Fear Dearg translates to Red Man, and they are so called because they dress head to toe in red, with a long red coat and a red hat. According to some sources, they are sometimes called ‘Rat Boys’ or ‘Rat Men’ also, as they are chubby little fellows with snout-like noses, long tails, and dirty hairy skin. They may be a close relative of the Leprechaun, as they are of about the same stature. They are solitary fairies, like the Leprechaun, as they do not live with others of their kind. But there their similarities end. As the Leprechaun likes to keep himself to himself, quiet and out of sight, the Fear Dearg is the polar opposite, a cranky little man who searches out humans so that he can torment and terrorise them.
The Fear Dearg is another trickster, like a lot of the Irish fae folk, but this trickster doesn’t just play funny practical jokes. He likes to take things a bit too far. He is the one who is said to replace human babies with ugly changelings, keeping the human baby for himself and raising it as a fairy.
He will stalk the countryside at night, carrying a sack on his back large enough to hold a human adult. If he manages to trap or ambush a person, or steal one away (a child or a grown-up will do) he will drag the person back to his abode and lock them in a dark room, then spend his time making fearsome inhuman noises outside the locked room, such as growls, cackles, and weird laughter, to try to frighten the life out of the poor soul. After a while (we don’t know how long he likes to keep people locked up) he sets his captive free. Pretty creepy really! In some tales, it is told that the Fear Dearg would force his captive to make him dinner. His dinner would consist of a hag cooked on a spit, so cooking really wouldn’t be as simple as it sounds.
The Fear Dearg is said to bring nightmares and night terrors if he visits you in your sleep. I’m not surprised. I don’t think I’ll sleep soundly after this!