Irish history is rich with myths and legends, and the realms of Irish mythology and folklore are both universal in theme and timeless in appeal. The Irish legends capture the spirit and essence of the Irish psyche: brave, honorable, compassionate and strong. The heroes of Irish myths and legends remain a powerfully strong symbol of the Irish national pride.
Before the conversion to Christianity, Celts were a polytheistic religion. The leader of the Irish gods' pantheon was the Dagda. Because of his embodiment of the ideal Irish traits, it is believed that male humans and other gods were based on him. He is often depicted as a figure of power, armed with a spear, and described as a character of burlesque lampoonery yet benevolent enough to tolerate jokes at his own expense. The champion Lugh, originally a god of the Continental Celts, is also remembered - especially how he slew his tyrant grandfather who had a horrific eye which destroyed all on which it gazed. Even after conversion to Christianity, the Celts remains their linguistic identity and kept remnants of their mythologies that were then put into writing during the Middle Ages.
Ireland is famous for its fairy lore, which also contains vestiges of pre-Christian tradition. The fairies are known in Irish as the people of the sí (pronounced she), a word which originally designated a mound. The Irish fairies can be linked to early Celtic beliefs of how the dead live on as a dazzling community in their burial chambers. In folk lore, the thousands of 'raths', the ancient earthenwork structures which dot the Irish landscape, are inhabited by the sí-people, and there are many stories of humans being brought into these hidden palaces at night as guests at wondrous banquets.
Many of the myths and lore center on the patron-saints of the various localities. The saints, who are historical personages from the early centuries of Irish Christianity, are portrayed in legends as miracle workers. These saints used their sacred power to banish monsters, cure illnesses, and provide food for the people in time of need. Locations dedicated to individual saints are still common destinations on feast days. People will come to pray for relief from physical or mental distress. Some of the most celebrated saints in Ireland were the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, the great founder of monasteries, St. Colm Cille, and St. Brighid who acts as a protectress of farming and livestock.