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The Leanan sídhe is a 19th century English myth that the fatalistic 'Irish fairy lover' was part of a Celtic folklore. According to the tragic romance of the period, the leannán sí ("Fairy-Lover"; Scottish Gaelic: leannan sìth, Manx: lhiannan shee; [lʲan̴̪-an ˈʃiː]) is a beautiful woman of the Aos Sí ("people of the barrows") who takes a human lover. Lovers of the leannán sídhe are said to live brief, though highly inspired, lives. The name comes from the Gaelic words for a sweetheart, lover, or concubine and the term for inhabitants of fairy mounds (fairy).
Originally, W. B. Yeats created and popularized this 'newly-ancient' folklore, emphasizing the spirit's almost vampiric tendencies. As he imagined it, the leannán sídhe is depicted as a beautiful muse who offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for their love and devotion; although the supernatural affair leads to madness and eventual death for the artist:
The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress) seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth—this malignant phantom.
In literature and pop culture
A number of traditional Irish tales feature characters that appear to draw from the leannán sídhe legend for inspiration. These include Katharine Mary Briggs's "The Fairy Follower" in Folktales of England, the story "Oisin in the Land of Youth" in Ancient Irish Tales, "The Dream of Angus" in Augusta, Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne.
In 2005 game Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, one of the bosses called Nevan was based on Leanan sídhe. Leanan sidhe is also a recurring recruitable creature in the popular Megami Tensei series of games.
The old Irish song "My Lagan Love" uses her as a metaphor for consuming love: "And like a love-sick lennan-shee/She has my heart in thrall,/Nor life I owe nor liberty/For love is lord of all." The Irish band Unkindness Of Ravens released the song "Leanan Sídhe" in 2015 alongside an accompanying video further exploring the ancient myth. The video was filmed in The Burren in County Clare and the Slieve Bloom Mountains in County Offaly, Ireland, as well as the Pollnagollum caves.
Modern fantasy novels often include characters based on Irish mythology. Examples include The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, with a recurring character named Leanansidhe (or Lea for short) and The Iron Fey Series, by Julie Kagawa. Also the book Ink Exchange (April 2008), a part of the Wicked Lovely series, by Melissa Marr.
- Irish mythology in popular culture
- Baobhan sith
- Dames Blanches
- Weisse Frauen
- Witte Wieven
- Ó’Súileabháin, Brian. "The Truth about Leannán Sidhe". Irish Imbas. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
- Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla
- Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla
- Yeats, W.B (1888). Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co. Ltd. p. 81.
- Miska, Brad (2018-08-07). "DarkCoast Finds Their 'Muse' in John Burr's Twisted Fairy Tale". Bloody Disgusting!. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
- Briggs, Katharine (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies. Middlesex: Penguin. p. 266. ISBN 978-0-14-004753-0.
- Spooky Irish October - October 2007 Emerald Reflections - by Brian Witt
- Gregory, Augusta (1904). Gods and Fighting Men. Part I: Book IV: Aine.
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