Emerald Isle

The Fear Gorta

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from Irish Gods and Monsters

When hunger knocks

Among all the fairy folk who wander the mists and glimmerings of Irish folklore, there are few as feared as the Fear Gorta, whose name means “the Hungry Man”. When hunger stalks the land, it does so as a hound following the footsteps of the Fear Gorta, a solitary, gaunt and masterless spirit of emaciated appearance.

Now this fairy is not to be confused with the Féár Gortach, or hungry grass, which is a separate but related thing – a patch of land accursed by the Sidhe, covered in grass, that would cause anyone who stepped on it to starve to death no matter how much they ate. They could fill their bellies over and over again to no avail, eventually withering away to a husk.

Some even say the Fear Gorta would rise up from these patches of grass when inhuman acts and the desecration of sacred places became common, although others held he was the wandering spirit of one who starved to death near to a Sidhe hill. In any case, his tale is a very ancient one.

Keeping a crust of bread in your pocket or sprinkling crumbs of oaten bread over the hungry grass would protect you from its ill effects, and salting and burning the field would see it off for good, but there was no such protection from the Hungry Man!

If one of these creatures came to your door asking for some food, you'd be as well to give it to him, and you might know him by the greenish hue of his skin and the begging bowl which would fall from fingers too weak to lift it. Dressed in rags he would be, with long and dirty nails.

Although he was much feared, if he was fed he could be generous to his benefactors. Woe betide those who sought to mock or attack him however, for he retaliated without mercy, cursing antagonists with bad luck and hunger to the end of their days! He has made kings into paupers and beggars into princes.

Regardless of the individual blessings or curses he may bestow, the Fear Gorta is always a harbringer of famine, disaster and despair. Just before the Great Famine it is said he came forth from a battle of fairies which took place over Knockma hill, marked on the map below.

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