Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Black Dog. Also known as Cu Sidhe or Coinn Iotair.

The Black Dog. Also known as Cu Sidhe or Coinn Iotair.

The black dog is found in folklore all over the world and is essentially a spirit that comes out at night and is often associated with evil faeries or the Christian devil. Usually it is believed to be a portent of death. Larger than an earthly dog it has large eyes that glow. Often associated with storms, ancient pathways, crossroads and places of execution such as a gallows tree.

Their origin is lost in the mist of time but throughout the folklore and mythology of Europe dogs have been associated with death and the underworld often depicted as guardians of the gates. It may also be because of the scavenging habits of dogs often seen around graveyards or after a battle searching for fresh meat. It may be this reason that the black dog evolved.

In Irish and Scottish folklore, the Cu Sith or Cu Sidhe (faerie hound), is a large and fearsome dog with supernatural powers. They are usually black but may also be green (the colour favoured by faeries) or even white with one red ear and one red eye. They are always large sometimes described as being as big as a calf or small horse.

The Cu Sidhe roam the land performing certain tasks for their faerie masters such as helping in the hunt and abducting human woman to take back to the faerie realm. It was believed that these women were used to nurse faerie babies. The Cu Sidhe are completely silent in the hunt but sometimes they would give three blood curdling howls that could be heard over a great distance. When men heard this sound they would lock up their women to prevent them from being carried off.

They are said to have the power to appear and disappear at will and in much the same way the Grim Reaper appears at death to lead the soul to the afterlife, so the Cu Sidhe takes the soul to the underworld.

The Black Dog of Bungay.

One of the most frightening incidents ever reported took place in the quiet market town of Bungay, in Suffolk, England. On the Sunday morning of the 4th of August, 1577, during the Morning Service at St. Mary’s Church a terrible and violent storm broke out. The sky darkened, thunder crashed and rain fell heavily from the skies. Lightning flashed wildly as the storm broke upon the church. Inside the congregation knelt to pray.

Suddenly to the horror of the congregation from out of a flash of lightning there appeared in the church a huge and monstrous Black Dog.
Howling wildly as the lightning flashed and thunder pealed the beast ran amok attacking the terrified parishioners and causing havoc.

Two people at their prayers were killed and a third man was badly burned from being mauled by the beast but survived the ordeal. There was great damage inflicted upon the church as the tower was struck by lightning and the clock destroyed before the Black Dog finally ran wildly from the church to the relief of the petrified congregation.

Around twelve miles away in the Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh, at a about the same time the Black Dog, or another beast like it, appeared and also attacked the frightened congregation at prayers killing three people. There are scorched scratch marks on the church door that can still be seen to this day.

The Church or Kirk Grim.

The Vikings brought many of their customs and traditions to Ireland from Scandinavia and may well have influenced the legends of the Black Dog. The Church Grim was also known as Kirk Grim and in Finnish, ‘Kirkonväki’ and in Swedish, ‘Kyrkogrim.’Both appear in Irish and Scandinavian folklore as sentinel spirits whose task was to protect a church and its grounds. They could appear as small, dark, grotesquely formed people, or as a Black Dog.

In many parts of Europe, including Ireland, early Christians are believed to have sacrificed animals when a new church was built. A black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the land which would then become the guardian spirit keeping the church and grounds safe from the devil. It was often regarded as a herald of doom bringing death to anyone who encountered it. It was once a superstition that the first person to be buried in a churchyard would have to guard any subsequent buried souls, so it was the custom to sacrifice a dog to serve as a substitute- specifically a completely black one without a single white hair - and bury it in the foundation of the church.

Sightings and encounters with Black Dogs are still reported though they seem less horrific than those of the past and in some cases even benevolent with the beast acting as a guardian or guide ensuring travellers arrive at their destination safely.

Sometimes they have been reported by drivers who have seen them in their headlights in the road at night only to vanish when the vehicle is about to make contact.

There are also reports from many other parts of the world about similar ghostly encounters which suggest that the Black Dog is not just an Irish phenomenon.

Black dog story.

Norbury was also famous for convicting a young, recently married man from Blanchardstown, of stealing sheep, which was a crime worthy of the death sentence at that time. After he was hanged, the young man’s widow died shortly afterwards, but before passing away, cursed the judge on her deathbed. She vowed to return and haunt Norbury till the end of time, promising that she would never let him have a peaceful night’s sleep. Norsbury was said to have suffered from chronic insomnia after that, a deserving end to a brutal fiend.
Lord Norbury - the "Hanging Judge"

John Toler was born in Co. Tipperary in 1745. He was admitted to the bar in 1770, and as a strong supporter of the Government, he attained many offices, including that of Lord Chief Justice, and was eventually ennobled as the Earl of Norbury. He was also the Solicitor General and a member of Grattan's Parliament. Later by bribery and deception he reached the Bench to become a corrupt and fearsome judge. He had poor legal skills and used his power to intimidate lawyers and defendants with his sarcastic wit and twisted sense of humour. His courts were like a wild theatre. His most famous trial was that of Robert Emmet (1803), in which Norbury continually interrupted and abused Emmet when he was making his speech from the dock, before sentencing him to death.

Norbury wrongfully convicted an innocent young man from Blanchardstown of the capital crime of sheep-stealing. The man was hanged and his distraught widow survived him by just a few months. On her deathbed she cursed Norbury, vowing to haunt him from beyond the grave until the end of time, promising that she would never let him have another night’s sleep. Norbury was said to have suffered from chronic insomnia after that, a deserving end to a brutal man. On his own death, aged 85, Norbury was reportedly changed into a phantom black hound condemned to forever roam the streets of Cabra, dragging a hefty chain in his wake.

Daniel O'Connell despised him and initiated the investigation of his conduct during a trial in wich he fell asleep. He was eventually removed from the bench in 1827 due to his absent-mindedness and his inclination to fall asleep during important trials. He died in his home, number 3 Great Denmark Street, Dublin, on July 27th 1831 at the age of 85 years and was buried at St. Mary's Church, Mary Street, Dublin.

Even our literature giant James Joyce recalls the black dog, “with eyes like carriage lamps”, that patrolled the stairs of the Jesuit College in Kildare which Joyce attended.

Also known as the Coinn Iotair, Hounds of Rage, these were the legendary hunting dogs of Crom Dubh the ’Black Crooked One’.

The inspiration for the death-hound of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles was the tale of a Dartmoor black dog.

MODDEY DHOO (Black Dog) was an Isle of Man black dog that roamed Peel Castle. Every night it warmed itself before the guard room fire, and at first the soldiers were afraid, but eventually they got used to it. Then one night, during the reign of Charles II, a drunken soldier boasted that he would patrol the castle alone, and dared the dog to accompany him on his rounds- he would find out whether it was a real animal or a demon. The ghastly dog arose from his place by the fire and followed the man. Fearful cries and screams issued from the corridor, but not a man dared venture from the room. The foolish soldier returned white and gibbering. He died three days later, never speaking of what he had seen. The black dog has not been seen since, but some say it still haunts the castle, unseen.

For he was speechless, ghastly, wan,
Like him of whom the story ran,
Who spoke the spectre hound in man.
Sir Walter Scott, The lay of the last minstrel, Canto VI, v.26.


  1. Oh, great--now I'm going to have nightmares (just kidding). Thanks for the continuing animal posts.

    Hope all is well on your side of the Pond, that exams went well, and that you're gearing up for a fine summer.



  2. Hi Mak. How's it going? I'll follow this up with the Black Pig and the Black Cat so if you can't sleep at least you will have something to read. Everything on this side of the pond is mighty and we are awaiting with anticipation for the 'The Fine Summer' (this is Ireland so it will most likely rain). I'm sat here at 12-00 noon waiting for 1-30pm when our results will be posted so I'll let you know if they "went well". Hope your in fine form and have a great summer. Keep smiling. SilentOwl.

  3. Hi Makarios.
    Just to follow up on your question "Hope your exams went well" I am pleased to say that I have a merit 1 B.A. Humanities. Roll on September and my Honours. Keep smiling.

  4. Excellent news! Onwards and upwards!

    Hope that you enjoy the summer, rain notwithstanding.


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