A Guide to Fairyspotting
By C. Austin
Some people spend their time avoiding the wee folk, others pursue the
fairy gentry in search of fortune. Lore tells us the "fairy folk live in
the oaks,"...and the hawthorn trees, the fairy forts, even the sea. But
just where can the wee folk be found?
The fairy folk, some say, are the ancient citizens of the Tuatha de
Danaan, a godlike race which inhabited Ireland generations ago. The de
Danaan (Children of the goddess Danu) fell to the invading Milesians.
With their defeat the de Danaan retreated to the sidhe mounds, circular
barrows and other wild places. These circular barrows, or ringforts,
forever after were considered fairy forts or raths.
Historically, ringforts are circular enclosures surrounded by an
or stone bank which were used as farmsteads from about 500 to 1200 A.D.
Within the protective earthen bank, activities such as cooking, grain
grinding and pottery making took place along with everyday living.
Approximately 40,000 ringforts still dot the Irish countryside.
Two such sites exist on the Burren, County Clare. One ring,
Ballyallaban Ringfort, is guarded by
a fairy pooka (who takes the form of a pony). The ring possesses an
unearthly feel: even a cynical mortal might find themselves fleeing the
area, glad to still have their wits about them. The other, a
earthen fort is enchanting by itself with its gown of thousands of
Another ringfort with a distinctly otherworldly atmosphere is
the seat of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland from 1002 until his death in
1014. Located in County Clare between the River Shannon and the
Killaloe-Tuamgraney road, the overgrown site is another to be approached
with caution lest a trespasser offend the resident invisibles. Close by
is Magh Adhair,
the Inauguration Place of the Kings of Thomond, including
Brian Boru. A quiet site, gorse and fuschia hedges camouflage fairy
goings-on and a stone pillar still stands which probably played a part in
the crowning ceremonies, much like Lia Fail on the Hill of Tara.
More direct routes to the land of fairie or Tir Na n'Og, exist in
cave entrances, two of which are located at Lough Gur, County Limerick
and at Rathcrogan, County Roscommon.
The cave at Lough Gur
is choked with trees and bush cover. Despite the
pleasant day on which I visited the site, an ill will blew about the cave
and its darkness permeated the surrounding hill. At Rathcrogan,
is a limestone fissure referred to as the "Cave of the Cats" which aligns
with the midsummer sunset.
The many standing stone sites also give rise to fairy workings. Perhaps
Irelands best known portal tomb is
Poulnabrone, located alongside the
Corofin-Ballyvaughan road in County Claire. This Late Stone Age
monument, though the topic of much fairy legend, once held the bones of
16 adults and children who lived in the surrounding farming community.
To those searching for the wee kind, these sites are a good place to
start. But remember, the fairie folk are felt more often than seen and
their fondest sport is that which they make with humans.