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In Celtic folklore, 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).
The leannán sídhe is generally depicted as a beautiful muse who offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for their love and devotion; however, this frequently results in madness for the artist, as well as premature death. W. B. Yeats popularized a slightly different perspective on these spirits with emphasis on their vampiric tendencies:
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.
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.
- Irish mythology in popular culture
- Baobhan sith
- Dames Blanches
- Weisse Frauen
- Witte Wieven
- 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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