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The hidden face of the United Kingdom

When you decide to go to the United Kingdom on holidays, you probably plan to visit great museums and tourist attractions such as the Madame Tussaud’s,  the Windsor Castle, the Platform 9¾, or even to take part to the Jack The Ripper Tour if you are passionate by history and mysteries.

Indeed, most of your plans will lead you to London and surroundings. But have you ever thought about going somewhere else in the United Kingdom ?

As you know, the United Kingdom is composed with England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. And those last share the Celtic folklore.

This country is rich by its culture, its legends and history. This is why I want to introduce you this “hidden face” of the UK, and I hope it will inspire you for your next holiday plans here.

The Legends

We all know legends from many cultures – such as Der Großmann in Germany, or the Chupacabra in Latin America – and you may know some legends of the Celtic culture like the Loch Ness Monster. But here are some others.

The Cóiste Bodhar – or the Death Coach

This creepy part of the Irish folklore is about a coach, pulled by black horses, and lead by a dullahan, a headless horseman. It is said that anytime you see the Death Coach, this is your last time. There is no way to stop him, and he takes the lives of whoever lives where he stops.

I read it many times and I think the same : this myth may have inspired the story of the Headless Horseman and Sleepy Hollow.

The Mermaid of Benbecula

It is said that, in 1820-30, a group of people working on the beach noticed a woman-shaped creature in the water, with a fishtail. Not knowing what it was, they killed her with a stone while she was escaping in the waves. They found a similar dead creature washed up on the beach few days later. The legend says that they properly burried her corpse in the churchyard of Nunton, Benbecula, Scotland. The place is now so-called “The Mermaid’s Grave”. The existence of this mermaid and her grave is still unproven today, but doubts remain.

Cailleach Bheur – the hag goddess of winter and earth

This deity of the Gaelic culture is the main figure of various stories. Some say that she was an old woman, some others say that she was young, or that she turned into a stone or a maiden on Beltane Eve.

She can be considered as the goddess of winter with her staff freezing the ground, or an earth goddess such as Jord, or the goddess of all the seasons. But she is often seen as a “creator deity”.

Many locations are related to her, like the Gulf of Corryvreckan: indeed, she was said to wash her plaid in the whirlpool. After three days of roaring storms caused by the whirls, she covered the earth with the plaid white and pure. This is when winter begins. Other locations can be the Ceann Cailli, that are cliffs, the Loch Awe that she is said having created, the Ben Cruachan mountain, or the Glen Cailleach, that is supposed to fertilise if a ritual is properly carried out.

Monsters and Fairies

I already talked about the Death Coach and the Dullahan. However, there are some other monsters, such as the banshee – this terrifying crying woman ghost whose wail warns about someone’s upcoming death, or the Dearg-Due, a vampire that raises up from her grave to drain life out of men, animated by revenge for the bad treatments her husband inflicted her.

Examples of fairies can be found within the Arthurian Legends, like the Lady of the Lake.

And there are many other characters in the myths and tales of the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh folklore.   

The Language

The Gaelic language, originated in Ireland and associated with the Gaels – an ancient indigenous Celtic people, is a part of the Celtic languages.

Nowadays, it is spoken in a modern form in Ireland, Scotland, and on the Isle of Man.

In my opinion, it might be strange to whom do not expect that kind of “sounds”, but I think it is worth to try and learn a bit of this old language. To me, it sounds like poetry, lost in old ages. I associate it with spells of an elder pagan folklore full of mysteries. When looking for exoticism, Ireland or Scotland are definitely great places to go.

The general culture

The Celtic and Gaelic cultures are amazingly rich, with music, dance, literature, gatherings and parties.

If you are looking for great moments among folks, listening to traditional, or modern traditional-based music in pubs or in the streets, enjoying jigs or any other dynamic dance, and to appreciate the human warmth during festivals and other gatherings such as the cèilidhs, again you know where you should go. Despite the famous bad weather, you will find there the warmth and the sunshine you need.

Even if you do not like traditional music, you should try as there exist many modern ways of playing folk music. You probably know the famous Cockles and Mussels, or Whiskey in the Jar. This last was recently covered by the metal band Metallica; a proof that traditional never turns old

There is a lot more to say about the Celtic and Gaelic parts of the United Kingdom, but an article would not be enough to fit it all in.

However, I hope that these few lines will inspire you and that you are now willing to know more about these lands of mysteries and folklore, and to discover it by yourself. And if you are not interested in culture and legends, the incredible landscapes are a sufficient reason to go there.

Please have a delightful journey in the United Kingdom. Sult a bhaint as !

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