Saint Patrick’s Day: Leprechauns and Sidhe, Oh My!

Apphia Boswell, Staff Writer

It’s that time of year again when stores fill their holiday sections with every kind of sparkly leprechaun or four-leaf-clover-related item imaginable in the hopes that people will buy them. Everyone knows the basic legends and myths behind Saint Patrick’s Day. But in my opinion there are far more interesting parts of Irish folklore and myth. For example, the sidhe or aos si whom we Americans know as the fae or fairies.

Aos si (pronounced: aye os zee) means “the people of the mounds” in gaelic. According to Irish mythos, the aos si are fae-like creatures believed to dwell in earthen mounds after conflicts with humans. The mounds were called the sidhe (pronounced: shay), and by association, the aos si became also interchangeably called the sidhe. Both sidhe and aos si are fairly broad terms as there are many different types of fae.

To begin, leprechauns are the mythological creature most commonly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. They actually haven’t been a part of Irish mythology as long as the sidhe. It is believed that they were derived from the Tuatha Dé Danann (pronounced: tua de dan an).  The Tuatha Dé Danann are essentially the Greek heroes and demigods of old–but for Ireland. I don’t really know how they got leprechauns from that.

Everyone has probably at least heard of a banshee. Commonly they’re considered to be evil hags with red eyes and white hair. That didn’t used to be true though. They were a type of sidhe known as a bean sidhe (pronounced: bahn shay—which is where we get the word banshee) that was neither good nor evil. The bean sidhe simply signaled that a disaster or death was coming. They were more bringers of warnings than actual harbingers of disaster. In old Irish mythology, bean sidhe were most often depicted as tall beautiful women with red hair and reddish eyes.

Another interesting kind of sidhe is a cat sith. These were depicted to be unnaturally large black cats with a white spot on their chest. Some legends say that the cat sith were always cats, but others say that they were sidhe witches who could transform into a cat nine times throughout their lifetimes.

Though it is not published as much as Greek and Roman mythos is, Irish mythology is equally as riveting.