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, mounds, or ringforts, forever after were considered fairy forts or raths.

Historically, mounds and ringforts are circular enclosures surrounded by an earthen 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 large earthen fort is enchanting by itself with its gown of thousands of naturalized irises.

Another ringfort with a distinctly otherworldly atmosphere is Beal Boru, 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, Oweynagat 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.

- By C. Austin -



Entrances to Fairyland are often said to be through mounds, which occasionally open at the knocking of a witch, or at certain times of year, such as Halloween and May Day. These burial chambers, dating from the Neolithic period onwards, are found throughout Europe. There are upwards of forty thousand in Britain alone. They vary in size from a few feet across to over 300 feet in diameter. From Scandinavian to Celtic, Germanic and Slavonic lore, earth mounds are described as occasionally glowing or giving off a strange light.

Mounds are a link between the living and the dead, this world and the next. Both Saxons and Celts thought that fairies lived in mounds. Fairy mounds are also sometimes called ‘Dane Forts’, probably from dun, meaning a hill, as in dune, or from the Scandinavian dáin, meaning ‘dead’ referring to a spirit or ghost. Hill elves were known in Anglo-Saxon writings as dunaelfen. The name of the Dane Hills in Leicestershire, England - where the hag or witch Black Annis lives - probably has the same origin. Again, it may be that dane derives from the Celtic goddess Danu, widely known as the mother of the fairies.

The ghosts of the dead were widely believed to dwell in an underworld kingdom, along with the fairies, ruled by the Lord of the Dead, the Fairy King. In south Wales he is called Gwyn ap Nudd and rules the Welsh fairies the Tylwyth Teg. The entrance to his kingdom is through the Welsh lakes, or beneath Glastonbury Tor in England. In North Wales the King of the Fairies is Arawn, an ancient Welsh god of the underworld. In one story, he changed places with the human King Pwyll for a time. In Ulster myth, he is Finvarra [‘White-topped’], King of the Daoine Sidhe of the west or Connacht, living in the mound of Meadha. Finvarra was once a god of the dead and underworld, with some functions as a vegetation spirit since he is deemed to have the power of bringing good harvests.

Many burial mounds [as artificial earth wombs] are orientated so that the shaft of the sun, at the winter solstice, will strike a point in the underground chamber and trigger the rebirth of the sun, along with the ancestral spirits entombed there. Moreover, the dead had all the ancestral knowledge. Witches went to the underworld to converse with them and learn spells. For ordinary people, this journey was very risky. To find the entrance to a fairy hill you should walk clockwise nine times around it.

- Extract from Working With Fairies -



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