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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland
When words may very well hurt you!
Much has been said but little written of the old Irish piseóg, the word of the curse. Now the same term is often used to refer to general traditions and superstitions in Ireland, things like if you're ever lost, turn your socks inside out to find your way home, or opening the back door if you hear a knock at the front door, to let the fairy out, but in reality the piseóg has a far older and darker meaning.
More than just wishing someone ill, a foe, a begrudging neighbour, or even the fairies themselves might cast a piseóg in order cause real harm to someone, and breathe life into it by using something that once lived or might have lived.
The piseóg was said to be most powerful when cast on May's eve, from the time when the clock chimed midnight to the first light of dawn. If at this time and during those hours you were to cast your piseóg, most often using an egg, raw or rotten, but also a piece of old meat, a raven carcass, or something similar, you could be certain of success. Some say it was the breaking of the egg that released the curse, so it might be put on a path or outside a doorway.
Farmers used to walk around their farms on those nights from dusk to dawn, for fear that someone might lay the piseóg in the hay their cattle would eat, or in their fields! For it was most often farmers that were targeted, back when Ireland was more rural and agricultural.
Piseógs were blamed for cattle falling sick, for stillbirths and crop failures, for milk turning sour and all manner or rustic misfortunes. And if it worked, some held that the stolen luck would go to the one who laid the piseóg, for they believed that there was only so much luck in the world, and what was lost by one must be gained by another.
And it's not so long ago that piseógs were used in Ireland, for there is a story of a couple who purchased a field and found several eggs placed in the middle of it the very next day, surrounded by a well-made súgán rope, which is a kind of straw rope you may have seen used to make the seats of chairs chairs or sometimes beds in old cottages. The word súgán also means weakness, as a term of contempt, and sometimes a woven straw doll was used instead, particularly in the south of the country.
Bound together with the rope and eggs was a piseóg and an intention of malevolence!
Protection from piseógs was afforded by sprinkling holy water in the four corners of your property, or water from a place where three rivers meet, or by dragging a gorse bush around the borders of your land.
Piseógs were the most common form of curse used in old Ireland, and they shouldn't be confused with the mallacht, which was a more powerful and direct form of curse used by bards and druids in battle, but whether there was anything to them or they were simply used as effective tools to terrorise your enemies is a different question!
The people of the Claddagh in Galway, marked on the map below, are said to know much of piseógs.
Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland
Much has been said but little written of the old Irish piseóg, the word of the curse. Now the same term is often used to refer to general traditions and superstitions in Ireland, things like if you're ever lost, turn your socks inside out to find your way home, or opening the back door if you hear a knock at the front door, to let the fa ... [more]
There's a common misconception some might have about fairies, which is the idea that fairies are nice friendly little spirits, trailing pixie dust and turning pumpkins into luxury vehicles. As any of the old folk of Ireland could tell you, nothing could be further from the truth, for a fairy in wrath is more dangerous than a hive of wasps or a ... [more]
Sometimes when out and about travelling the lesser known byways of Ireland, you might come across a little stone arrowhead or piece of flint shaped by hands long gone, and people would tell you not to touch it for fear it might carry the tinneas sióg, the sickness of the fairy mounds! For it was that fairies, the sidhe, were known to hurl ... [more]
The sinister crone of the woods, the wishing thorn, there are as many tales told of the blackthorn trees of Ireland as there are spiky thorns on its branches. The people who came before, whose blood still runs in some, planted them around their tombs and sacred places and bound the lunantisidhe, or moon fairies to protect them, save only on the ful ... [more]
Once upon a time there was a poor woman with three daughters, and one day the eldest decided to seek her fortunes in the world. “Mother,” she said, “bake me a cake and kill my chicken, for I am away to the wide world.” And so her mother did just that, and when all was ready, her mother asked “which will you have ... [more]
A fair witch crept to a young man's side, And he kissed her and took her for his bride. But a shape came in at the dead of night, And filled the room with snowy light. And he saw how in his arms there lay A thing more frightful than words may say. And he rose in haste, and followed the Shape Till morning crowned an eastern cape. ... [more]
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One evening in late November, which is the time of year when the spirits of Ireland have the most power, the prettiest girl in all the land was going to the ancient well for water. Then, as chance would have it, her foot turned on a loose stone, and she fell. It was bad luck, but when she got back to her feet, it seemed as though she was in a stran ... [more]
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In the olden days there was a man who played the pipes, but he was not famous for it, or if he was it was for the wrong reasons, since he had but the one tune, a jaunty jig called The Black Rogue. Now it happened one dark night that he was on his way home after entertaining the gentlemen, and with a few pence in his pocket and a few drinks under hi ... [more]
Times were hard in Ireland back years ago, and while some might say they've had it tough today, it was not a patch on the hardships people endured in times gone by. And so it was with Michael McGovern, a poor farmer with hardly an acre of stony soil to rent, who looked upon his three young sons with love for the life of them and fear for their ... [more]
There was a prince in Ireland a long, long time ago, back when Ireland still had princes, and O'Donall was his name. A brave fellow he was, and powerful, but given to risk and heedless thrills in his hunting and leaping and running and swimming, all the better to impress his friends. He was lord of a wide land, and he wasn't hard on the poo ... [more]
A woman was out one day looking after her sheep in the valley, and coming by a little stream she sat down to rest, when suddenly she seemed to hear the sound of low music, and turning round, beheld at some distance a crowd of people dancing and making merry. And she grew afraid and turned her head away not to see them. Then close by her stood a you ... [more]
They say that in Ireland you will enjoy all four seasons in a day, but on this day the four seasons were high and glorious summer, or so it seemed to Tom Fitzpatrick as he walked along a narrow road between two tall hedges in harvest time. As he walked, he chanced to hear a strange ringing like a tiny bell, and he paused, puzzled as to what it migh ... [more]
Connla of the Fiery Hair was one of the sons of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and his favourite son, a swift and agile warrior with a voice that could make the mountains tremble. Himself and his father climbed the heights of Usna on Samhain, when he saw coming towards them a slender maiden of great beauty, clad in strange clothes. “Where do ... [more]
Strange are the ways of the Fairies of Ireland, and strange the look about them, but for all their wild and untamed manner they follow rules written in the ripples of willow-branches on still ponds, and laws murmured by the echo of birdsong in deep wells. Once there was a woman sitting in her cottage, a humble enough abode, and she was making wo ... [more]
There are many types of fairy in Ireland, some more risky than others, and some to be avoided due to their habits rather than out of any particular malevolence. Such a one is the Gan Ceanach, whose name means “Without Love”. Although you might think such a title would indicate a friendless creature of a lonely nature lacking in socia ... [more]
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Near to the town of Fermoy in Ireland lies the great stack of Cairn Thierna, not as wide about nor as tall as some mountains perhaps but feared and respected by the local people nonetheless. For all around it and along its flanks are tall heaps of stones they say are the work of the fairy folk, or the old people who lived here long ago. And you ... [more]