Sheagh Sidhe

(Faery Host)

Up the airy mountain

Down the rushy glen

We daren't go a hunting

For fear of little men;

Wee folk, good folk

Trooping all together;

Green jacket, red cap

And white owl's feather!


Down along the rocky shore

Some make their home

They live on crispy pancakes

Of yellow tide-foam;

Some in the reeds

Of the black mountain lake

With frogs for their watchdogs

All night awake.


High on the Hill-top

The old King sits;

He is now so old and gray

He's nigh lost his wits.

With a bridge of white mist

Columbkill he crosses,

On his stately journeys

From Slieveleague to Rosses;

Or going up with music

On cold starry nights,

To sup with the Queen

Of the gay Northern Lights.


They stole little Bridget

For seven years long;

When she came down again

Her friends were all gone.

They took her lightly back,

Between the night and morrow,

They thought that she was fast asleep,

But she was dead with sorrow.

They have kept her ever since

Deep within the lake,

On a bed of flag-leaves,

Watching til she wake.


By the craggy hill-side,

Through the mosses bare,

They have planted thorn trees

For pleasure here and there.

Is any man so daring

To dig them up in spite,

He shall find their sharpest thorns

In his bed at night.


Up the airy mountain

Down the rushy glen

We daren't go a hunting

For fear of little men;

Wee folk, good folk

Trooping all together;

Green jacket, red cap

And white owl's feather!

- William Allingham, "The Fairies"

Who are the fairy folk of Irish Legend and popular belief? Some believe they are fallen angels, thrown out of heaven, who weren't quite bad enough to be banished to hell. Some believe they are the ancient gods of the earth, the Tuatha Dé Danann, who when no longer worshipped and fed with sacrifices, shrank to a diminutive size. Irish historians say that the names of their leaders are the same as the names of the old Danan chiefs, and their favorite gathering places are the old Danan burial grounds.

They are called 'The Gentry" or "The good people" by the Irish, who are careful not to offend or anger them. It is said that they are perilous to cross, but also easily pacified by leaving a saucer of milk out at night. Fairies can take many forms... there are fairies of the woodland, of the water, of the meadows... dryads, leprechauns, pookas, banchees... the list is extensive.

When they are angry, they can paralyze men and cattle with their fairy darts. When they are happy, they can sing so beautifully, that they bewitch anyone who hears them. It is said that the most beautiful songs of Ireland were fairy songs, overheard by human eavesdroppers.

Sometimes the fairies will steal away a beautiful mortal child and leave an ugly, wizened little creature in its place. These fairy changelings grow up malicious and wicked, and have voracious appetites.

The unhappy parents often perform a 'test of fire' on the child to determine if it is a changling. They lay the child in the very center of the house, light a fire all around him, and watch to see if he changes into a sod of turf. If the child survives this ordeal it is accepted as one of the family, although grudgingly; and he is generally hated by the neighbors for his impish ways.

The children of the Sidhe and a mortal mother are always clever and beautiful, and excel in music and dancing. They are passionate and willful, have strange, moody fits, and desire solitude above all things, often seeming to converse with unseen spiritual beings.

A young peasant woman is occasionally carried off by the fairies to nurse their fairy children. But the woman is allowed to come back to her own infant after sunset. To break the fairies' enchantment, her husband must immediately throw holy water over her in the name of God. This will restore her to her own shape.

Sometimes she will return with a hissing noise like a serpent, and appear black and shrouded like one who has returned from the dead. In her own shape, she will nurse her baby by the fire. Her husband must ask no questions, but give her food in silence.

If she falls asleep the third night, all will be well - at this point the husband can tie a red thread across the doorway to prevent the fairies from entering the house to retrieve her, and if the third night passes safely, the fairies have lost their power over her for evermore.

Some types of fairies live in communities, in the hollow hills, or fairy mounds. Others are more solitary in nature. These are the wizened, withered unsociable fairies - homely, jeering, mischievous, and just plain crafty. They are the greatest practical jokers among the little people.

The Leprechaun is the most industrious of the fairy folk, known as a shoe-maker. He is believed to be quite rich from his industry, and thus buries large pots of gold here and there, which he jealously guards. In the early part of this century, according to Croker, a newspaper office in Tipperary used to display a tiny shoe, believed to have been left behind by a Leprechaun.

The Cluricaun gets drunk in rich gentlemen's cellars. The Far Darrig, otherwise known as the Red Man, (because he wears a red cap and coat,) spends all of his time playing nasty practical jokes on unsuspecting passersby.

The Banshee is an attendant fairy that follows the old Irish families, and wails terribly before a family death. She clasps her hands and moans in a high keening wail, said to be the model for the funeral cry of the peasantry. When several banshee wail together in chorus, it is believed to herald the death of a very great leader or saint.

The fairy folk celebrate three festivals every year: May Eve, Midsummer Eve, and November Eve. On Midsummer Eve they are the happiest, and sometimes steal away beautiful maidens to be their brides. On November Eve they are the gloomiest, but still dance with the ghosts that walk the earth. The Pooka, a large animal-like fairy, is abroad on November Eve. After this night, it is said that the blackberries are no longer good to eat, for the Pooka has spoiled them.

Real or Imaginary?

The Celts have known about the existence of fairies, or nature spirits since Medieval times or earlier. Celtic Shamans and spiritualists (those with clairvoyant sight) can see a variety of land, water and air spirits. In his book "The Secret Life of Nature," Peter Tompkins retells the story of the Cottingley Fairies, and in particular describes the clairvoyant experiences of one Major Geoffrey Hodson, who Sir Conan Doyle described as "an honorable gentleman with neither the will to deceive nor any conceivable object in doing so."

A purported photo of the Cottingley Fairies

A purported photo of the Cottingley Fairies

Hodson went to Cottingley, and several other areas on Britain known to be inhabited by nature spirits, and described his experiences in great detail. He described dryads (tree spirits,) nyads (water spirits,) brownies, elves, gnomes - flying, plant-tending fairies and earth-dwelling elementals. These fairies appeared to be care-takers of the plants with which they lived, helping them grow by in fusing them with fairy life force.

In a garden at Preston in October, 1921, Hodson spotted a particularly lovely fairy clothed in iridescent shimmering light. " She is decidedly fair in coloring," he noted, "full of laughter and happiness, very open and fearless in expression, surrounded by an aura of golden radiance in which the outline of her wings can be traced. There is also a hint of mockery in her attitude and expression, as of one who is enjoying a joke against the poor mortals who are studying her."

Suddenly, said Hodson, her manner changed and she became serious, giving him a better notion of her function, by stretching out her arms to perform an act of concentration that had the effect, as Hodson witnessed it, of reducing the size of her aura and of turning it inward on herself. Having maintained this condition for about fifteen seconds, "she releases the whole of the concentration of energy, which pours forth in all directions in streams of golden force, and appears to affect every single stem and flower within its reach."

- The Secret Life of Nature, Peter Tompkins


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Revised: March 17, 1999.