Windham Life and Times – November 16, 2018

Fairy Homes

Souterrain, Bushmills, ‘Wee Folks Cove’ – a view of an underground entrance with a boy at the mouth for scale. (Northern Ireland: County Antrim: Bushmills).

Fairy Homes in Northern Ireland Tradition

I found an interesting e-book online available for free with Project Gutenberg titled, Ulster Folklore, written by Elizabeth Andrews in 1913. In it there were many examples of the fairy beliefs in Northern Ireland. It seems that these legends arose out of some distant cultural memory of the people in Scotland and Ireland. “As you will see in the following pages, traditions record several small races in Ulster: the Grogachs, who are closely allied with the fairies, and also to the Scotch and English Brownies; the short Danes, whom I am inclined to identify with the Tuatha de Danann; the Pechts or Picts; and also the small Finns. My belief is that all these, including the fairies, represent primitive races of mankind, and the stories of woman, children, and men being carried off by the fairies, we have a record of warfare, when stealthy raids were made and captives brought to the dark souterrians. These souterrains, or as the country people call them, ‘coves,’ are very numerous. They are underground structures, built of rough stones without mortar, and roofed with large flat slabs.”

“As a rule, although the fairies are regarded as ‘fallen angels,’ they are said to be kind to the poor, and to possess many good qualities. ‘It was better for the land before they went away’ is an expression I have heard more than once… Much of the primitive belief has gathered around the fairy—we have the fairy well and fairy thorn. It is said that fairies can make themselves so small that they can creep through keyholes, and they are generally invisible to ordinary mortals.”

Mrs. Andrews goes on, “We have seen that fairies are believed to inhabit souterrains; they are also said to live in certain hills, and in forts where, so far as known, no underground structures exists. I may mention as an example the large fort on the Shimna River, near Newcastle, where I was told their music was often heard…”

Souterrain, Ballymagreehan, Castlewellan – a view of an underground entrance with a lady beside it. (Location: Northern Ireland: County Down: Castlewellan).

A “Wee Folk Cove?” on Beacon Hill Road in Windham

“The tradition in regard to both Danes and fairies are very similar in different parts of Ireland. In the County Cavan the country people spoke of beautiful music of the fairies and told me of their living in a fort near Lough Oughter. One woman said they were sometimes called Ganelochs, and were about the size of children, and an old man described them as little people about one or two feet high, riding on small horses. A terrible story, showing how the fairies punish their captives, was told to me by and old woman at Armoy, in County Antrim, who vouched for it being ‘candid truth.’ A man’s wife was carried away by fairies; he married again, but one night his first wife met him, told him where she was, and besought him to release her, saying that if he would do so she would leave that part of the country and not trouble him any more. She begged him, however, not to make the attempt unless he was confident he could carry it out, as if he failed she would die a terrible death. He promised to save her, and she told him to watch at midnight, when she would be riding past the house with the fairies; she would put her hand in at the window, and he must grasp it and hold it tight. He did as she bade him, and although the fairies pulled hard, he had nearly saved her, when his second wife saw what was going on, and tore his hand away. The poor woman was dragged off, and across the fields he heard her piercing cries, and saw next morning the drops of blood where the fairies had murdered her.” (Good qualities?)

Stone megalithic structures exist spread across all of New England, one of the most famous being Mystery Hill in Salem. They are very much in the same form and style of construction as found in Ireland. I have a book in my collection entitled, The Ruins of Greater Ireland in New England, by William B. Goodwin. It posits the theory that whatever race built the stone structures in Ireland also built the structures found in New England. It is curious that these structure have such small openings. Certainly when the Scotch-Irish arrived from Northern Ireland they must have recognized them as being the same type structures as they had back home and would ascribe to them the same fairy legends.  The openings are just the right size for the “wee folk.” You might ask me to explain how the giant slabs of granite were put in place by such little people and I would answer, “They were gifted in magic and descended from fallen angels.” Certainly their inheritance included the power to lift such heavy stone slabs.

 

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