Home Animals The Glashtyn (or Glashtin)

The Glashtyn (or Glashtin)

by Bernadette Weyde

The Glashtyn is a fabulous creature and a shapeshifter in the folklore of the Isle of Man.

The popular idea of him is that he is a hairy goblin or sprite of somewhat similar characteristics to the Phynnodderee. He is said to frequent lonely spots and is useful to man, or otherwise, as the caprice of the moment leads him.

The word glashtyn is thought to derive from Celtic Old Irish: glais, glaise, glas, meaning “stream”, or sometimes even the sea.

By some accounts, the Glashtyn is a goblin that appears out of its aquatic habitat, to come in contact with the island folk. But others describe it as a water-horse. There was actually never a consensus in the old collected folklore about this.

In each form he is incredibly muscular and looking for someone to ride him, a journey which always leads back to the still waters he calls home, where his rider discovers they can’t jump from his back and they get pulled to their deaths. However, Glashtyns can be put to good use, as farm hands, if you can control them

Glashtyn may often be heard rather than seen, hence their alternative name of ‘Howlers’. Their eerie cries may have the benefit of warning humans about approaching storms. The Glashtins’ wailing though is likely to arise out of joy not fear and some people suspect that these creatures may actually cause harsh weather. They get very riled up with thunderstorms, and locals do hear them howling as a storm approaches. They’re scared of fire and vulnerable to burns.

In addition to the above, we have monsters called Tarroo Ushtey, or “water-bull,” and Cabbyl-Ushtey, or “water horse,” sometimes called the Glashtyn. These would seem to be analogous to the Irish Phooka, who is said to appear sometimes as a bull and sometimes as a horse, and to the Scandinavian Vatna-Hesir, “river-sprite” or “water horse.” The Vatna-Hesir is supposed to live either in salt or fresh water and to associate with ordinary cattle.

In 1859 it was reported that an animal of this kind was to be seen in a field near Ballure Glen, and hundreds of people left Ramsey in order to catch a sight of it but they were doomed to disappointment. The people about Glen Meay believed that the glen below the waterfall was haunted by the spirit of a man who one day met the Glashtyn, or Cabbyl-Ushtey, and thinking it was an ordinary horse, got upon its back, when it ran off and disappeared in the sea and the rider was drowned.

Modern conceptions tend to portray the Glashtyn as a dark, splendidly handsome young man with flashing eyes and curly hair, capable of alluring women with their looks.

The creature, known under the variant form glashan, was known to have great curiosity for women and pester them in rather picaresque manner, and would grab hold and tear off pieces of women’s attire!

The shapeshifter rationalization notwithstanding, early collectors of Manx folklore were only able to gather disparate, inconsistent accounts of the Glashtyn from different sources, some making him out to be like the Phynnodderee or kindred spirits, while others insisted it was a water-horse.

A tale from the book ‘The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures’ by John & Caitlin Matthews states:


A girl was left alone in her cottage when her father went to market to sell his fish. He told her to fasten the door and not to open it until he knocked three times. She was not at all frightened at first, but when a great storm began and her father had still not returned, she began to be anxious. At last, very late at night, there came three knocks on the door. She ran to open it and a stranger came in, all drenched and dripping. He spoke in a foreign language, but through gestures he asked to be allowed to warm himself by the fire. He would eat nothing she offered him, but laid down by the fire and fell asleep. Soon the lamp went out, but the girl cautiously blew upon the fire until it was bright enough to see the fine pointed ears of the stranger. At once the girl knew that he was the dreaded Glashtyn, who might at any moment take upon him his horse’s form and drag her out to sea and devour her. If only the red cockerel would crow from the dunghill. She sat as still as a stone throughout most of the night until one of the peat logs blazed up with a crackle and the stranger awoke. He sat up and drew out a long string of pearls from his pocket. He dangled these before the girl and invited her to come away with him. But the girl pushed them aside and at that the Glashtyn tried to seize her. She screamed loudly, and the little red cock, thinking it was dawn, woke and crowed. The Glashtyn rushed out and she heard the sound of his hooves as he galloped away. Slowly the daylight returned, the storm blew out and down by the shore the girl heard her father coming home.


(source: AW Moore, Folklore of the Isle of Man (1891); Monstropedia; Wiki and The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures’ by John & Caitlin Matthews available on Amazon.co.uk; artwork by unknown artist)

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