An Dullahan – The Real Headless Horseman

“The Dullahan serves no master but death.”

An Dullahan 2

Now for a more sinister tale from Irish lore. The Dullahan is the original Headless horseman on which the character from the 1820’s tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may be based. The Dullahan or Gan Ceann is said to be a dark Faerie, a collector of souls, whom roams the countryside at midnight in search of suitable souls to take. People say that he  is dressed in a long black cloak, the Dullahan has no head on his shoulders and is usually seen riding a large black horse and carrying his head under one arm. Little is known as to why this monster carries his head under his arm or how in fact he became separated from it. But the head’s eyes are said to be huge which constantly dart about like fire- flies, and it has a mouthful of hideous razor sharp teeth. Because of its supernatural powers when the head is raised up into the air it is able to see great distances, even on the darkest night. Its  Charger is said to have flaming red eyes. The Dullahan carries a whip which is said to have been made from a human corpse’s spine. When the Dullahan stops riding, a person will inevitably die. Once the Dullahan has spoken your name out loud, your time is up. The Dullahan’s powers allow it to suck the soul from the intended victim once it calls their name. Now most cases reported envolved a victim of ill health whom was already on deaths door, but there have been occurances of souls been taken from an otherwise healthy victim. It is said that there is no way to stop the Dullahan in its work, as any gates or locks which stand in its way open at its will on approach.

An Dullahan 3

Apparently it is not a good idea to observe the Dullahan either, so be warned,  it has been known to lash out at anyone caught observing it with its whip, thus blinding them in one eye as punishment. Also it has been known to throw a bucket of blood over the unsuspecting watcher which would seem to be a supernatural marker for the next victim to have their soul taken. Unlike the Bean sidhe, which is known to warn of a death in certain families, the Dullahan does not come to warn. He is a definite harbinger of someone’s demise and there exists little  defence against his powers.  However there is some good news for anyone whom is unfortunate enough to cross paths with this dark faerie. It is known that they are terrified of gold! Even something as small as a gold pin or coin can be enough to send it off in the opposite direction. The following  story from Galway tells of a man whom was on his way home when all of a sudden he heard the sound of horse’s hooves pounding along the road behind him. In dread , he turned around to look. It was the Dullahan. He tried to run, but nothing can outrun the angel of death. Then the man remembered that if he couldn’t outrun him, he could outsmart him. With that, he dropped a gold coin on the road. There was a loud roar in the air, high above him, and when he turned to look again, the Dullahan was gone!!!!!

An Dullahan 1

In  some parts of Ireland, he drives a black coach drawn by a team of six black horses. They travel so fast that the friction from their hooves is said to set the hedges on fire along the sides of the road. The Dullahan makes an appearance in the 1959 Disney film Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but does not name the Dullahan directly; instead it is portrayed as the headless driver of the Cóiste Bodhar.  W. J. Fitzpatrick, a storyteller from the Mourne Mountains in County Down, gives the following account of his encounter with the Dullahan; ‘’ I have seen the Dullahan myself, stopping on the brow of the hill between Bryansford and Moneyscalp late one evening, just as the sun was setting. It was completely headless but it held up its own head in its hand and I heard it call out a name. I put my hand across my ears in case the name was my own, so I couldn’t hear what it said. When I looked again, it was gone. But shortly afterwards, there was a bad car accident on that very hill and a young man was killed. It had been his name that the Dullahan was calling.” So if you happen to be out and about this Halloween please be careful and don’t forget to keep a gold coin in your pocket. It might just save your life!!!!

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
This entry was posted in Diary of a Ruinhunter, Events, Halloween, Historical, Legends, Samhain and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

64 Responses to An Dullahan – The Real Headless Horseman

  1. ceruleanstarshine says:

    Reblogged this on Cerulean Starshine and commented:
    I’m reblogging all these because they are *awesome!*


  2. suej says:

    Well, that’s fascinating…I wonder if my gold wedding ring would save me! Puts me in mind of Tolkien’s black riders in The Lord of the Rings…


  3. Crysta Icore says:

    Reblogged this on Morning Tempest Studios and commented:
    Here’s a fun spooky post for you!


  4. Jo Woolf says:

    Oooooooh that’s scary! You certainly have a wealth of these tales in Ireland!


  5. I see many a seed of contemporary horror film within this legend.


  6. chirose says:

    How interesting.! Thank you for sharing the story.!!


  7. Stephen says:

    Love these old Celtic stories from Ireland. There’s quite few similar ones in Scotland and Wales too.. Thanks for sharing..


  8. Breathless reading here!


  9. Debunker says:

    Fascinating, as usual, Ed. And getting me well in the mood for Oíche Shamhna! Do you have any idea what the original spelling of dullahan was in Irish?


    • There are some variations that are connected perhaps to and ancient deity from the pre Celtic period. I am still trying to get to the bottom of the full story.But rest assured, It will be posted here as soon as possable 🙂


  10. LB says:

    Great story, but I do want to know how he lost his head. You surely are getting us ready for the season – love it!


  11. ozomene says:

    Reblogged this on Welcome, the Witch Is In and commented:
    Great job Ed!


  12. joslocombe87 says:

    Reblogged this on J.O. Slocombe and commented:
    Awesome legend! Walpurgisnacht will soon be upon us. Get in the mood with this.


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  15. This is so much more interesting than the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Much spookier. Thanks for sharing it.


  16. irinadim says:

    Creepy and spooky but fascinating. I’ll have to come back for more. Thanks for liking my post ‘Dandelion’s Travels’. Cheers 🙂 Irina


  17. I love Celtic tales and history! Such an intriguing lot.


  18. themofman says:

    Great tale. I never heard of this origin of Sleepy Hollow before. Apart from photographer, I’m also an illustrator who loves fantasy art. You just gave me an idea!


  19. Reblogged this on Arthurian Romances and commented:
    Love this! Such an interesting subject! Enjoy!


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  21. Livonne says:

    I don’t know that I should have read that 6 weeks away from my trip to Ireland lol.


  22. kathyfoote says:

    This was a seriously creepy post. I used to live near Sleepy Hollow in Tarrytown on the Hudson River but this story would have kept me up nights (I was just a kid).


  23. armenpogharian says:

    Pretty cool! I pinched the Dullahan name for my story Misaligned: The Celtic Connection. I left it as a headless horseman, but applied a little author’s license. He’s the manifestation of a fifth-dimensional being who’s a great leader with the ability to animate the bodies of his dead foes. Thanks for sharing.


  24. RDoug says:

    What a fascinating tale. I’d never before heard of the Dullahan.


  25. Shelley says:

    Yet another reason for me to continue to buy gold. A fascinating tale.


    • Thanks Shelly, glad you liked it, but don’t forget the silver for them werewolves. We have them too, known as shapeshifters.
      There are a few historical sources that I am investigating right now in relation to them, hope to post something over the next few weeks. Hopefully I can keep the silver in my pocket whilst I;m out in the field, 🙂


  26. Shelley says:

    Whoops. I need to find another adjective. A harrowing tale. 🙂


    • LOL,The stuff of nightmares, guaranteed to keep you awake all night. It seemed to have a lasting effect on Washington Irving. I don’t normally delve into the dark side, but every now and then I seem get engrossed for a while 🙂


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  31. ArrivalsHall says:

    This story was told to me when I was young so I wouldn’t stay out late at night. “Don’t be late home in case you meet the Headless Horseman”. Irish folklore really is an effective way of frightening the bejaysus out of a person!

    Liked by 1 person

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