Monster Monday: Dullahan

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Dullahan.

The legend of the dullahan is partly the inspiration for my short story “Mr. Samuel,” one of the stories you can read in my collection Mischief Madness Mourning.

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane by John Quidor
The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane by John Quidor

The dullahan, a horrific apparition in Irish folklore, is a headless horseman. In some legends, the horse it rides is also headless, and in others, the horse pulls a cart that creaks and groans like the wind. It carries its head under its arm, which glows with an eerie light. Its eyes are small and black and constantly dart about, and its grin stretches from ear to ear. The flesh of its head is the consistency of moldy cheese. It uses a whip made from a human spine.

When the dullahan stops in front of a house, it means a person living in that house is about to die. If it calls out the person’s name the person dies immediately. Gates and locks will not keep it away. It does not like to be observed, and it will throw a bowl of blood in the face of any person who sees it or strike the person blind in one eye with its whip.

It’s one weakness in an irrational fear of gold and will run away at the sight of anything made of gold.

Washington Irving used the legend of the dullahan as one of his inspirations for the Headless Horseman in his story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

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