An even more terrible churchyard demon is the fascinating phantom that waylays the widower at his wife’s very tomb, and poisons him by her kiss when he has yielded to her blandishments.
Of monsters the Irish had, and still believe in, the Piast (Latin bestia), a huge dragon or serpent confined to lakes by St. Patrick till the day of judgment, but still occasionally seen in their waters. In old Fenian times, namely, the days of Finn and his companion knights, the Piasts, however, roamed the country, devouring men and women and cattle in large numbers, and some of the early heroes are recorded to have been swallowed alive by them and then to have hewed their way out of their entrails.
Merrows, or Mermaids, are also still believed in, and many folk tales exist describing their intermarriage with mortals.
According to Nicholas O’Kearney, “It is the general opinion of many old persons versed in native traditional lore, that, before the introduction of Christianity, all animals possessed the faculties of human reason and speech; and old story-tellers will gravely inform you that every beast could speak before the arrival of St. Patrick, but that the saint having expelled the demons from the land by the sound of his bell, all the animals that, before that time, had possessed the power of foretelling future events, such as the Black Steed of Binn-each-labhra, the Royal Cat of Cloughmagh-righ-cat (Clough), and others, became mute, and many of them fled to Egypt and other foreign countries.”
Cats are said to have been appointed to guard hidden treasures; and there are few who have not heard old Irish people tell about strange meetings of cats and violent battles fought by them in the neighborhood. “It was believed,” adds O’Kearney, “that an evil spirit in the shape of a cat assumed command over these animals in various districts, and that when those wicked beings pleased they could compel all the cats belonging to their division to attack those of some other district. The same was said of rats; and rat-expellers, when commanding a colony of those troublesome and destructive animals to emigrate to some other place, used to address their ‘billet’ to the infernal rat supposed to hold command over the rest. In a curious pamphlet on the power of bardic compositions to charm and expel rats, lately published, Mr. Eugene O’Curry states that a degraded priest, who was descended from an ancient family of hereditary bards, was enabled to expel a colony of rats by the force of satire!”
Hence, of course, Shakespeare’s reference to rhyming Irish rats to death.
It will thus be seen that Irish Fairy Lore well deserves to have been called by Mr. Alfred Nutt, one of the leading authorities on the subject, “as fair and bounteous a harvest of myth and romance as ever flourished among any race.”