Apparitions from Fairyland
[Note: This is taken from W.Y. Evans Wentz’s The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.]
THE TESTIMONY OF A COLLEGE PROFESSOR
Our next witness is the Rev. Father – ‘a professor in a Catholic college in West Ireland, and most of his statements are based on events which happened among his own acquaintances and relatives, and his deductions are the result of careful investigation :-
Apparitions from Fairyland.- ‘Some twenty to thirty years ago, on the borders of County Roscommon near County Sligo, according to the firm belief of one of my own relatives, a sister of his was taken by the fairies on her wedding-night, and she appeared to her mother afterwards as an apparition. She seemed to want to speak, but her mother, who was in bed at the time, was thoroughly frightened, and turned her face to the wall. The mother is convinced that she saw this apparition of her daughter, and my relative thinks she might have saved her.
‘This same relative who gives it as his opinion that his sister was taken by the fairies, at a different time saw the apparition of another relative of mine who also, according to similar belief, had been taken by the fairies when only five years old. The child-apparition appeared beside its living sister one day while the sister was going from the yard into the house, and it followed her in. It is said the child was taken because she was such a good girl.’
Nature of the Belief in Fairies.-
‘As children we were always afraid of fairies, and were taught to say “ God bless them! God bless them!” whenever we heard them mentioned.
‘In our family we always made it a point to have clean water in the house at night for the fairies.
‘If anything like dirty water was thrown out of doors after dark it was necessary to say “ Hugga, hugga salach!” as a warning to the fairies not to get their clothes wet.
‘Untasted food, like milk, used to be left on the table at night for the fairies. If you were eating and food fell from you, it was not right to take it back, for the fairies wanted it. Many families are very serious about this even now. The luckiest thing to do in such cases is to pick up the food and eat just a speck of it and then throw the rest away to the fairies.
‘Ghosts and apparitions are commonly said to live in isolated thorn-bushes, or thorn-trees. Many lonely bushes of this kind have their ghosts. For example, there is Fanny’s Bush, Sally’s Bush, and another I know of in County Sligo near Boyle.’
Personal Opinions.- ‘ The fairies of any one race are the people of the preceding race-the Fomors for the Fir Boigs, the Fir Boigs for the Dananns, and the Dananns for us. The old races died. Where did they go? They became spirits – and fairies. Second-sight gave our race power to see the inner world. When Christianity came to Ireland the people had no definite heaven. Before, their ideas about the other world were vague. But the older ideas of a spirit world remained side by side with the Christian ones, and being preserved in a subconscious way gave rise to the fairy world.’
EVIDENCE FROM COUNTY ROSCOMMON
Our next place for investigation will be the ancient province of the great fairy-queen Meave, who made herself famous by leading against Cuchulainn the united armies of four of the five provinces of Ireland, and all on account of a bull which she coveted. And there could be no better part of it to visit than Roscommon, which Dr. Douglas Hyde has made popular in Irish folk-lore.
Dr. Hyde and the Leprechaun.-
One day while I was privileged to be at Ratra, Dr. Hyde invited me to walk with him in the country. After we had visited an old fort which belongs to the ‘good people’, and had noticed some other of their haunts in that part of Queen Meave’s realm, we entered a straw-thatched cottage on the roadside and found the good house-wife and her fine-looking daughter both at home. In response to Dr. Hyde’s inquiries, the mother stated that one day, in her girlhood, near a hedge from which she was gathering wild berries, she saw a leprechaun in a hole under a stone :- ‘He wasn’t much larger than a doll, and he was most perfectly formed, with a little mouth and eyes.’ Nothing was told about the little fellow having a money-bag, although the woman said people told her afterwards that she would have been rich if she had only had sense enough to catch him when she had so good a chance.
The Death Coach.-
The next tale the mother told was about the death coach which used to pass by the very house we were in. Every night until after her daughter was born she used to rise up on her elbow in bed to listen to the death coach passing by. It passed about midnight, and she could hear the rushing, the tramping of the horses, and most beautiful singing, just like fairy music, but she could not understand the words. Once or twice she was brave enough to open the door and look out as the coach passed, but she could never see a thing, though there was the noise and singing. One time a man had to wait on the roadside to let the fairy horses go by, and he could hear their passing very clearly, and couldn’t see one of them.
When we got home, Dr. Hyde told me that the fairies of the region are rarely seen. The people usually say that they hear or feel them only.
The ‘Good People’ and Mr. Gilleran.-
After the mother had testified, the daughter, who is quite of the younger generation, gave her own opinion. She said that the ‘good people’ live in the forts and often take men and women or youths who pass by the forts after sunset; that Mr. Gilleran, who died not long ago, once saw certain dead friends and recognized among them those who were believed to have been taken and those who died naturally, and that he saw them again when he was on his death-bed.
We have here, as in so many other accounts, a clear connexion between the realm of the dead and Fairyland.
THE TESTIMONY OF A LOUGH DERG SEER
Neil Colton, seventy-three years old, who lives in Tamlach Towniand, on the shores of Lough Derg, County Donegal, has a local reputation for having seen the ‘gentle folk’, and so I called upon him. As we sat round his blazing turf fire, and in the midst of his family of three sturdy boys-for he married late in life-this is what he related :-
A Girl Recovered from Faerie.-‘ One day, just before sunset in midsummer, and I a boy then, my brother and cousin and myself were gathering bilberries (whortleberries) up by the rocks at the back of here, when all at once we heard music. We hurried round the rocks, and there we were within a few hundred feet of six or eight of the gentle folk, and they dancing. When they saw us, a little woman dressed all in red came running out from them towards us, and she struck my cousin across the face with what seemed to be a green rush. We ran for home as hard as we could, and when my cousin reached the house she fell dead. Father saddled a horse and went for Father Ryan. When Father Ryan arrived, he put a stole about his neck and began praying over my cousin and reading psalms and striking her with the stole; and in that way brought her back. He said if she had not caught hold of my brother, she would have been taken for ever.’
The ‘Gentle Folk ‘.- ‘ The gentle folk are not earthly people; they are a people with a nature of their own. Even in the water there are men and women of the same character. Others have caves in the rocks, and in them rooms and apartments. These races were terribly plentiful a hundred years ago, and they’ll come back again. My father lived two miles from here, where there were plenty of the gentle folk. In olden times they used to take young folks and keep them and draw all the life out of their bodies. Nobody could ever tell their nature exactly.’
EVIDENCE FROM COUNTY FERMANAGH
From James Summerville, eighty-eight years old, who lives in the country near Irvinestown, I heard much about the ‘wee people’ and about banshees, and then the following remarkable story concerning the ‘good people’ :-
Travelling Clairvoyance through ‘Fairy’ Agency.-‘ From near Ederney, County Fermanagh, about seventy years ago, a man whom I knew well was taken to America on Hallow Eve Night; and they (the good people) made him look down a chimney to see his own daughter cooking at a kitchen fire. Then they took him to another place in America, where he saw a friend he knew. The next morning he was at his own home here in Ireland.
‘This man wrote a letter to his daughter to know if she was at the place and at the work on Hallow Eve Night, and she wrote back that she was. He was sure that it was the good people who had taken him to America and back in one night.’
EVIDENCE FROM COUNTY ANTRIM
At the request of Major R. G. Berry, M.R.I.A., of Richill Castle, Armagh, Mr. H. Higginson, of Glenavy, County Antrim, collected all the material he could find concerning the fairy-tradition in his part of County Antrim, and sent to me the results, from which I have selected the very interesting, and, in some respects, unique tales which follow :-
The Fairies and the Weaver.- ‘ Ned Judge, of Sophys Bridge, was a weaver. Every night after he went to bed the weaving started of itself, and when he arose in the morning he would find the dressing which had been made ready for weaving so broken and entangled that it took him hours to put it right. Yet with all this drawback he got no poorer, because the fairies left him plenty of household necessaries, and whenever he sold a web [of cloth~ he always received treble the amount bargained for.’
Meeting Two Regiments of ‘Them ‘.- ‘ William Megarry, of Ballinderry, as his daughter who is married to James Megarry, J.P., told me, was one night going to Crumlin on horseback for a doctor, when after passing through Glenavy he met just opposite the Vicarage two regiments of them (the fairies) coming along the road towards Glenavy. One regiment was dressed in red and one in blue or green uniform. They were playing music, but when they opened out to let him pass through the middle of them the music ceased until he had passed by.’
IN CUCHULAINN’S COUNTRY: A CIVIL ENGINEER’S
In the heroic days of pagan Ireland, as tradition tells, the ancient earthworks, now called the Navan Rings, just outside Armagh, were the stronghold of Cuchulainn and the Red Branch Knights; and, later, under Patrick, Armagh itself, one of the old mystic centres of Erin, became the ecclesiastical capital of the Gaels. And from this romantic country, one of its best informed native sons, a graduate civil engineer of Dublin University, offers the following important evidence :-
The Fairies are the Dead.-‘ When I was a youngster near Armagh, I was kept good by being told that the fairies could take bad boys away. The sane belief about the fairies, however, is different, as I discovered when I grew up. The old people in County Armagh seriously believe that the fairies are the spirits of the dead; and they say that if you have many friends deceased you have many friendly fairies, or if you have many enemies deceased you have many fairies looking out to do you harm.’
Food-Offerings to Place-Fairies.- ‘ It was very usual formerly, and the practice is not yet given up, to place a bed, some other furniture, and plenty of food in a newly-constructed dwelling the night before the time fixed for moving into it ; and if the food is not consumed, and the crumbs swept up by the door in the morning, the house cannot safely be occupied. I know of two houses now that have never been occupied, because the fairies did not show their willingness and goodwill by taking food so offered to them.’
ON THE SLOPES OF SLIEVE GULLION
In climbing to the summit of Cuchulainn’s mountain, which overlooks parts of the territory made famous by the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’, I met John O’Hare, sixty-eight years old, of Longfield Towniand, leading his horse to pasture, and I stopped to talk with him about the ‘good people’.
‘The good people in this mountain,’ he said, ‘are the people who have died and been taken; the mountain is enchanted.’
The ‘Fairy’ Overflowing of the Meal-Chest.- ‘ An old woman came to the wife of Steven Callaghan and told her not to let Steven cut a certain hedge. “It is where we shelter at night,” the old woman added; and Mrs. Callaghan recognized the old woman as one who had been taken in confinement. A few nights later the same old woman appeared to Mrs. Callaghan and asked for charity; and she was offered some meal, which she did not take. Then she asked for lodgings, but did not stop. When Mrs. Callaghan saw the meal-chest next morning it was overflowing with meal: it was the old woman’s gift for the hedge.’
THE TESTIMONY OF TWO DROMINTEE PERCIPIENTS
After my friend, the Rev. Father L. Donnellan, C.C., of Dromintee, County Armagh, had introduced me to Alice Cunningham, of his parish, and she had told much about the ‘gentle folk’, she emphatically declared that they do exist – and this in the presence of Father Donnellan – because she has often seen them on Carrickbroad Mountain, near where she lives. And she then reported as follows concerning enchanted Slieve Gullion:
The ‘Sidhe’ Guardian of Slieve Gullion.- ‘
The top of Slieve Gullion is a very gentle place. A fairy has her house there by the lake, but she is invisible. She interferes with nobody. I hear of no gentler places about here than Carrickbroad and Slieve Gullion.’
Father Donnellan and l called next upon Thomas McCrink and his wife at Carrifamayan, because Mrs. McCrink claims to have seen some of the’ good people’, and this is her testimony :-
Nature of the ‘Good People ‘.-‘ I’ve heard and felt the good people coming on the wind; and I once saw them down in the middle field on my father’s place playing football. They are still on earth. Among them are the spirits of our ancestors; and these rejoice whenever good fortune comes our way, for I saw them before my mother won her land [after a long legal contest] in the field rejoicing.
‘Some of the good people I have thought were fallen angels, though these may be dead people whose time is not up. We are only like shadows in this world: my mother died in England, and she came to me in the spirit. I saw her plainly. I ran to catch her, but my hands ran through her form as if it were mere mist. Then there was a crack, and she was gone.’ And, finally, after a moment, our percipient said :- ‘ The fairies once passed down this lane here on a Christmas morning; and I took them to be suffering souls out of Purgatory, going to mass.’
THE TESTIMONY OF A DROMINTEE SEERESS
Father Donnellan, the following day, took me to talk with almost the oldest woman in his parish, Mrs. Biddy Grant, eighty-six years old, of Upper Toughal, beside Slieve Gullion. Mrs. Grant is a fine specimen of an Irishwoman, with white hair, clear complexion, and an expression of great natural intelligence, though now somewhat feeble from age. Her mind is yet clear, however; and her testimony is substantiated by this statement from her own daughter, who lives with her :- ‘ My mother has the power of seeing things. It is a fact with her that spirits exist. She has seen much, even in her old age; and what she is always telling me scares me half to death.’
The following is Mrs. Grant’s direct testimony given at her own home, on September 20, 1909, in answer to our question if she knew anything about the ‘good people’
Seeing the ‘Good People’ as the Dead.-‘ I saw them once as plain as can be-big, little, old, and young. I was in bed at the time, and a boy whom I had reared since he was born was lying ill beside me. Two of them came and looked at him; then came in three of them. One of them seemed to have something like a book, and he put his hand to the boy’s mouth; then he went away, while others appeared, opening the back window to make an avenue through the house; and through this avenue came great crowds. At this I shook the boy, and said to him, “ Do you see anything?” “No,” he said; but as I made him look a second time he said, “I do.” After that he got well.
‘These good people were the spirits of our dead friends, but I could not recognize them. I have often seen them that way while in my bed. Many women are among them. I once touched a boy of theirs, and he was just like feathers in my hand; there was no substance in him, and I knew he wasn’t a living being. I don’t know where they live; I’ve heard they live in the Carrige (rocks). Many a time I’ve heard of their taking people or leading them astray. They can’t live far away when they come to me in such a rush. They are as big as we are. I think these fairy people are all through this country and in the mountains.’
An Apparition of a’ Sidhe’ Woman ? – ‘At a wake I went out of doors at midnight and saw a woman running up and down the field with a strange light in her hand. I called out my daughter, but she saw nothing, though all the time the woman dressed in white was in the field, shaking the light and running back and forth as fast as you could wink. I thought the woman might be the spirit of Nancy Frink, but I was not sure.’
EVIDENCE FROM LOUGH GUR, COUNTY LIMERICK
One of the most interesting parts of Ireland for the archaeologist and for the folk-lorist alike is the territory immediately surrounding Lough Gur, County Limerick. Shut in for the most part from the outer world by a circle of low-lying hills on whose summits fairy goddesses yet dwell invisibly, this region, famous for its numerous and well-preserved cromlechs, dolmens, menhirs, and tumuli, and for the rare folk-traditions current among its peasantry, has long been popularly regarded as a sort of Otherworld preserve haunted by fairy beings, who dwell both in its waters and on its land.
There seems to be no reasonable doubt that in pre-Christian times the Lough Gur country was a very sacred spot, a mystic centre for pilgrimages and for the celebration of Celtic religious rites, including those of initiation. The Lough is still enchanted, but once in seven years the spell passes off it, and it then appears like dry land to any one that is fortunate enough to behold it. At such a time of disenchantment a Tree is seen growing up through the lake-bottom – a Tree like the strange World-Tree of Scandinavian myth. The Tree is covered with a Green Cloth, and under it sits the lake’s guardian, a woman knitting. (1) The peasantry about Lough Gur still believe that beneath its waters there is one of the chief entrances in Ireland to Tir-na-nog, the ‘Land of Youth’, the Fairy Realm. And when a child is stolen by the Munster fairies, ‘Lough Gur is conjectured to be the place of its unearthly transmutation from the human to the fairy state.’
To my friend, Count John de Salis, of Balliol College, I am indebted for the following legendary material, collected by him on the fairy-haunted Lough Gur estate, his ancestral home, and annotated by the Rev. J. F. Lynch, one of the best-informed antiquarians living in that part of South Ireland.
The Fairy Goddesses, Aine – and Fennel (or Finnen) –
‘There are two hills near Lough Gur upon whose summits sacrifices and sacred rites used to be celebrated according to living tradition. One, about three miles south-west of the lake, is called Knock Aine, Aine or Ane being the name of an ancient Irish goddess, derived from an, “bright.” The other, the highest hill on the lake-shores, is called Knock Fennel or Hill of the Goddess Fennel, from Finnen or Finnine or Fininne, a form of fin, “white.” The peasantry of the region call Aine one of the Good People; and they say that according to one legend, Aine, like the Breton Morgan, may sometimes be seen combing her hair, only half her body appearing above the lake. And in times of calmness and clear water, according to another legend, one may behold beneath Aine’s lake the lost enchanted castle of her son Geroid, close to Garrod Island – so named from Gerdid or ‘Gerald’.
Geroid lives there in the under-lake world to this day, awaiting the time of his normal return to the world of men. But once in every seven years, on clear moonlight nights, he emerges temporarily, when the Lough Gur peasantry see him as a phantom mounted on a phantom white horse, leading a phantom or fairy cavalcade across the lake and land. A well-attested case of such an apparitional appearance of the earl has been recorded by Miss Anne Baily, the percipient having been Teigue O’Neill, an old blacksmith whom she knew (see All the Year Round, New Series, iii. 495-6, London, 1870). And Moll Riall, a young woman also known to Miss Baily, saw the phantom earl by himself, under very weird circumstances, by day, as she stood at the margin of the lake washing clothes (ib., p. 496).
Some say that Aine’s true dwelling-place is in her hill; upon which on every St. John’s Night the peasantry used to gather from all the immediate neighbourhood to view the moon (for Aine seems to have been a moon goddess, like Diana), and then with torches (cliars) made of bunches of straw and hay tied on poles used to march in procession from the hill and afterwards run through cultivated fields and amongst the cattle. The underlying purpose of this latter ceremony probably was – as is the case in the Isle of Man and in Brittany, where corresponding fire-ceremonies surviving from an ancient agricultural cult are still celebrated – to exorcise the land from all evil spirits and witches in order that there may be good harvests and rich increase of flocks. Sometimes on such occasions the goddess herself has been seen leading the sacred procession (cf. the Bacchus cult among the ancient Greeks, who believed that the god himself led his worshippers in their sacred torch-light procession at night, he being like Aine in this respect, more or less connected with fertility in nature). One night some girls staying on the bill late were made to look through a magic ring by Aine, and lo the hill was crowded with the folk of the fairy goddess who before had been invisible. The peasants always said that Aine is ‘the best-hearted woman that ever lived’ (cf. David Fitzgerald, Popular Tales of Ireland, in Rev. Celt., iv. 185 – 92).
In Silva Gadelica (ii. 347-8), Aine is a daughter of Eogabal, a king of the Tuatha De Danann, and her abode is within the sidh, named on her account ‘Aine cliach, now Cnoc Aine, or Knockany’. In another passage we read that Manannan took Aine as his wife (ib., ii. 197). Also see in Silva Gadelica, ii, pp. 225, 576.
Fennel (apparently her sister goddess or a variant of herself) lived on the top of Knock Fennel’ (termed Finnen in a State Paper dated 1200).
The Fairy Boat-Race.— ‘
Different old peasants have told me that on clear calm moonlight nights in summer, fairy boats appear racing across Lough Gur. The boats come from the eastern side of the lake, and when they have arrived at Garrod Island, where the Desmond Castle lies in ruins, they vanish behind Knock Adoon. There are four of these phantom boats, and in each there are two men rowing and a woman steering. No sound is heard, though the seer can see the weird silvery splash of the oars and the churning of the water at the bows of the boats as they shoot along. It is evident that they are racing, because one boat gets ahead of the others, and all the rowers can be seen straining at the oars. Boats and occupants seem to be transparent, and you cannot see exactly what their nature is. One old peasant told me that it is the shining brightness of the clothes on the phantom rowers and on the women who steer which makes them visible.
‘Another man, who is about forty years of age, and as far as I know of good habits, assures me that he also has seen this fairy boat-race, and that it can still be seen at the proper season.’
The Bean-Tighe -‘ The Bean-tighe, the fairy housekeeper of the enchanted submerged castle of the Earl of Desmond, is supposed to appear sitting on art ancient earthen monument shaped like a great chair and hence called Suidheachan, the “Housekeeper’s Little Seat,” on Knock Adoon (Hill of the Fort), which juts out into the Lough. The Bean-tighe, as I have heard an old peasant tell the tale, was once asleep on her Seat, when the Buachailleen or “Little Herd Boy” stole her golden comb. When the Bean-tighe awoke and saw what bad happened, she cast a curse upon thecattle of the Buachailleen, and soon all of them were dead, and then the “Little Herd Boy” himself died, but before his death he ordered the golden comb to be cast into the Lough.’
Lough Gur Fairies in General,- ‘
The peasantry in the Lough Gur region commonly speak of the Good People or of the Kind People or of the Little People, their names for the fairies. The leprechaun indicates the place where hidden treasure is to be found. If the person to whom he reveals such a secret makes it known to a second person, the first person dies, or else no money is found: in some cases the money is changed into ivy leaves or into furze blossoms.
‘I am convinced that some of the older peasants still believe in fairies. I used to go out on the lake occasionally on moonlight nights, and an old woman supposed to be a “wise woman” (a Seeress), hearing about my doing this, told me that under no circumstances should I continue the practice, for fear of “Them People” (the fairies). One evening in particular I was warned by her not to venture on the lake. She solemnly asserted that the” Powers of Darkness” were then abroad, and that it would be misfortune for me to be in their path.
‘Under ordinary circumstances, as a very close observer of the Lough Gur peasantry informs me, the old people will pray to the Saints, but if by any chance such prayers remain unanswered they then invoke other powers, the fairies, the goddesses Aine and Fennel, or other pagan deities, whom they seem to remember in a vague subconscious manner through tradition.’
TESTIMONY FROM A COUNTY KERRY SEER
To another of my fellow students in Oxford, a native Irishman of County Kerry, I am indebted for the following evidence : –
A Collective Vision of Spiritual Beings.- ‘
Some few weeks before Christmas, 1910, at midnight on a very dark night, I and another young man (who like myself was then about twenty-three years of age) were on horseback on our way home from Limerick. When near Listowel, we noticed a light about half a mile ahead. At first it seemed to be no more than a light in some house; but as we came nearer to it and it was passing out of our direct line of vision we saw that it was moving up and down, to and fro, diminishing to a spark, then expanding into a yellow luminous flame. Before we came to Listowel we noticed two lights, about one hundred yards to our right, resembling the light seen first. Suddenly each of these lights expanded into the same sort of yellow luminous flame, about six feet high by four feet broad. In the midst of each flame we saw a radiant being having human form. Presently the lights moved toward one another and made contact, whereupon the two beings in them were seen to be walking side by side. The beings’ bodies were formed of a pure dazzling radiance, white like the radiance of the sun, and much brighter than the yellow light or aura surrounding them. So dazzling was the radiance, like a halo, round their heads that we could not distinguish the countenances of the beings; we could only distinguish the general shape of their bodies; though their heads were very clearly outlined because this halo-like radiance, which was the brightest light about them, seemed to radiate from or rest upon the head of each being. As we travelled on; a house intervened between us and the lights, and we saw no more of them. It was the first time we had ever seen such phenomena, and in our hurry to get home we were not wise enough to stop and make further examination. But ever since that night I have frequently seen, both in Ireland and in England, similar lights with spiritual beings in them.’
Reality of the Spiritual World.- ‘
Like my companion, who saw all that I saw of the first three lights, I formerly had always been a sceptic as to the existence of spirits; now I know that there is a spiritual world. My brother, a physician, had been equally sceptical until he saw, near our home at Listowel, similar lights containing spiritual beings and was obliged to admit the genuineness of the phenomena,
‘In whatever country we may be, I believe that we are for ever immersed in the spiritual world; but most of us cannot perceive it on account of the unrefined nature of our physical bodies. Through meditation and psychical training one can come to see the spiritual world and its beings. We pass into the spirit realm at death and come back into the human world at birth; and we continue to reincarnate until we have overcome all earthly desires and mortal appetites. Then the higher life is open to our consciousness and we cease to be human; we become divine beings.’ (Recorded in Oxford, England, August 12, 1911.)