Irish Faerie Forts
These intriguing fortresses of old has always fascinated me conceptually once I read about them in the many legends and folklore of the Irish Faeries. However, it wasn’t until the last two years that I’ve had the chance to explore these raths of myths and tales in-depth and personally wondering if they are truly gateways into the Land of the Young, Tir Na Nog or the Faerie Otherworld. “Fairy Forts” are the names given especially by the Irish, Cornish, and other residents of the Isles around Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Britain who strongly believe in the faerie folk. This is a localized term for the “raths”, “ringforts”, “lios”, “hillforts”, “rounds”, “earthen mounds”, or circular dwellings found in England, Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, and Wales.
Fairy Forts / Ring Forts (People's Park, Ireland)
Archaeologists will tell you these came to be around the late Iron Age and used upwards to the domain of early Christianization of the land when the Island’s residents dwelled in circular structures (perhaps “roundhouses”) within earthen banks or ditches that were used for defense. These were believed to have been topped with wooden palisades, stone or wood buildings, roundhouses, or structures. Many archaeologists believe that these were primarily made of wooden structures that would have decayed and is the reason none of the structures remained leaving only vague circular marks in the landscape. These “fairy forts” or “raths” are simply large mounds of earth, clay, grass, hedges, bushes, gorse, and thorn that is circular in shape like that believed to be a round banked enclosure. Archaeology tells us the circular bank was formerly the base for a high fence or wall of sharpened logs sometimes with or without a moat filled with water. Inside the circular enclosure, more often than not, are round wooden thatched dwellings. Also within this enclosure was kept livestock during bad weather as well as to prevent raiding. There is believed to be over 40,000 ringforts in Ireland alone. In 2009 a team of four photographers supported by the Wales Arts International took a road trip across Western Ireland to record and photograph fairy forts. These can be seen at www.fairyfortproject.com. Actual “Sidhe” or Hills, are most commonly interpreted as burial mounds, passage tombs, or tumuli. Human remains have been found in these to support archaeology. Some claim the Tuatha de Danann were actually the “Danes” who were legendary “fort builders”.
Passage Tomb - Slieve Gullion Forest Park
This however is disputed by many folklorists and archaeologist as most of the forts took on Gaelic names. According to Archaeology, the forts are attributed to all sorts of times and races. Legend even attributes them to belong to the Firbolgs, Tuatha Dé Danann, the Celts, the Vikings, as well as mythological individuals such as Aenghus, Eerish, Eir, Farvagh, Cuchuallain, Midir, Croaghan, Lachtna (820-840 C.E.), Brian Boru (980-1014 C.E.), and King Conor (1242-1269 C.E.). Place names throughout the Isles are named after faeries, banshees, and other beings or myths surrounding them. tells a different story opposing the archaeologists’ perspective. The myths, legends, and lore of the land tell that these ringforts were “fairy forts” blessed and protected with Druidic prayers, spells, and magic to protect the “faeries” that lived within or under them. Those who believe in Faeries do not alter or trespass on them. Legend states that the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fir Bolg had originally inhabited Ireland as a mythical race of magical folk who dominated Ireland. Around the time of the Iron Age (oddly enough corresponding to archaeology’s dating of raths) when the Milesians came to Ireland and defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Tuatha was forced to relocate to the Other World, A Faerie dimension, or down below the hills, to Middle Earth as a agreement that only the Milesians ~ the humans ~ could dwell above ground. The Faeries, the “Good Neighbours” had to move underground or to their “Faerie Isles”. They were to retreat into the hills or mounds called “sidhe” which became a word for the “faeries“. These were often described as circular barrows or ringforts. These “hollow hills” have traditionally become known as the home of Faeries. “Sidhe” in Gaelic means “people of the hills”. According to the Book of Armagh, they are the Gods of the Earth known as the Tuatha de Danann. Sometimes seen as God/desses, other times as Druids or sorcerers, and on an odd occasion as aliens, the Tuatha have a rich mythology and is strongly embedded into Irish lore. Some Irish call them the “Sidheog”. To many Christian groups, faeries are believed by some to be fallen angels who are too good to ever be allowed in Hell, and too devilish to ever be accepted into Heaven. It is from these myths, that these defensive forts, were seen to be the domain of the Tuatha Dé Danann as entrances to their world. Out of respect and fear of “war” taking place again between faeries and humans, they are to be respected and avoided. The actual mounds are also seen as potential burial mounds or sacred resting places. As Archaeology has found many burials within such mounds, such as at Newgrange and Tara, hillforts and mounds are avoided out of superstition. A good farmer wouldn’t even mess with the moat, the walls, cut brush from it, remove stones, or damage it in any way. If they did, hard luck and even death could follow. Most respected on these “fairy forts” were the whitethorns, the ash, the gorse, or the “sceach” around its boundaries never to be cut for that would most likely lead to death. In MacCraith’s “Triumphs of Torlough” the “fairy forts” are labelled as the lodgings of appalling apparitions. There are many stories of the hills being lit up by strange lights at night. Sometimes this is described as the hill rising up on pillars, opening to the night sky, revealing brilliant lights of Faeries processing from one hill to another, especially during Lammas tide (August 2nd through 7th). November 11th, during Hollantide, is when the Manx fear their Hogmen or Hillmen the most as it is the time these particular Fae choose to move from one hill to another.
Hill of Tara
Irish lore and ghost stories tell much about the supernatural stature of “Fairy forts”. Many believe “leprechauns” live in them and hide their pots of gold within the mounds as has been expressed in Rudyard Kipling’s 1906 novel “Puck of Pook’s Hill”. In addition to the Ringforts, Dolmen reputedly were also believed to be faerie homes or dwellings. A legend tells of a lady who lived in one became deranged, thought her lover was a dragon, and jumped at him. Many unexplained phenomena takes place in or around the fairy forts. Local lore tells tales of a man who tried to blast down a dolmen resulting in a septic hand while the dolmen remained unscathed; the local astronomer who tried to blast the Inchiquin Barony dolmen was badly injured with his hand as well; a Templenaraha oratory demolition (which was in a ringfort) collapsed a calf shed onto its occupants for building the unstable structure; the 1840 tale of workmen at Dooneeva who were trying to level earthworks in a fairy fort had apparently turned up dead (though his mystic wife ran to a “fairy spot” to work magic to bring him back to life); The Lissardcarney and Ballyhee fairy forts in Templemaley Parish were always known to be faerie strongholds with troops of faeries garrisoned within them (1839 stories); Songs were reputedly heard from the Cahernanoorane in Inchiquin and Liskeentha near Noughaval; tales of faeries haunting the Tobersheefra holy well; the 1892 tale of Nihill a farmer who wrecked and removed the out wall of a triple stone fort near Quin leading to his father stricken with acute pain and only recovering from it when the work was stopped; a landlord losing the use of an eye from the dust of an explosion when blasting a rock in an earth fort being removed in northeast Clare; and in 2011 developer Sean Quinn found financial ruin after he moved a fairy fort. Another tale tells of a cow that grazed in a fairy fort was found with broken legs whose owner then ate its meat only to find the cow in the fairy fort a year later. The farmer was told by the faeries they substituted an old stray horse to make him believe it was his cow as they needed his cow’s milk, and they then let him take his cow home afterwhich he became very prosperous for the loan. Another tale tells of a another farmer who couldn’t understand why none of the cows would enter the fairy fort on their property, and upon investigation by his son, found an old fairy in the fort who asked the man to help him get a young human girl to become his wife. The farmer’s son would not give a young girl to the old fairy but instead married the girl himself, leading to rage from the old fairie who thereby destroyed the farmer’s property. Outraged, the farmer’s son and the girl rode to her parent’s house to tell her three brothers. Her brothers then went to the fort to dig for the old fairy’s house, upon finding his large flat stone, he begged for them to save him his home, which they did in exchange for restoring for what he had taken. There are some ringforts that are more dangerous than others, such as in the case of the Croaghateeaun stone ring wall near Lisdoonvarna. One of the most modern cases of faerie wraith for damaging faerie forts was believed to be the invocation of an ancient curse of the Hill of Tara when the government destroyed sites by construction of the M3 Motorway. In 2007 the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche supposed befell against bad financial luck after signing a order to destroy the Lismullion Henge. By Faerie wraith, he lost his job, was demoted, and held up by an armed gang in the Druids Glen Hotel. The Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen afterwards nearly got sucked out of a helicopter when the door fell off. The Chief Health and Safety officer was seriously injured by a falling tree at Rath Lugh. A worker was killed while being trapped at Fairyhouse where there have been many accidents on that particular stretch of road. There is much concern about being taken by the faeries. Fears from stories such as these may be responsible for the incredible preservation of these forts, hills, raiths, and mounds across the countryside. In many areas, the raiths and fairy forts are protected by Irish law for reasons of heritage preservation, preventing construction or building within 30 meters of them. The Irish government and larger corporations however somehow skirt these laws often when they find need to destroy them for construction projects or building motorways.
Drumdowney Fairy Fort in Ireland