. However, it seems that Finn had gotten a bit ahead of himself. He quickly realized that Benandonner was a much bigger giant than he.
Not to worry though, Finn’s wife was the brains behind this operation and quickly disguised him as a baby. The competition was stunned at the sight of the ‘baby’ and was scared away at the thought of the size of the father. Crisis averted! He jetted back to Scotland, destroying the path on his way. Thus, leaving behind what we know today as the Giant’s Causeway.
St Patrick & The Rock of Cashel
Legend has it that St. Patrick was in the throes of chivalrously chasing the devil out of Ireland. The devil, exhausted from all the running around, took a big ol’ bite out of a mountain, hoping to escape through the gap. The cheeky devil was successful in breaking from St Patrick’s hold and as cheeky devils do, spat the earth back out, thus forming what was known as the Devil’s Bit. Later, the Rock of Cashel was built upon this mound. Plenty of other mythic and historical events took place upon these rocks, but you’ll want to take a tour to learn about them all!
Oisín & Tír na nÓg (The Land of Eternal Youth)
Tír na nÓg, a mythical land said to be located off the coast of Glenbeigh, is known for its magical ability to keep its inhabitants young. The best known story related to this extraordinary place, is that of Oisín, a famous young warrior of Ireland. He fell deeply for Niamh, a golden haired fairy and the daughter of the King of Tír na nÓg. The king then casted a spell, turning Niamh’s golden locks and pretty face into a pig’s head because of a prophecy that he received. Niamh told Oisín about the spell and informed Oisín that if he married her, all would return to normal. The two married and crossed the sea on Niamh’s white horse to return to Tír na nÓg. They live happily ever after, as lovers do, for three hundred years, but Oisín still felt nostalgic for his homeland of Ireland.
Despite Niamh’s hold, Oisín eventually defied her and traveled back to Ireland. She warned him at all costs not to dismount the mare as three hundred years of frozen time would catch up to him causing him to wither and age.
Oisín made the long journey back to what was his tribeland only to find that they were all long gone and the castle had been destroyed. He had no choice but to turn back for Tír na nÓg. On his way back to his family, the white mare got his hoof caught on a stone. Oisín, nostalgic still, decided to unhook the stone so that he can bring with him a piece of Ireland. As he struggled to loosen the stone, he stumbled and fell to the earth, instantly aging him three hundred years. To make matters worse, the mare became startled and ran back to Tír na nÓg without Oisín.
Luckily, a fisherman witnessed this magical sight and called St. Patrick to him. Before passing peacefully in Ireland, Oisín told St Patrick the wonders of Tír na nÓg, and its magical powers of youth. Strolling along the picturesque shores of Glenbeigh in Co. Kerry, it's easy to see why Oisín risked it all for a visit back home.
Cormac Teige McCarthy & The Blarney Castle
The story goes that Cormac Teige McCarthy, Lord of Blarney, was threatened by Queen Elizabeth I to be stripped of his land rights. Upset about his current fate, Cormac traveled to see the queen in a final effort to keep his rights. However, Cormac was pessimistic about his fate because he was not a very persuasive orator.
Luckily, he meets an old witch eager to help along the way. She told him that if he kissed a certain stone in Blarney Castle he would receive the ‘gift of gab’. In desperation, he kissed the stone and went on to valiantly persuade the queen. Cormac Teige McCarthy kept his land and the stone has been passing on its gifts ever since!
Lord Balor & Tory Island
Perhaps one of the most illustrious locations for Irish folklore is Tory Island, home to many tales of strange and wonderful creatures and gruesome battles. One being that Tory Island was the home of Balor, the god of chaos and death. Balor was garishly large and was adorned with a frightening evil eye in the middle of his head. Balor made Tor Mor (a tower on Tory Island) his fortress and from this stronghold Balor would ward off any adversaries by simply looking at them with his evil eye. When he would tire, an army of men would hold his eyelid open to ensure no defendants could strike.
Somewhere along the line, Balor became aware of a prophecy that told him that he would be defeated by his grandson. In hopes of defying the inevitable, Balor locked his daughter Eithne away so that no men could have contact. Eventually, Balor was drawn to tempt fate. He then left Tory Island for the mainland where three brothers of the Tuatha Dé Danann lived on the mainland: Cian the chieftain, Mac Samhthann the sailor, and Gaibhadin Gabha the swordsmith. He had his eyes set on a special cow owned by Gaibhadin. Balor raided the settlement and brought the cow back to Tory.
Prideful Cian sets off to Tory to seek revenge for his brother. With the help of magic fairy people, Cian arrived on Tory for payback. Searching for the cow, he stumbled upon the tower and caught a glimpse of Eithne. As many fairy tales go, he immediately fell in love and devised a plan to win her over. He disguised himself as a woman so that he could visit Eithne and nine months later, she was blessed with triplets.
When Balor discovered that Cian was the father, he hunted him down and used his evil eye to kill him. He then wrapped his three grandsons in a cloth, secured it with a thorn, and tossed the bundle into the sea. Loch Deilg (Lake Thorn) on the east side of Tory is named after this.
Miraculously, Lúgh, the eldest of the triplets, was saved. Several years later, Lugh happened to be upon Balor, who was bragging about killing his grandchildren. Lugh, unaware that Balor is his grandfather, was disgusted by Balor’s bragging and gloating. He struck him with a hot spike right through his evil eye. And thus, the prophecy is fulfilled.
Balor’s tower is located on the eastern side of Tory Island and is worth a trip if you are interested in learning more about the legend of Lord Balor.