We all know about the headless horseman, a particular scary character brought to life in Washington Irvine’s classic ‘’The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’’. But how many of you know that this fictional character is based on an actual legend from Irish Mythology? Much like the ancient Irish tradition of Samhain was brought to the US by Irish immigrants, the Headless Horseman or Dullahan to give him his correct name was also most likely brought to the US, were Washington would have heard about it and based his sinister character on. The horseman in Irish Lore is also known as ‘An Fear Dorcha’ (The Dark Man) or ‘Gan Ceann’ (Without Head). Many believe that the Dullahan is a Dark Faerie or Ghost. And whilst we don’t know exactly how old this legend goes back in time, it may well go back to ancient Ireland where it was not unusual for our ancestors to take an enemy’s head in battle. Some would have you believe that the horseman is an physical entity of the ancient Celtic God Crom Dubh, returned to the world of man to claim the souls of the living. The reason behind this is the belief that Crom was a sacrificial idol and that our ancient ancestors would have practised human sacrifice to appease Crom. But considering the effort by the Christian church into discrediting the ancient Gods of Ireland in favour of their own religion controlled by Rome, I would strongly dispute these claims.
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.
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!!!!!
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!!!!
“The Dullahan serves no master but death.”