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Spirits of War

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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Mythological Cycle

The Fearsome Bocánaigh and Bánánaigh Who Plagued Ancient Battles

Some of the most ancient Irish myths and legends tell of the Bocanachs and the Bananachs, known to the people of Ireland as fierce spirits of the air that were drawn to scenes of battle and bloodshed. Whenever armies gathered to test their might, the sky overhead would be filled with shrieking demons dancing to the sounds of swords clashing and bloodshed.

They seem to have come to Ireland, or at least been awoken in Ireland, by the Tuatha Dé Dannan, who called upon them to unnerve and frighten their enemies, but once unleashed, they don't go away so easily!

The Bocanachs or Bocánaigh in Irish were related to the Pucas, who might be their descendants or themselves weakened with the passage of time and the coming of Christianity, having the heads of goats which lapped up the blood of the fallen, and they weren't particular about whose blood was spilled either! Some say they would even whisper in the ears of kings and chiefs to incite discord and war.

They were joined in their dreadful feasts by the Bananachs or Bánánaigh, which meant white or female wraiths, and they in turn were related to the Banshee, although the Banshee merely prophecised death rather than flitting over fields of combat.

The Bananachs were also said to be close cousins of the Morrigan and the Badbs, and they always appear alongside the Bocanachs, some even sitting on the shields and blades of heroes as they fought, the better to see what was happening!

They are spoken of in the epic Irish tale of Táin Bó Cuailnge howling and swooping over Cú Chulainn when he fought his friend Ferdiad for three days at the ford Áth Fhirdiad in the river Dee.

“So close was the fight they made now that their heads met above and their feet below and their arms in the middle over the rims and bosses of their shields. So close was the fight they made that they cleft and loosened their shields from their rims to their centres.

So close was the fight which they made that they turned and bent and shivered their spears from their joints to their hefts! Such was the closeness of the fight which they made that the Bocanachs and Bananachs and wild people of the glens and demons of the air screamed from the rims of their shields, and from the hilts of their swords, and from the hefts of their spears.

Such was the closeness of the fight which they made that they cast the river out of its bed and out of its course, so that it might have been a reclining and reposing couch for a king or for a queen in the middle of the ford, so that there was not a drop of water in it unless it dropped into it by the trampling and the hewing which the two champions and the two heroes made in the middle of the ford.”

The scene of this great battle can be found on the map below.


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Irish fairy tales, Irish folklore