What's The Story? An Insight into Dublin's Mythology, Fables & Folklore Tour

Date: 30 April, 2019
What's The Story? An Insight into Dublin's Mythology, Fables & Folklore Tour
Mythology, folklore, fables, legends, tales – we’re talking about stories! A typical Dublin greeting when encountering a friend is "what's the story?", it's our way of saying hello. Stories, story-tellers and characters are inherent to our culture and identity and have always played a central role in the Irish narrative – so much so, that we felt an Irish mythology & folklore tour should be an essential part of any visit to the Irish capital; so, we made it happen! Here’s a little insight into what you can expect on our free fables & folklore tour in Dublin.


Free Fables & Folklore Tour In Dublin

We all love a good story, but us Irish are particularly partial to an intriguing yarn. To be a good tour guide, you ought to be a good story-teller; but while our other general free walking tour in Dublin tells the story of our vast, at times turbulent, and always intriguing history and culture, it is based in the realm of fact and a high degree of certitude. This is where our free fables & folklore tour of Dublin differs.

This tour deals with the value that Irish people put on stories, storytelling and great characters, and how these have permeated and effected Irish society throughout our history. It’s part Irish mythology tour, part insight to our fascinating legends, and part exploration of our deepest superstitions. The overriding theme is showing how great stories and figures of Irish Folklore and Mythology have been manipulated and rehashed, first to spread Christianity and, later, in the surge for Irish independence, as well as how stories, superstitions and folklore has shaped the Ireland of today.

According to our very own Dublin-legend-in-the-making and all-round character, one of our tour guides who co-created this tour, Ian ‘Bermo’ Birmingham, “Ireland is a country, more than most, that has seen its ancient folklore and mythology shape its culture and modern society - and Irish people understand the importance of a good story…You can tour Dublin and walk along its streets and through its parks, see its buildings, eat in its restaurants and drink in its pubs, but to really know Dublin, you have to know its stories”.


The tour guide for the free fables & folklore tour in Dublin, an Irish mythology tour in the Irish capital, with a group of happy looking tourists
Ian 'Bermo' Birmingham - Tour Guide extraordinaire


“The stories that people tell can reveal more to us than the buildings they build or the food they eat" says Bermo, "Ireland is a nation of storytellers and characters and this tour is the only one of its kind in the city; one that brings you through some of our most important, influential, inspiring and ridiculous stories and the characters who made them”.


The Role Of Mythology & Stories In Irish History

Indeed, those adjectives, “important, influential (and) inspiring”, are paramount to why stories, mythology and legends have such an important place in the Irish narrative. For example, the ancient stories of warriors & rulers like Cú Chulainn, The Fianna, Brian Boru, Diarmuid Mac Murrough and so on, found their way back into use to inspire and influence the Gaelic Revival and nationalist Movements of the 19th & 20th centuries.

We began to see playwrights and poets, along with the nationalist press, reach back into Ireland's ancient past and use these stories to instill in the Irish people a sense of nationhood, a differentiation to our coloniser, our British neighbours, who have a different culture and lineage – it was a fundamental element of the eventual ‘de-Anglicization’ of Irish culture and a newly created identity.

Stories were often twisted and reformed to suit a nationalist agenda, and these are an example of storytelling permeating Irish History at the highest level. According to Bermo, “It's not what you say, but rather why you say it…Whether you’re trying to entertain, teach a lesson or even inspire revolution, there is a story for everything”.


Characters of Dublin

Dublin is celebrated for its unique personality, something which is largely made up of her characters, both historic and recent. Our fables & folklore tour of Dublin recounts many of these – from people like Saint Patrick and Molly Malone, whose characters are wrapped up in large degree of myth, to more recent real-life characters such as ‘The Diceman’, one of our first street performers who could travel the length of Grafton Street without been seen to move, the loveable ‘Bang Bang’ who would regularly hijack buses, and the yellow-faced dog-catcher affectionately known as ‘The Hairy Lemon’.


depiction of Bang bang and the hairy Lemon by a guest on the free fables & folkore mythology tour in Dublin
Doodles created by Amy (@loved_light) after doing our free fables & folklore tour recently


Hell on earth was in Dublin

If you found yourself looking for a good time in Dublin in the 17th or 18th century, you’d venture to an area with a high number of taverns, bars, members clubs, gambling dens, brothels and guest houses that sprawled out between Christchurch Cathedral and the river Liffey, known locally as 'Hell'. Such a place, with more than its fair share of stories, doesn’t escape the annals of history. Our free fables & folklore walking tour of Dublin recounts some of the most notorious, as well as the lesser-known, of these.

The district shot to new levels of notoriety in the 18th century as the playground of choice for the young, affluent, upper class of Dublin's burgeoning bourgeoisie and has a long and illustrious history with all things occult in Dublin. In the basement of Christchurch Cathedral, a group of men known as 'The Bucks' opened a members’ bar which also took the name Hell. This group also attained ownership of a hunting lodge in the Dublin mountains which they named The Hellfire Club as, legend has it, a secluded haven for all manner of Devil-worship and satanic rituals.


Darkey kelly's pub exterior in Dublin
A pub named after yet another Dublin character in the area formerly known as 'Hell'

Hell was home to very many occurrences that have been recounted through the centuries and remain fixed in the urban folklore of the city – including that of the D’Olocher, a demonic black pig that terrorised women in the dark of night, and the tale of Darkey Kelly, a notorious brothel keeper who was burned as a witch having fallen pregnant by the sheriff of Dublin and whose ghost now roams the area - the presence of which has been felt by many a man since.


Leprechauns, Faeries, and the ‘Little People’

While thoughts of Leprechauns might spring to mind when one thinks of Irish mythology or a folklore tour, the kitsch representation of little, green-clad men or the fake red beards & oversized green hats donning the heads of tourists on St. Patrick’s day are far removed from the reverence with which ‘faeries’  and ‘the little people’ are held throughout Irish cultural history – right up to present day.

The superstition and respect that has long been associated with Irish fairies has impacted Ireland and Irish society, spiritually, culturally, and even literally in a physical sense. A prime example of this is the six-year delay (and ten million euro over-spend) on the building of a motorway in the south-west of the country, funded by the EU, when workers refused to destroy a ‘faerie tree’ that was in the way of the proposed road. The government decided to divert the new motorway around the sacred tree; if you’re travelling to the Cliffs of Moher on the M18, you’ll see the tree just before your turn off.


A hawthorn 'fairy tree' in Ireland
A hawthorn fairy tree in Ireland


The cutting down of a Faerie tree is a big ‘No No’ in Ireland as it is believed the Faeries will have their revenge. Indeed, almost every farm across the country will have a solitary Hawthorn tree standing where other trees around it have been cut down - the reason being that people still do not want to offend the little people.

You may have heard of the ill-fated DeLorean car company, the Irish made car that famously featured in the Back to The Future movies. The story of the company and its founder is a turbulent one, fraught with misfortune and dismal luck. Many believe that this ill-fate was earned by building the factory, despite local opposition, in what was believed to be a Faerie field and cutting down a Faerie tree.

Well, there you have it curious wanders, a little insight into the kinds of things you can expect to see and hear all about on our free fables and folklore tour in Dublin. It’s a walking tour through Dublin city unlike any other, and a great way to spend a couple of hours itself, or in addition to our daily free walking tour.

We love telling you the stories of Dublin and Ireland, and indeed the stories about the stories! Our Irish mythology, legends, tall tales and folklore are a fundamental part of our identity, culture, society, history and landscape and this free tour is an unrivalled insight to all of that. We look forward to welcoming you on our free fables & folklore tour of Dublin every Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday at 14:30 from our central meeting point beside the river Liffey in front of the Grand Social, at the north foot of the Ha’penny bridge, on 35 Lower Liffey Street.

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