Continued from Different kinds of faeries
The “little people” might not be from the Tuatha de Danann, but they may be beings that were in Ireland before the TDD arrived. Some speculate that their size suggests they’re of the Fir Bolg. Some say that these are the beings who inhabited Earth, even before humans were here.
(For more info about the Tuatha de Danann and the Fir Bolg, start with my short history of Ireland.)
Elves are also “little people,” but in Ireland this word is usually used to mean any small, non-winged faerie. There is no clear word for “gnome” in Irish, so elf is used to mean them, too.
Classic elves are small, often wear a red cap, and they are rarely seen. They live under the roots of trees, and prefer tangled roots. They think the roots weave pretty designs in the soil.
Classic elves protect wild animals, and these elves are what you’ll “sense” (but you won’t see) when you’re walking in the woods. Your best chance to see them is to purposely not look straight at where you hear a rustling. You may then see them out of the corner of your eye.
(If you sense something much larger, you’re near the “Green Man,” which is a very different resident of the fae world.)
Irish elves, like most Irish faeries, are almost always kindly beings, if mischievous.
This is where the etymology gets confusing: The word, elf, seems to have a Teutonic/Scandinavian background, related to words such as aelf and ylf. In the Scandinavian tradition, elves are “dark” or “light,” referring to whether they’re kind or malicious.In Scotland, where there are gnomes as there are in Scandinavia, their faeries are usually from the Seelie or Unseelie Courts, which also denote temperament, good or bad.
However, the Irish, who use the Teutonic/Scandinavian word “elf,” don’t draw lines between good and bad faeries. In fact, the only “bad” (malicious) faeries in Ireland are usually the ones who came to Northern Ireland from Scotland, with a clear Scots-Irish history.
Banshees, aka Bean Sidhe, are definitely from the Tuatha de Danann, and they’re usually full-sized women. They are NOT always dressed in white. (That misconception started when people mistakenly translated Bean Sidhe with the word “ban” [Irish for “white”] instead of “bean,” which means woman.) They protect a particular family. There are many of them, although they’re rarely seen together; usually it’s just one at a time. (If you see a cluster of them, it usually foretells the death or serious illness of a holy man or political leader.)
But the Bean Sidhe (banshee) and other fae folk are numerous, very different from one another, and their names cannot be used interchangeably.