A location supposedly haunted by hungry grass
|Theories|| · Folkloric response to plague and later the potato famines|
· Demonic or enchanted areas signalling the presence of supernatural entities
· An unknown variety of real grass which intoxicates or predates on humans (a flora-cryptid)
· A garble misrendering of actual Irish lore
In Irish mythology, hungry grass (Irish: féar gortach; also known as fairy grass) is a patch of cursed grass. Anyone walking on it was doomed to perpetual and insatiable hunger.
Harvey suggests that the hungry grass is cursed by the proximity of an unshriven corpse (the fear gorta). William Carleton's stories suggest that faeries plant the hungry grass. According to Harvey this myth may relate to beliefs formed in the Great Famine of the 1840s. In Margaret McDougall's letters the phrase "hungry grass" is - by analogy to the myth - used to describe hunger pains.
An alternative version of the hungry grass story relates that anyone walking through it is struck by temporary hunger; to safely cross through one must carry a bit of food to eat along the way (such as a sandwich or several crackers), and some beer.
In some accounts the grass intially appears to cover only a short distance, but becomes larger and larger as the victim grows deeper, trapping them. Hungry grass was also said to compel victims to enter its dangerous endless fields (see Connemera case blow).
In a few rare accounts the hungry grass is said to actually devour humans like certain cryptid plants.
People thought the hungry grass just doesn't eat people, it eats crops too. It wasn't always called "Hungry Grass", people thought that a spirit of a man was, in fact, eating people. The word "fear" in Irish is both "man and grass" so, Hungry Man came to be because they feared him. It was said that if you give relief to Hungry Man, you will enjoy unfailing prosperity, even during the worst periods of famine and death. Nobody knew what the "Hungry Man" looked liked but visitations to Ireland may have given him an appearance. After this, Maxwell who wrote "Wild Sports of the West" made a assumption and called this Famine "Hungry Disease", that was made by fairies or was grown over by a corpse. Hungry Grass was eventually what it was really called, because certain grass you stepped on made you faint and kill over, this happened to many farmers and fishermen.
- A folkloric manifestation of historical trauma; 'the psychological impact of An Gorta Mór (the Great Famine), would also have remained very strongly in the minds of those people living after the 1850s. This is why, in most variations of the ‘hungry grass’ folklore, the effects are attributed to a person stepping on the grave or burial plot of a victim from An Gorta Mór. It’s also why (probably) the Irish term is ‘féar gorta’ which may be more accurately translated as ‘famine grass’ rather than ‘hungry grass’'.
- A misrendering of actual Irish tradition. At least one scholar has contended that the grass "eating people" is a myth told to outsiders and that the 'Hungry Hill' sometimes linked to famine grass has no traditional precedent, being a possible internet legend due to authors obliviously repeating as literal accounts stories which were told third-hand, many of which were in fact ugly deliberate misrepresentations of Irish culture. As always first hand sources should always be referred to and properly cited, as many so-called "cryptids" are in reality artifacts of mistranslation. Nonetheless there is a very real hungry grass tradition in Ireland to this day, with most sources agreeing it was much stronger in the past.
- An unknown, but biologically consistent, kind of carnivorous plant (a cryptid).
- A supernatural phenomena which manifests as grass or fairies or "the hungry man" but does not exist within the constraints of reality we take for granted, similar to reports of Bottomless Pits.
"When I was child [in Co. Meath] I was told by an old man in the village that if you stood on the hungry grass, if you had nothing to hand to eat you would be rooted to the spot, and presumably starve, so I always carried a crust in my pocket.
I had a chat with my mother … and she said that it was spoken of across all of Ireland, referred to in Irish as An Fear Gorta (pronounced On Fair Gurtha) [East Sheen, Surrey, April 2012].
"His great-uncle, as a young man, had been out walking after a day at work. He was heading home for his tea, but he was in no great hurry. It was a pleasant late afternoon, settling into the long shadows of encroaching evening.
He was quite alone on that quiet country lane. All around him the miles stretched out over a peat bog wilderness, ending in distant mountains. Pools of water glistened here and there, growing darker as he approached, reflecting more the soil beneath than the sinking sun above.
As he had done a hundred times or more, he passed by a deserted village standing well back from the track.
The cottages and crofts were just roofless stumps of walls. Their occupants were long gone. The familiar sight nonetheless always unsettled him and he sped up to pass it.
Only, on this occasion, he happened to glance at the overgrown outline of one of the old fields surrounding it. No-one had ploughed that since the potato crop failed, half a century before.
He didn't know what compelled him to wander over there. There was no gate, if there had ever been one, but the dry-stone walls had survived well enough.
He entered the field and meandered across it, pushing through tall grasses and unchecked wild flowers.
It had felt peaceful, but then an eerie sensation passed through him. He wasn't sure why he'd wanted to be in there; but now he really wanted to move on. He couldn't say what was making him uncomfortable, maybe the memory of tragedy implied by the location. But it was time to go.
He couldn't find the gap where a gate might have been. Half-laughing at himself, calling himself all manner of fool, he finally applied some reason to the bizarre situation. The field wasn't so big, nor the grass so tall that he couldn't see over it, but he patently couldn't see the way out. He would simply follow the wall instead. It had to eventually lead to the gate, didn't it?
The sun slipped behind the horizon and he hadn't come home. It was quite late before his wife raised the alarm, having spent some time getting past her annoyance at a spoiled meal in order to ascertain that he wasn't in any of the local pubs.
His brothers, cousins and friends formed a search party, checking all over town.
The Connemara man's grandad was amongst those who retraced the route back to his place of work.
By now it was nearly midnight and the empty bog was pitch black, with no moon to speak of to guide them. They called his name and listened intently. No response was heard. Yet a group of them carried on hunting all night, warily traipsing the bog, calling, listening, hearing nothing.
It was morning before he was found, still walking around and around the field.
One of his work-mates and two of his brothers stood outside the perimeter calling his name. He appeared blank, unhearing, but with an expression of utter desperation and exhaustion. He did not look up, nor even acknowledge that they were there.
Finally his eldest brother grabbed him by the arm, as he staggered by the gap in the wall. He looked at them with haunted eyes and gabbled words about hunger. So much hunger. He was famished. Then he collapsed.
He was carried home and nursed by his worried wife. He appeared aged and frail, shocked to the core. His weariness far out-stripped that expected of any healthy man in the prime of his life, even one who'd been walking all night.
And he was so hungry, always hungry, in a way which no food could abate. He never recovered and died within the week. "