The dullahan is a headless rider on a black carriage pulled by
six black headless horses. Normally he made no sound as he
passed, which is how you could tell he was from an
'otherworld'. In some areas of Ireland the dullahan is seen
riding solo on a large black steed without the carriage and headless horses.
Dullahans themselves are headless and carry their severed
head with them, either tucked underneath their arm or raised
high in their right hand. The head is the color and texture of
stale, dried out dough or moldy cheese. It sports a hideous
grin and has small black eyes that dart back and forth. The
whole head glows like the phosphorous in decaying matter and
the horseman uses his 'lantern' to find his way along the
darkened roads of the Irish countryside.
Wherever a dullahan
stops, a mortal dies.
All gates fly open to let rider and coach through, no matter
how firmly they are locked, so no one is truly safe from the
attentions of this fairy.
The dullahan appears as an omen of death to families in
Ireland. He is possessed of supernatural sight. By holding his
severed head aloft, he can see for vast distances across the
countryside, even on the darkest night. Using this power, he
can spy the house of a dying person, no matter where they lie.
Irish folk who watch from their windows to see him pass are
rewarded for their pains by having a basin of blood thrown in
their faces, or by being struck blind in one eye.
In fear of the headless rider; men alone in the
fields at night cower behind the bushes because of his reputation
with a whip. With his whip he can accurately remove the eyes of all
mortals foolish enough to spy on his ventures. Since he has no head,
he is somewhat defective in his physical sight and the dullahan resents those
with skilled vision.
The dullahan has limited speech.
He can only speak once on each journey he undertakes, and that is
when he pulls up a home and calls out the name of the person who is
The origins of the dullahan are not known for certain, but he is
thought to be the embodiment of an ancient Celtic god, Crom Dubh, or
Black Crom. Crom Dubh was worshipped by the prehistoric king,
Tighermas, who ruled in Ireland about fifteen hundred years ago and
who legitimized human sacrifice to heathen idols. Being a fertility
god, Crom Dubh demanded human lives each year, the most favored
method of sacrifice was decapitation. The worship of Crom
continued in Ireland until the sixth century, when Christian
missionaries arrived from Scotland. They denounced all such worship
and under their influence, the old sacrificial religions of Ireland
began to lose favor. Nonetheless, Crom Dubh was not to be denied
his annual quota of souls, and took on a physical form which became
known as the dullahan or far dorocha (meaning dark man), the
tangible embodiment of death.
Unlike the banshee, the dullahan does not pursue specific
families and its call is a summoning of the soul of a dying person
rather than a death warning. There is no real defense against the
dullahan because he is death's herald. However, an artifact made of
gold may frighten him away, for dullahan's appear to have an
irrational fear of this precious metal. Even a small amount of gold
may suffice to drive them off.
On nights of Irish feast days, it is advisable to stay at home with the
curtains drawn; particularly around the end of August or early
September when the festival of Crom Dubh reputedly took place. If
you have to be abroad at this time, be sure to keep some gold object
close to hand.
Crom Dubh, dullaghan, far dorocha, gan ceann.
It isn’t daylight yet, my
love, it isn’t daylight yet.
It is a long time till dawn’s breaking.
An old Irish drinking song