The headless herald of death.
W. J. Fitzpatrick, a storyteller from the Mourne Mountains in County Down, recounts:
“I seen the dullahan myself, stopping on the brow of the hill between Bryansford and Moneyscalp late one evening, just as the sun was setting. It was completely headless but it held up its own head in its hand and I heard it call out a name. I put my hand across my ears in case the name was my own, so I couldn't hear what it said. When I looked again, it was gone. But shortly afterwards, there was a bad car accident on that very hill and a young man was killed. It had been his name that the dullahan was calling.”
A dullahan is not a ghost – it is much worse. A dark fairy that is the herald of death itself, the dullahan rides relentlessly through the night to draw the souls from people's bodies by speaking their name. It may ride a black steed with flames and sparks flying from the nostrils or a black carriage drawn by 6 such beasts. The carriage is composed of human skin and bones, with other funeral objects as ornamentation. Nothing can stop its advance. Locked gates and doors open, as if in anticipation, when a dullahan rides forth.
This cursed rider carries its own head, with skin like moldy cheese, in its hands. A devilish smile which is too wide splits the face from ear to ear. It uses a human spine as a whip adding to the nightmarish vision and urgency of its advance. With supernatural sight, its severed head can be used to spot the house of the victim from any distance. Where the dullhan stops it utters a name and that name marks the person who will die in that very place.
Covering your ears won't really help you if you encounter a dullahan, though they have an irrational fear of gold which can protect you temporarily. Carrying a piece of gold with you may be a wise thing to do around midnight on feast days. Horrible things can happen to the bystander who witnesses a dullahan ride by. However, even gold is unlikely to save you if you become the dullahan's focus.
In the secluded glen of Sleepy Hollow, there was much debate over the fate of the schoolmaster called Ichabod Crane. Many believed that the area was haunted by the ghost of a soldier whose head had been taken off by a cannonball, and that this ghost had spirited Ichabod away to the realm beyond our own. But when you consider the facts of the tale, it seems clear: Ichabod's time had come. A dullahan pursued him and called his name.
“There was something in the moody and dogged silence of this pertinacious companion, that was mysterious and appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!—but his horror was still more increased, on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle…”
Written by Giles Ravensong.