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Thursday, June 8, 2017

An Amadán na Bruidhne - The Fairy Fool

According to folklore there are two fairies who are more dangerous than others, because their touch brings madness that cannot be cured: the Fairy Queen and the Fairy Fool. The Fairy Queen may be the more well-known, with a good amount of folklore to be found about her under either the title or a specific name, but the Fairy Fool is a more obscure figure. I thought it would be interesting to discuss here what we do know about the Fool and their folklore. 

Yeats tells us in his Celtic Twilight that "in every household of faery there is a queen and a fool" (Yeats, 1998). We've already discussed the importance of the Queen of Elfland in Scottish context and this shows us that she shared an equal importance in the Irish. It also demonstrates that along with the Queen there was another important figure, one who was feared not because of their status or influence but because of what they represented: madness. 

The Fairy Fool is known by two different names in Irish each of which has a different character. The Amadán na Bruidhne [Fool of the Otherworldy Hall] is a greatly feared fairy, whose touch brings madness, paralysis, or death to those whose path he crosses (MacKillop, 1998). It is said by some his touch is the fairy stroke, while others say his power is unique to him. The Fool's power was feared so greatly because while other maladies caused by the fairies could often be cured by someone who knew the right remedy the touch of the Fool could not be. The other type of Fairy Fool is the Amadán Mór [Great Fool] a more ambiguous figure who appears sometimes as a king of the fairies or leading the fairy host (MacKillop, 1998).  

Yeats related from folklore, discussing the Amadán na Bruidhne, that the Fairy Fool could be either male or female; the male Fool was described as immensely strong, wild, wide, and appearing as a half-naked person or sometimes in the form of a bearded sheep (Yeats, 1962). By another account the Fool changes shape every couple days, appearing as a young person or as a wild animal, but always seeking to bring madness to those he touches (Yeats, 1962). Interestingly in all the folklore accounts people seemed to have recognized the Amadán na Bruidhne immediately when he was seen, no matter what form he was wearing.

One person out of a group might see the Fool, when the others did not, or a person out alone might see the Fool, but the danger came only if they touched you. Those who saw them and successfully averted them or fled could escape any consequences from the encounter, but those who were touched by the Amadán na Bruidhne lost their minds afterwards although they might live for many years. In most stories of the Fool his actions seem random, but in at least one story it seemed that he was intentionally set upon a person in retaliation for that person aiding a rival group of daoine sí. As the story goes the young man was called out to join a group of the daoine maithe who were fighting another group; his job was to fight with a human man among the other group. He did this and won, to the delight of his own side. However, three years later he found himself pursued by the Amadán na Bruidhne who touched him and after that, as Yeats relates it, 'his wits were gone' (Yeats, 1962). The man and those who knew him felt that this was done because he had aided one group of the Other Crowd in winning, and the losing group was angry with him. 

At any point in the year a person might encounter the Amadán na Bruidhne, but they are most active in June and it is during this month that people need to be careful to avoid crossing the Fool's path. It is always risky of course to run into any of the fairy folk but the Fairy Fool represented a particular danger, as is related by Yeats, quoting someone he had interviewed, "They, the other sort of people, might be passing you close here and they might touch you. But any that gets the touch of the Amadán-na-Breena [Fairy Fool] is done for." (Yeats, 1962, p 110). For this reason extra caution is needed in the month of June, so that the Fairy Fool can be avoided. 

Despite his name the Fool should be treated with great caution, as one of the more dangerous beings of Fairy. As we move into the month of June remember that this is the Amadán na Bruidhne's time, and be cautious. 

MacKillop, J., (1998). A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Yeats, W., (1962) The Celtic Twilight 


  1. I found the Amadan Dhu's depiction in The Immortal Hour particularly haunting. I'm guessing this is the same divinity?

    1. I haven't read that, but based on the name - 'Dark fool' - I'd say it sounds quite similar, yes.