"For all the hillside was haunted
By the faery folk come again
And down in the heart-light enchanted
Were opal-coloured men"
The Sidhe (shee) are considered
to be a distinct race, quite separate from human
beings yet who have had much contact
with mortals over the centuries,
and there are many documented testimonies
to this. Belief in this race of
beings who have powers beyond those of
men to move quickly through the air
and change their shape at will once played
a huge part in the lives of people living
in rural Ireland and Scotland.
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- It is difficult to pin-point an exact historical
era as the time when fairy lore began.
- Many writers maintain that the people of Ireland
and their Gods before the coming of the Gaels are the 'ancestors' of the
- Clearly the belief in the sidhe is part of the
pre-Christian religion which survived for thousands of years and which
has never been completely wiped out from the minds of the people.
- When the first Gaels, the sons of Mil, arrived
in Ireland, they found that the Tuatha De Danaan, the people of the goddess
Dana, already had control of the land. The sons of Mil fought them in battle
and defeated them, driving them 'underground' where it is said they remain
to this day in the hollow hills or sidhe mounds. In the early Irish manuscripts
(which were recorded from an earlier oral tradition) we find references
to the Tuatha De Danaan.In 'The Book of the Dun Cow' and the 'Book of Leinster'
this race of beings is described as "gods and not gods", pointing
to the fact that they are 'something in between'. Also in the Book of the
Dun Cow it says of wise men that: "it seems likely to them that they
[the Tuatha De Danaan] came from heaven, on account of their intelligence
and excellence of their knowledge".
the fairy woman is young and beautiful, Caeilte himself is old and withered.
When Patrick enquires of this, Caeilte tells him that:
"She is of the Tuatha De Danaans who
and I am of the sons of Mil, who are perishable
and fade away".
The sidhe of the subterranean mounds are also
seen by the Irish as the descendants of the old agricultural gods of the
Earth, (one of the most important being Crom Cruaich, the Crooked One of
the Hill). These gods controlled the ripening of the crops and the milk
yields of the cattle, therefore offerings had to be given to them regularly.
In the Book of Leinster we discover that after their conquest the Tuatha
De Danaan took revenge on the sons of Mil by destroying their wheat
and the goodness of the milk (the sidhe are notorious for this even today).
The sons of Mil were thus forced to make a treaty with them, and ever since
that time the people of Ireland have honoured
this treaty by leaving offerings of milk and butter to the Good People.
- The hold that the Tuatha De Danaan had on the
Irish mind was so strong that the new religion of Christianity could not
shake it. In 'The Colloquy of the Ancients' a dialogue which supposedly
took place between St. Patrick and the ghost of Caeilte of the Fianna,
Patrick is amazed to see a fairy woman coming out of the cave of Cruachan,
wearing a green mantle with a crown of gold on her head.
- A notable feature of the sidhe is that they have
distinct tribes, ruled over by fairy kings and queens in each territory.
It would seem that the social order of the sidhe corresponds to the old
aristocracy of ancient Irish families,which is in itself a reflection of
the ancient Celtic caste system.
- It is interesting to note that many of the Irish
refer to the sidhe as simply "the gentry", on account of their
tall, noble appearance and silvery sweet speech. They have their own palaces
where they feast and play music, but also have regular battles with
neighbouring tribes. The great fairyhosts seem to be distinctly Milesian,
but there are still folk memories of perhaps older pre-Gaelic races and
their gods, in the form of the 'geancanach', a spirit of Ulster, or the
'cluricaun',of Munster. We must not forget also the 'leprechaun', a diminutive
creature who is said to know the whereabouts of a pot of gold hidden in
local fairy raths.
- The leprechaun
could possibly be a folk memory of a dwarfish race of Fir Bolg people
who lived in these raths before the coming of the Gaels.
distinct categories of sidhe beings ties in with the testimonies of seers
who divide the sidhe into wood spirits, water spirits, air spirits and
so on, the elemental spirits of each place.
Lough Gur in County Limerick is a very magical
place where we meet many of the sidhe kings and queens of Ireland. The
lake lies within a circle of low lying hills, but once every seven years
it appears as dry land, where an entrance to the Land of Youth may be found.
The lake's guardian is known as Toice Bhrean (the lazy one) because
she neglected to watch over the well, from which the lake sprang forth.It
is believed that once every seven years a mortal meets their death by drowning
in the lake, 'taken' by the Beann Fhionn, the White Lady.
- A distinction is often made between the sidhe
who are seen walking on the ground after sunset, and the 'Sluagh Sidhe',
the fairy host who travel through the air at night,and are known to 'take'
mortals with them on their journeys.
- There are also guardian sidhe of most of the
lakes of Ireland and Scotland.
L. MacDonald DALRIADA MAGAZINE