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The old tales of werewolves in Ossory, an ancient Irish kingdom, appear in various medieval texts from Ireland, England, and Norway. These tales trace their lineage to Laignech Fáelad, the first werewolf in Ossory and whose descendants later ruled Ossory. The werewolves were described as powerful beings capable of shifting between human and wolf forms. According to legend, they endured a curse, living as wolves for seven years before returning to human form, after which another individual from Ossory would undergo the same transformation.

Background[]

The medieval Irish text Cóir Anmann (Fitness of Names), likely drawing from earlier traditions, recounts the tale of a legendary warrior-werewolf named Laignech Fáelad. He was believed to be the progenitor of a clan of werewolves linked to the kingship of Ossory in eastern Ireland. The quotation below is about Laigench Fáelad, as described in the Cóir Anmann:

He was a man that used to go wolfing, i.e. into wolf-shapes, i.e. into shapes of wolves he used to go, and his offspring used to go after him and they used to kill the herds after the fashion of wolves, so that it is for that that he used to be called Laignech Fáelad, for he was the first of them who went into a wolf-shape.

Medieval genealogies depict him as the brother of Feradach mac Duach, the king of Ossory. The late 14th-century Book of Ballymote possibly references this tradition, mentioning "the descendants of the wolf" in Ossory possessing the ability to transform and prey on people.

Other Irish Accounts[]

Many accounts of Irish werewolves are found in various medieval texts. These include Bishop Patrick of Dublin's 11th-century poem De Mirabilibus Hibernie (On the Marvels of Ireland), the Middle Irish work De Ingantaib Érenn (On the Wonders of Ireland), and the 13th-century poem De hominibus qui se vertunt in lupos (Men who Change Themselves into Wolves). Nennius of Bangor's Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) presents an Irish version of the latter poem. These accounts describe individuals with the ability to transform into wolves, leaving their human bodies behind. Injuries sustained in their wolf form are mirrored on their human bodies, and traces of prey can be found in their mouths upon returning to human form. The vulnerability of their human bodies during their wolf transformation led to warnings against disturbing them, reflecting folkloric beliefs about the soul's ability to leave but not return to a disturbed body.

In De Ingantaib Érenn, the werewolves are associated with Ossory, although this detail is absent in the 13th-century Norse work Konungs Skuggsjá (King's Mirror), which describes them as humans cursed as divine punishment for their sin. According to one account, when St. Patrick preached Christianity in Ireland, he encountered a clan that vehemently opposed him, resorting to mocking him by howling like wolves during his sermons. In response, St. Patrick prayed for God to punish them. The result was a temporary transformation of the entire clan into wolves, who roamed the woods as their now wolf counterparts. Despite their wolf-like nature, they retained their human thought processes and were equally dangerous, preying on humans as well as other creatures. This punishment was not permanent; they either transformed into wolves every seventh winter or underwent a seven-year period of wolf form, after which they never transformed again.

Explanation[]

In Irish culture, wolves held a prominent place, particularly in literature from the medieval period. Warriors were frequently associated with wolves, embodying their qualities like ferocity, unpredictability, and martial prowess etc. These associations were especially strong within the context of the Fianna, bands of young men who lived on the fringes of society, often depicted as living close to supernatural forces in the wilderness.

The stories might have originated from the actions of ancient Irish warriors, often likened to wolves, who potentially sported hairstyles resembling wolves or donned wolf-skins during their raids, a practice known as "going wolfing."

Pop Culture[]

  • The 2020 animated film "Wolfwalkers" draws inspiration from the legends of the Werewolves of Ossory, depicting characters who transform into wolves while sleeping, leaving their bodies behind.
  • The song Blood for Blood (Faoladh) by the German power-metal band Powerwolf is influenced by the tales of the Werewolves of Ossory.
  • In the book The Misadventures of Myndil Plodostirr a historical fantasy novel by Michelle Franklin, the Werewolves of Ossory (Faoladh) are portrayed as heroic figures who befriend and fight alongside the protagonist.
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