Pronounced ‘kaw-lyuhk,’ Cailleach’s name translates to ‘veiled one’ or ‘hooded woman’. Known by many as the old woman hag, the Cailleach meaning has been associated with numerous mythological and folkloric figures in Ireland and Scotland, and also the Isle of Man. However, the origins of the Cailleach are as shrouded in mystery as the character herself.
Typically portrayed as an elderly woman with a withered face, she is said to have a single, piercing eye in the centre of her forehead. This ‘one-eyed’ aspect has become a defining feature of her character, symbolizing her ability to see beyond the ordinary and into the hidden realms of the ‘otherworld’.
In modern Irish folklore studies, Cailleach is sometimes known as The Hag of Beara, while in Scotland she is known as Beira, Queen of Winter (a name given by 20th-century folklorist Donald Alexander Mackenzie). According to Mackenzie, Beira was a one-eyed giantess with white hair, dark blue skin and rust-coloured teeth.