The Dullahan of Celtic Mythology

The Dullahan searching for his next victim - The Irish Place
The Dullahan searching for his next victim. Credit: Martin Casey

The Dullahan is also known as the mythological Headless Horseman and the embodiment of the Celtic God Crom Dubh.

His is the story of a headless rider who roams the lands of Ireland looking for victims whose lives he intends to take.

The Dullahan of Celtic Mythology

The Dullahan is one of the most well known tales of Irish mythology and the story became so popular over time.

In turn the Headless Horseman has become a key character used in the mythology of many other cultures, as well as in many modern horror stories.

The Dullahan is most well known for his headless appearance and there are many stories that suggest how he lost his head. One of which being that he was a soldier in his previous life and had his head taken from him in battle.

His roaming has been depicted as him searching for his lost head for all of eternity.

However, some stories suggest that he already has his head and that he rides with a darker purpose, believed to be so bitter about his own death that he searches for other souls to take with him to the afterlife.

The Dullahan’s Appearance

He is commonly portrayed as either riding on the back of a black horse, also headless, or riding a black carriage that is pulled by 6 black horses.

It is said that these horses ride so quickly and ferociously that fire emanates from both their nostrils and their hooves as they strike the ground.

The carriage that some believe he rides is made of coffins, tombstones and bones, indicating his evil intent to take innocent lives.

He wears a long, black cloak that flows behind him as he rides through the lands and he is known to hold his severed head high into the sky in search for the souls that he wishes to take.

His severed head has a terrible appearance, covered in rotting flesh that gives off the strong odour of rotting cheese and with the complexion of stale dough.

The mouth is split into a terrifying grin as he finds joy in taking the lives of others.

His eyes are lit up with an evil fire and are darting back and forth, constantly looking for victims.

Stay Out of His Path

No locked gate stays closed when he approaches, bursting open to let the Dullahan through.

As he makes his way through towns and villages after dark the people hide behind their curtains because if anyone were to look at him, they would be immediately blinded.

This he causes by whipping their eyes out with a whip made from a human spine, or by throwing a basin of blood into their eyes.

He has the ability to speak only once on a journey and that is to say the name of the person whose life he wishes to take.

Once the Dullahan states this name, that person’s soul is called to death and there is no defying this call.

The Dullahan does this when he stops and it is then that he will call the name of his victim and that person will die.

Golden Protection After Sunset

The Dullahan is believed to appear after sunset on certain festivals and feast days, which is when people know to be wary of looking outside after the sun has gone down.

The only thing that can frighten him is precious metal, which when thrown on the ground before him can cause him and his horses to suddenly stop in their path and turn to flee.

During the period when the story of the Dullahan was most popular in Ireland, the people were most likely to have gold and as such. They were told to use their gold to frighten him if he called upon their house.

Sacrifices to the Celtic God of Fertility – Crom Dubh

This depiction of the Headless Horseman is believed to have developed as the embodiment of the ancient Celtic God of fertility Crom Dubh.

King Tighermas, the King of Ireland long ago in an era when human sacrifice to the Gods was a popular ritual, worshiped Crom Dubh.

Crom Dubh demanded human lives every year to be sacrificed in his name and the method of sacrifice that he asked for was decapitation.

In the 6th century, when Christianity came to Ireland, these sacrificial rituals were condemned and as Christianity grew in popularity they stopped altogether.

This was when the story of the Dullahan first became prevalent, as the Irish people believed that Crom Dubh took this physical form in order to continue getting the sacrificial souls that he called for.

The Dullahan in Other Cultures

The myth of the Dullahan has evolved from the human form of Crom Dubh into many different depictions of the Headless Horseman in various cultures.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in America is based on this Irish legend, telling the story of a soldier who lost his head in the American Revolution and rose during the festival of Halloween to search for it.

He is also found in a number of German stories, such as the tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Other German stories tell of a Headless Horseman who blows a horn to warn huntsmen not to ride, as death will befall them that day.

In modern times the Dullahan has been popularized as an evil character in many computer games and fantasy stories.

Thus, the legend of the Dullahan, one of the most represented Irish legends, will continue to live on for many years.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here