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A bodach (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: ; plural bodaich "old man; rustic, churl, lout"; Old Irish botach), is a trickster or bogeyman figure in Gaelic folklore and mythology. The bodach "old man" is paired with the cailleach "hag, old woman" in Irish legend.


  • Name 1
  • In Gaelic folklore 2
  • References in popular culture 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


Bodach (Old Irish also botach) is the Irish word for a tenant, a serf or peasant. It is derived from bod (Old Irish bod) "tail, penis".[1]

The word has alternatively been derived from both "cottage, hut" (probably a borrowing from Old Norse, as is English booth). The term botach "tenant farmer" is thus equivalent to a cotter (the cotarius of the Domesday Book); a daer botach was a half-free peasant of a lower class.[2] In either case, the name is formed by the addition of nominal suffix -ach ("connected or involved with, belonging to, having").

In modern Gaelic, bodach simply means "old man", often used affectionately.[3]

In the Eachtra Chonlae, one "Boadach the Eternal" is king of Mag Mell. This name is derived from buadhach "victorious" and unrelated to botach in origin. However, the two names may have become associated by the early modern period, as Manannan is also named king of Mag Mell, and the bodach figure in Eachtra Bhodaigh an Chóta Lachtna (17th century) is in turn identified with Manannan.

In Gaelic folklore

In modern Gaelic (Scottish and Irish) folklore, the bodach or "old man" becomes a type of bugbear, to the point of being identified with the devil.

In the early modern (16th or 17th century) tale Eachtra Bhodaigh an Chóta Lachtna, the bodach is identified with the Manannán mac Lir. This identification inspired Lady Gregory's tale "Manannan at Play" (Gods and Fighting Men, 1904), where Manannan makes an appearance in disguise as "a clown [...] old striped clothes he had, and puddle water splashing in his shoes, and his sword sticking out naked behind him, and his ears through the old cloak that was over his head, and in his hand he had three spears of hollywood scorched and blackened."

In Scottish folklore, the bodach comes down the chimney to fetch naughty children, used as a cautionary tale or bogeyman figure to frighten children into good behaviour.[4] A related being known as the Bodach Glas, or the Dark Grey Man, is considered an omen of death.[4] In Walter Scott's novel, Waverley, Fergus Mac-Ivor sees a Bodach Glas, which foretells his death. In W. B. Yeats' 1903 prose version of The Hour-Glass, the character of the Fool remarks at one point during the play that a bodach he met upon the roadside attempted to trick him with a riddle into letting the creature near his coin.

References in popular culture

See also


  1. ^ [ DIL B 148.77]: "botach o, m. (1 bot [='tail, penis') bodach m., IGT Decl. § 11 (54.10)'serf; rustic, peasant': S. ... do marbad do b.¤ ina tig fein, Ann. Conn. 1388.4 (= churle, Annals of Clonmacnoise, 80 FM iv 712.2 note). echtra ... bhodaig in chóta lachtna 'Carle of the Drab Coat', SG 296.7. fomhór boduigh a churlish giant (?), IGT Decl. ex. 1277. síol an bhodaig peasant offspring , ZCP v 221.6 (Midn. Court)." MacBain, A. An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language (1896), p. 42: "bodach, an old man, a carle, Ir. bodach, a rustic, carle; bodd-aco- 'penitus,' [= having a tail], from bod, mentula [=penis], M[iddle] G[aelic] bod (D. of Lismore passim), M[iddle] Ir[ish] bod, bot, *boddo-, bozdo-; Gr[eek] πόσθη, 'mentula'. Stoke suggests the alternative form butto-s, Gr[eek] βύττος, vulva, but the G[aelic] d is against this. He also suggests that bodach is formed on the O[ld] Fr[ench] botte 'a clod'."
  2. ^ Charles McLean Andrews, The Old English Manor (1892), p. 72
  3. ^ Leslie Dunkling. A dictionary of epithets and terms of address Routledge, UK 1ST edition (June 27, 1990) ISBN 978-0-415-00761-0 (hardback) 978-0-203-19195-8 (electronic).
  4. ^ a b Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. pp. 29, 52. ISBN 0394409183.
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