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I is for Irish Werewolves

You may be asking yourselves, “Are Irish werewolves really a thing?”

As it turns out, yes!

Back in the 1200s, accounts of werewolves were extremely common in Ireland, to the point the country was known as wolf-land. (This might have something to do with the fact that wolves lived in the Emerald Isles long after they’d been hunted to extinction in England.) The massive Irish wolfhound, which can weigh up to 120 pounds, was bred to deal with the wolf “problem.”

Gerald of Wales, a prominent member of the Christian Church, included one of the most verified Irish werewolf accounts in his Topographia Hibernaie (Irish Topography).

A priest and a boy were traveling from Ulster when the two were stopped by a wolf who could speak like a man. The wolf explained that his village was cursed and that every seven years, two people would turn into werewolves for seven years. If they survived, they would return to human form after the seven years and two other villagers would be stricken with the strange curse.

Unfortunately, the man’s wife–who was living as a werewolf as well–was dying. The well-spoken wolf begged the priest to perform the last rites for her.

The priest agreed, but when he saw the she-wolf, he was reluctant to perform the ceremony on an animal (nice guy). The wolf used his claws to draw the furry skin back from his wife’s head so the priest could see she was an old woman underneath.

After finishing the prayers, the priest and his companion were escorted back to their camp, and in the morning, the wolf man led them out of the forest. As proof of the story’s veracity, Gerald added that the incident was reported to Rome for the pope’s examination. What the pope thought of the tale was unfortunately not recorded, or at least not by Gerald.

Most people know about the infamous witch trials, but werewolf trials are another dark, bloody spot on human history. Between the years of 1520 and 1630, over 30,000 people were accused of being werewolves and tortured until they confessed, only to be staked through the heart. And that was just in France, never mind the rest of Europe!

War and famine in the Middle Ages helped create the evil reputation wolves still suffer from today. Starving animals attacked livestock and feasted on dead soldiers left on the battlefields. Modern scientists blame rabid wolves and dog-and-wolf hybrids for the violent clashes between Europeans and wolves. Healthy wolves will not typically attack humans.

Sadly, we’re a much bigger threat to them than they are to us.

Do you believe in werewolves? Had you heard Gerald’s wild tale? Do you think it could be true? Are you afraid of wolves?

Check out this amazing video of an Arctic wolf pack visiting some workers in Nunavut, Canada. If you think wolves are vicious and scary, it could change your mind.

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52 Comments

    • JH

      But could you fit it on your boat, Ellen? You’d need a yacht!

      Reply
  1. Randee Dawn

    There are a lot of wolf appearances in ancient Irish history as well! Thanks for raising the topic!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Randee. Thanks for reading and commenting. You are one of my new favourite people, by far. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Tasha Duncan-Drake

    I don’t believe in werewolves, no. I believe some people think they are werewolves, but I haven’t read anything to make me believe in the phenomena beyond that. Saying that, I hadn’t heard of this little tale, however :).
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, and Gerald’s story didn’t convince you? C’mon, Tasha, what do you need–a smoking gun? 😀

      Reply
  3. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    Wolves would much rather avoid us. They are making a comeback, but in some places, it’s still legal to shoot them, which is sad.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s very sad, Alex. And wolf culls are the worst. Have you seen that video of what happened to Yellowstone Park when wolves were reintroduced? It’s fascinating.

      Reply
  4. Somer

    I knew that France had a sordid werewolf history, but not Ireland! I’ve actually met an Irish Wolfhound in person (hehe) before and they really are gigantic! Their heads are huge!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve never seen one in person (or in dog) before, but I’d love to. You could ride those suckers!

      Reply
  5. Mary Aalgaard

    No wonder there are so many Big Bad Wolf stories. Mary Casanova has a YA book called Curse of a Winter Moon, about a boy who is accused of being a werewolf. I didn’t know how many people had suffered because of those fears. No, I don’t believe that tale, but people’s fears are real, and they cause them to do horrible things.
    Mary at Play off the Page

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Mary. I won’t even get into what people did to black cats because of superstitions and fears. It’s truly horrible.

      Reply
  6. Tarkabarka

    Werewolf trials were a thing in Hungary too, although sometimes people with were abilities were seen as the good guys, fighting against witches. So it was possible to get out of a witch trial alive by confessing to being a werewolf… 😀
    Also, squeeee! I love Irish wolfhounds 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s an interesting bit of history! Thanks for letting me know. What a cool twist!

      Reply
  7. Michelle Wallace

    Werewolf trials? I had no idea.
    My dog is a mixed German Shepherd with traces of a Timber Wolf bloodline. He displays lots of “wolfish” characteristics in his body posture and the way he slinks close to the ground when he’s in ‘hunting mode’; the shape of his snout…his eyes… etc.
    He doesn’t like water. I’m not sure if that comes from his wolf heritage.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, he sounds like quite a character, Michelle. I’m not sure about the water either.

      Reply
  8. Amy Putkonen

    What an interesting story. Have not met any werewolves just yet, but I think that wolves are beautiful creatures. I live in Minnesota, U.S. where timberwolves are more common. Still, they are shy and I have not met any besides at the zoo.

    Reply
    • JH

      They are so beautiful, Amy, especially with their babies. 🙂 I’ll steer clear of the werewolves myself.

      Reply
  9. Tamara Narayan

    I’m not afraid of the big, bad, wolf, the big, bad, wolf . . . Well, that’s easy because there are no wolves were I live except in the zoo. It’s hard to believe that story, but it would be amazing if it were true. The Company of Wolves is one of my all time favorite movies.

    Reply
    • JH

      I don’t think I’ve seen that one, Tamara. I’ll have to check it out.

      I’d love to see a wolf in the wild! I’d be cautious, respectful, but not afraid.

      Reply
  10. Random Musings

    I think wolves are a beautiful animal that have a very bad reputation! I’m not sure I believe in werewolves, but I really enjoyed this post. I hadn’t heard the tale of Gerald and I had no idea that so many people were tried as werewolves!
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the kind words, Debbie. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      I really hope we ditch this “wicked wolf” BS someday soon.

      Reply
  11. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I have never heard of werewolf trials! Fascinating!

    Interesting that they were killed with a stake through the heart – I thought silver bullets were for werewolves?

    Reply
    • JH

      Maybe silver wasn’t readily available then? Or perhaps that particular legend hadn’t developed yet.

      Reply
  12. Misha

    I never knew people hunter werewolves the way they hunted witches. Interesting…

    Reply
  13. Patricia Lynne

    I hadn’t heard of that tale. Wolves are one of my favorite wild animals. There is a taxidermied one at a welcome stop after the bridge in Upper Michigan and it is huge!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yay! I posted a spooky tale Patricia hadn’t heard of. That’s a victory, I tell you. 😀

      Reply
  14. C. Lee McKenzie

    Wolves take a bad rap. Not to mention the people who were staked in the heart. Good grief all of that hysteria and what it inhumanity it created.

    Reply
    • JH

      So true. Humans have a gift for killing each other out of ignorance and fear.

      Poor wolves. 🙁

      Reply
  15. Ryan Carty

    I like to pretend the wolf is my spirit animal. I adore them. As for the werewolf trials, silly humans, making up outrageous excuses to execute one another.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Ryan! Glad to meet another wolf lover. Great minds think alike and all that…

      Reply
  16. Denise

    My sister and I spent a week wolf-tracking in Minnesota. It was a great experience. I believe there is a medical condition that causes excessive hair to grow on the body giving a wolfish appearance.

    Reply
    • JH

      There is, Denise. It runs in families. Can you imagine growing up with that condition? Yikes.

      Reply
  17. Roland Yeomans

    I had never heard of Irish werewolves before. I have a pack of werewolves attending a French Quarter high school run by the Sidhe. I had fun writing of them — all but one happily hunted humans. Man is the most dangerous animal of them all. 🙁

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Roland. We really need to fix that before it’s too late. Your story sounds fun!

      Reply
  18. Lillian Csernica

    I did not know people were tried as werewolves. Neither had I heard this story from Gerald of Wales. Thank you so much for enlightening me! Happy A to Z!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Lillian! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  19. Deborah Weber

    Wolves are magnificent creatures and it’s sad to think they (as well as people) were hunted. What an amazing story.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Deborah, and welcome to my blog! It’s great to see another wolf lover.

      Reply
  20. Nikki

    Werewolf trials? Oh my.

    And to think, now so many would be flattered to be accused of being a werewolf. This makes me want to go to Ireland more than I already do, which is a lot. 🙂

    We did a photo shoot with wolves, they are the most beautiful creatures. ♡ Man is the greatest monster in my book.

    This has been one of my favorites so far! Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

    Reply
    • JH

      Awesome! Thanks, Nikki. I would love to see your wolf photos.

      And I agree wholeheartedly with you about man = monster.

      Reply
  21. Stephanie Faris

    Wow. I had no idea. I thought werewolves were just a thing of fiction!

    Reply
    • JH

      I must admit I wasn’t familiar with this story until I began researching A to Z posts. So you weren’t alone!

      Reply
  22. Beth Camp

    I knew about the witch trials but your post about the wolves of the middle ages and the werewolf trials are fascinating. What a fascinating folk story that shows the priest’s compassion — and the wolf’s humanity. Happy A to Z!

    Reply
    • JH

      What a beautiful comment, Beth. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  23. Tausha Johnson

    Great post, JH! I just may be the first person you know who has been bitten by a wolf. When I was a kid, we raised a wolf that came from Canada. I can’t remember if it was Gray or Timber, but it was full wolf. Long story short, I was playing roughly with my dad and the wolf either thought I was attacking the alpha or she just wanted to join in the play. She bit me one the arm. Not too seriously, but I had to get a tetanus shot. So I guess you could say I’ve survived a wolf attack. I’ve always been fascinated with lycanthropy, and it’s recently been the subject of some poems I’ve written. If you haven’t seen it, In Search of History has an interesting documentary called Legends of the Werewolves that includes stories about the werewolf trials. Thanks for the fascinating read! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCHZjU7Hi0w

    Reply
  24. Djinnia

    Wolves are beautiful. We don’t have them here. We have coyotes.

    We’re the werewolf trails part of the Inquisition? It sounds as if they were.

    Reply
  25. Zeljka

    This is the first time I’ve heard about werewolves and their trials (a lot of them, apparently) guess I’ve thought that applied only for witches 🙂 Great post!

    Reply
  26. Liesbet

    Wolves, like most animals are such great creatures. I have never seen one in the wild, but I hope to one day. Too bad, they still have a bad name. I didn’t know about werewolf trials either, those are as sad and inhumane as the witch trials! The Irish wolfhound looks cool indeed – everyone is safe in the company of such a gentle giant – but I fear our traveling days would be over. 🙂

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

    Reply
  27. Birgit

    I didn’t hear about this tale. I do know there is a disease which has hair all over their body and people may have thought they were werewolves. I love wolves and feel that is one of my spirit animals since I love native teachings about animals. Wolves are amazing creatures and I hope they keep growing in population in the west.

    Reply
  28. Heather M. Gardner

    You’ve got to love zealots. Murdering 30,000 people just because they can.
    Poor wolves. I love them. We take all their land and then wonder why they keep showing up.

    Great post.

    Heather

    Reply

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