We have written about the werewolves of Ossory before, but after discovering some new information we couldn’t resist writing about them again.
There are several stories in particular that frame the majority of Irish folklore regarding werewolves. In Northern Ireland it is said that there were tribes of wolf-men living in the wild that ancient Kings would call on to aid them in battle. Other tales claim that creatures, half wolf, half man, wander the forests, sometimes preying on cattle and sheep, other times protecting the people. And an even older myth tells the tale of three werewolf women yearly emerging from a cave to slaughter sheep during a Harvest Feast, and who were finally lured with music and massacred.
The most well known legend of werewolves in Ireland, however, was recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis, also known as Gerald of Wales, a clergyman and royal clerk to the British King in the 1100s, assigned the task of observing and recording political and socio-economical events. In his work exploring Ireland, Topographia Hibernica, he depicts the Irish as being savage and primitive with repugnant orthodox piety. He does, however, do us one justice: he records a tale of two werewolves of Ossory, which a priest had personally encountered, and Giraldus was requested to give counsel.
As a side note, the wolf was the totem of Ossory, and for good reason. It is said that long ago, Ossorians had the power to change into a werewolf at will. Once changed, the werewolf’s human body would remain lifeless at home until the wolf could return to it and thus resume his human form. It is also said that if you were to harm the wolf form, corresponding wounds would be found on the human form; thus you could always tell if a man was indeed a werewolf.
Yet, interestingly enough, Giraldus’ record was not of this Ossarian legend, but of another: a curse had been lain on a family to which they, although Christians, were condemned to wander as savage wolves for seven years. In his record, a werewolf was pleading with a traveling priest to come and perform the rite of viaticum on his dying wife, who was also in wolf form. The priest concedes and goes on to tell his experience to the local bishops who call Giraldus for counsel. Giraldus is unable to make the appointment but sends a letter instead. Eventually, the werewolf tale reaches even the Pope, who gives his seal on the account.
There is also an intriguing Irish folklore that Natalis, a monk living in the early 5th century, cursed a prominent family for unknown reasons. The curse? Each member of the family was doomed to become a wolf for seven years.
As far as my research can tell, there is a fascinating correlation between these two historical references to werewolves that has yet to be investigated. Is Giraldus’ account of the Ossarian werewolf couple somehow related to the original curse imprecated by Natalis, nearly 600 years earlier?
In any case, the legend of the Ossarian werewolves has deeply founded roots, including a historical account by the Royal Clerk. Yet when and how the werewolves came to be is still a matter of folklore. You’ll have to sort it out for yourselves.
They sound similar to the Benandanti wolves you described in one of your previous articles. Perhaps they’re one in the same, in a way?
Perhaps, I didn’t write this post or the Benandanti one, so I can’t really say :)
Probably something to keep in mind, though, is that Ireland was populated by a number of ethnic groups. You had the various tribes of Celts, you had Britons,you had immigrant Celts from Scotland and Wales, you had any number of Viking tribes–etc, etc. Any of these stories could have roots in the continent (for example, I know some Northern European people…that I can’t remember at the moment because I’m tired as heck XD…They might have been Swedish…believed that, when a person became a werewolf, the spirit would leave and shapeshift, but the body would stay behind in a coma-like state), so that’s the origin of the connections, mayhap.
Back to this story, however! The other version of the story (as you probably know, since I do believe I’ve seen that version posted on this site) is that St Patrick was the one who did the cursing.
Don’t you just love how convoluted folklore can be?! XD
(…sorry for the ramble…)
Eh there was no Britons in Ancient Ireland hun, sorry but thats not fact.
Lots of good information. There is always more. I have met very different people in the area of Ossory that avoid others and seem rather ‘wolfish’ in nature. There were many Ossorian chieftains throughout Irish history, all having wolf names. They are still there in the same area. I write of them but do not give out any personal information. I have met Ulfhednar people as well. They also seem very uncomfortable around people and seem to prefer the isolated forest. Although stories pick up some strange similarities such as curses and the like; sometimes the truth is even stranger.
This reply may confirm i am crazy, but I would be most thankful for any constructive input:
I have strong family roots with Ireland on my maternal side,my mother who still lives there and the spiritual presence of Eire is deep in me. BUT, my dilemma is that even though I love werewolf movies and love the special effects and can watch without fear- as long as I can remember (2yo) it has not been the boogeyman or rapists or anything at night in the dark – inside or out – that terrifies me. It is a very particular type and image of a werewolf that instills absolute terror. I have recently met and become engaged to a norwegian decent and the nightmares have become unbearable. I am now 43 and my birth number is 7….
Please help me. And please don’t say see a shrink?
Honey, I am a pastor and also an exorcist for the past 39 years. As a Liturgical bishop and pastor I have been with the healing of the dead for years. I have many people in my family with Irish roots and friends who are Irish and that tendency of the wolf runs deeply in your clans and culture.
That means that you have tendencies towards wolfish thinking and wolfish tendencies of fierce loyalty, love, honesty and problems with anger-just like a “real” wolf. There is nothing wrong with you. You simply need to ground what your ancestry calls out of you and be at peace with it through the Lord, just as the Wolves of Ossory did long ago. Your people have a Patron Saint-Saint Christopher the Dog Headed One. The Eastern Christian churches paint him as a dog/man or wolf/man. He is a great saint and well loved. If you like, send me your address via email and I will send you a blessed medal and icon of him. Be comforted. It is not a bad thing to be a wolf. They love God too.
Oh, by the way, a man or woman from Norway might have either Wolf or Bear tendencies. My family has Black Bear totems from both the Native Americans and the German/Scot in our line, along with wolf. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Does anyone know about the legend of the three female werewolves that was briefly mentioned in this article? I’m researching about werewolves for a story that I’m writing, and as I’m part Irish, I want some of my characters to be descended from Irish wolves/people closely related to them, and the tale of the three women is intriguing to me (I’ve also been researching the general history of Ossory/Kilkenny, and have been looking at the clans that settled the area, and lived near three rivers–The Three Sisters–The River Nore, The River Suil, and The River Barrow). Any help would be greatly appreciated, especially if you have links to online copies/records of the story.