We visited the Shannon Pot, the source of the river Shannon, a very spiritual place in Ireland, yesterday. The rain was lashing but despite the weather it was magical. We spotted the first May blossom on the hawthorn this spring- and we have waited a long time for spring to arrive in Ireland in 2013. Hawthorn is a tree sacred to fairies. But since fairies come in all shapes and sizes we had more magic in store to witness. They’ve even been known to shape shift, often into animals who then communicate subtly with us.
The other magical sight was a solitary white horse in the pasture beside the the first flowing of the Shannon river as it rises from ‘the pot.’ In the rain it was sheltering beside the hawthorn in full flower. This reminded me of the story of the fairy horse, or eoiche uisce, that is associated with a lough within the Cavan Burren forest.
There is a fairy horse legend associated with a nearby lough on the Cavan Burren that inspired me to write a poem. This poem of mine tells the tale of why you need to be wary of the water horse who is, of course, a fairy horse.
Cautionary Fairy Tale
Young women, beware handsome men
with slicked back watery hair, ken
their fetching grins that show a lot of teeth.
For once in your ever young lives
defer to those older and more wise
who can read the reality beneath.
Handsome men that go wandering lough side,
all snake hipped swagger in full lust cry,
need heeding . Fleet foot yourself away!
For once in your ever young lives
defer to those older and more wise.
Head for home without further delay!
Handsome men wandering lough side
often lure with kisses and love sighs,
tempting young women to get carried away.
Yet at least once in your young lives
defer to those older and more wise.
Don’t yield and be led well astray.
Handsome men with their slicked back, watery hair
have a habit of making young women care.
Don’t be fooled – he’ll have you at his call and his beck.
Please for once in your ever young lives
defer to those older and more wise.
That devill’ll shake your life clear off its track.
That handsome man will turn to faerie beast.
That stallion will seek you for his own mortal feast.
He’ll love you. He’ll lave you, but never’ll leave you.
So for Heaven’s sake of your ever young lives
would you not defer to those older and more wise
who’d save you from riding to your doom?
For the skin turned water horse has only one true enclave.
Tullygubban Lough will always be his current consort’s grave.
© Bee Smith 2011
Storytelling, poetry, music and good conversation are all part of our Betwixt & Between Walks with Bee (and Tony) as we walk the Fairy Ireland landscape of West Cavan, South Fermanagh, Leitrim and Sligo. Charges are 30 euro per hour. Book your walk by emailing email@example.com.
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First thing that all prospective fairy hunters need to understand is this: fairies are earth elementals or nature spirits. So if you want to connect with fairies you need to get outdoors.
Woodland walks are exceptionally good places to hunt for fairies. Gardens that are a bit wildish and left to nature rather than pruned and manicured may prove good hunting grounds. Because fairies are of this world and the other betwixt and between places – shorelines, boundaries of all kinds, bridges- may be the place where you will connect.
Over the mountain from me lives a filmmaker, Johnnie Lawson, who loves this landscape in Northwest Ireland – Leitrim, Sligo, North Roscommon, Fermanagh and West Cavan – as much as I do. Part of his mission is to share the relaxation of nature in this special powerful place in Ireland. We have an abundance of woodland, water and rock – all part of Mother Earth’s bloodlines and bones. This wildish natural landscape makes it the perfect habitat for nature spirits – or fairies as they are better known.
Water we have in abundance in Northwest Ireland. And I’m not talking about rain! Yes, we do have rainy weather, as do other parts of Ireland, but what we also have is Atlantic coastline in Sligo and North Leitrim,and hundreds of lakes in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Cavan. The limestone landscape of this region also means that we have many sacred springs and holy wells. Cavan even has the distinction of having turloughs – disappearing and reappearing lakes! Does that sound like magic?
The mountains that range the boundaries of Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim provide us with many spectacular waterfalls, many of which have a connection with ancient Irish legends. Fermanagh’s Sillees River flows in two directions. St. Brigit’s Waterfall near Glencar, in Sligo doesn’t fall down. She ‘falls’ up!
If you are in need of some wilderness – or even some wildishness get out in Nature and commune with the spirits. Fairies have this reputation of being ‘fluffy.’ That they are not. They can be mischievous, especially when they want to get your attention or sway you from being what I call a Fairy Agnostic. There are plenty of people who sit on the fence about fairies. They don’t want to say that they disbelieve because they don’t want to risk perhaps offending what they are not completely certain exists!
But fairies do exist – in nature – and they are shapeshifters. Often they appear as moths, butterflies and dragonflies which we have in abundance. They unleash themselves when we delight in wild orchids, cowslips and meadows that have never known a lashing with a herbicide.
But to contact the fairies you need to get close to them and what they certain like is the wildish terrain of Northwest Ireland.
Irish Blessings Tours can guide you to special fairy habitats in many places around Northwest Ireland. If you are visiting Ireland and would like to do some fairy hunting, do contact us. Our guiding rates are 30 euros and hour with special rates for half days and full days itineraries for groups up to eight people.
But if you aren’t able to get over to Northwest Ireland for the The Gathering 2013 then I think you deserve to treat yourself to one of Johnnie Lawson’s wonderfully relaxing videos filmed here in Northwest Ireland. Clear here for a taster Johnnie Lawson Relaxation.
While Ireland is famous for her good craíc (sounds like crack) and conviviality, it is also a great destination for more reflective journeys. The early Christian monks were renowned as peregrini for setting out on pilgrimages without specific destinations. These spiritual peregrinations often started with them taking a bit of food and pushing their currachs out into the sea and let nature (and God in nature) take them where they needed to go. It is thought that this is how St. Brendan discovered the continent known as North America.
Ireland, being an island country with a dramatic landscape with ever shifting light and shadow, offers the timelessness and solitude for spiritual reflection in her countryside. Tourists wanting to get some soul food along with their stout and soda bread will not be disappointed. The wild west of Ireland with its poetic, mythic and natural heritage, is the the ultimate destination for the traveller seeking a place for reflection and spiritual nurture.
‘Thin places’, where the veil between the worlds is gossamer fine are those betwixt and between locations that are a lure for the spiritual traveller to Ireland. This glorious landscape in the Northwest of Ireland inspired poetry, most famously, W.B. Yeats. The landscape still retains its sanctity and this can lead to a truly meaningful vacation.
Listen to this YouTube by writer Tony Cuckson of Irish Blessings Tours as he recites Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child” and meditates on what it offers to us today. Allow us to guide you to those threshold places where you may walk hand in hand with faery.
Twixt and In BetweenTwixt and In Between On a sunny autumn Sunday afternoon I went to Claddagh Glen at the foot of the trail leading up to the Marble Arch Caves to interview writer and storyteller Tony Cuckson of www.anamcaraexperience.org about Thin Places. What is this Betwixt and Between thing that Ireland seems to have going for it? Why does Ireland seem to have some many of these special thin or threshold places?
In Irish Blessings Tours debut podcast listen to the lulling flow of the Claddagh River as Bee and Tony converse about Ireland’s hidden Betwixt and Between places and their significance.
You can listen to this interview regarding the magic of thin places here
Bee is happy to guide you around some of Ireland’s lesser known Betwixt and Between places for a day. Or if you would like to spend time in this very fairy landscape in Northwest Ireland she can devise a weekend or week long programme or itinerary for exploring some of Ireland’s most betwixt and between locations. You can contact her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
It was a day when it was my job to escort our Canadian visitors around what is known locally as Yeats Country This is an area in Sligo and North Leitrim that inspired many of the poems written by Ireland’s great poet W. B. Yeats. On the way I played them the following song by a Sligo group. This song by The Waterboys is from their album Fisherman’s Blues and takes the lines from Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child.”
Last Sunday I was walking the Glenfarne Sculpture Trail in Leitrim with another tour guide. We were chatting about approaches to visiting Ireland. Both of us have lived in other parts of the world and come to live in Ireland in middle-age. Why would you want to race around Ireland, packing in the maximum sights, traveling the length and breadth of the island at break neck speed? You could see just as much without a change of pillow every night by centering your holiday in one region.
This is the primary joy of slow travel. You get to savor as many types of site and sights but without the hectic fervor of a gallop. Slow travel is more of a canter. Slow travel allows for in depth exploration, the joy of serendipity as well as a relaxing and reviving vacation. The northwest of Ireland really lends itself to that sort of vacation experience. It’s a real holiday (holy day) and authentic experience of Ireland.
While many North American tourists look at a map and realise that Ireland is the size of Indiana, they don’t realise that in Fairy Ireland no road goes straight from A to B. You have to realise that most routes are as intricate, beautiful and surprising as a Celtic knot. So why would you try and dizzy yourself whirling around these ways when you could simply stop, look, stare, and soak up the spell of this country by taking a slow travel vacation.
John and I live in Northwest Ireland where the Slow Food and organic movements are well established. So, too, with both of us having seen much of what Ireland can offer the visit, we can recommend northwest Ireland as the best place for a slow travel experience. As John is quick to point out, in Sligo alone there are 3,000 ancient monuments. Sligo and Leitrim are the home to much of the action in Tuatha de Danaan lore. As one friend quipped, the pair of us could be a Come to the Sidhe Tourism Board! Without a doubt, the unspoiled environment and scenic beauty of northwest Ireland is very Fairy Ireland.
If the stones in this geological gem of Ireland could just speak! The limestone, sandstone, sedimentary rocks all can tell a story. It’s no little wonder that this region became the first international, cross-border global geopark. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark takes in both built and natural heritage in counties Cavan and Fermanagh.
The place names of each townland are full of myth and legend. Tullydermot Falls, Co. Cavan in the photo right was one of the brief resting spots in the Flight of Grainne and Diarmuid. Diarmuid lost his life at Benwisken, Co. Sligo. Grainne, who returned to her husband Finn MacColl, is said to be buried on Sheebeg, Co. Leitrim.
The Tuatha de Danaan’s homeplace is in Co. Leitrim where they are said to have landed on Slieve Anieran. The Battle of Moytura where they were finally defeated is located on the Roscommon/Sligo boundary. What better place to contact the faerie than in Fairy Ireland homeland?
Northwest Ireland has stunning coastline that reveals the fossil record of this region. The whale backed drumlins march from the inland lakeland counties of Cavan, Leitrim and Fermanagh towards the Atlantic coast of Donegal and Sligo. The region offers thousands of ancient sites and monuments, relicts of Neolithic Ireland, peaceful roads to explore on footea or bicycle or by car. The region inspired poets and artists like William and Jack Yeats. It also educated literary giants like Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.
Within a compact region that can easily be explored on day trips you can have the whole of the authentic Ireland vacation experience. To make it even more relaxing you won’t need to pack up everyday and sleep on a new pillow each night. You can breathe in the cleanest air in western Europe and sleep soundly after a day’s fairy hunting, communing with the land spirits, eating good food, and enjoying the genuine hospitality of this region’s locals.
The northwest of Ireland offers many byways, boreens and serendipitous left turns. It’s how we wound up setting here in the first place! Northwest Ireland definitely has the X Factor.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travellers to Ireland who want the unique and inspirational packaged for their group’s desires and needs. Bee seeks the source to manifest your dream Irish vacation according to your budget and time scale. She has a special interest in Fairy folklore, Celtic Spirituality and the Natural Heritage of northwestern Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 2011 Bee became one of the first trained tour guides that act at ambassadors for the UNESCO designated Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Send her your dreams for your Ireland vacation package to email@example.com.
Many of this blog’s readers are interested in the holy wells of Ireland. There are many in varying states of repair and disarray. Only this past weekend some friends on a Bards in the Woods walk near Knockvicar in County Roscommon cleaned out a holy well that had silted up. Anyone preparing a trip to Ireland needs to make sure that these indigenous relics of Celtic spirituality are on their itinerary.
If a holy well runs dry for reasons that can vary between changes of water course or engineering works, the healing spirit that holds the well’s cure moves to the nearest tree.
The folk belief that the cure of a dry well is transferred to the nearest tree harkens back to the seven sacred chieftain trees of Ireland. These are oak, pine, yew, hazel, ash, holly and apple. However, the tree most often seen near holy wells and used as the clootie tree is the hawthorn. Along with oak, hawthorn is considered the preferred tree of the fairies. Since holy wells spring from deep inside the earth, the homeland of the faerie, they are also places where you may be lucky enough to contact these earth spirits.
It’s also usual to see offerings at holy wells. The bits of fabric, ribbons, rosary beads are known as clooties and it is a familiar site to see these at some holy wells. However, in some localities the local priest has banned this practice even though the ‘pattern’ of prayers for a cure is still alive and well and usually done either the last Sunday in July or near the feast of Mary, Jesus’ mother’s ascension.
If you see the word ‘Tobar’ on a map then you will know that there is a holy well there. This is the Irish word for well. This sign translates as ‘Mary’s Well.’ My 100 year old neighbour tells me that there was a very old story that Our Lady appeared here many, many years ago.
St. Brigit is associated with holy wells and many are dedicated to her. However, any spring with a ‘cure for the eye’ or inspiring visions is under her matronage.
If you are preparing for a trip to Ireland then you need to include a visit to a holy well – or indeed many holy wells for they are so varied and individual in each locality – that you may want to do a bit of research in advance. I’ve chosen a few of the best as well as some favourites on the Celtic beliefs surrounding trees.
You may have read about our Amazing Tribe of Fairy Cats. However, you have not yet been introduced to the little dog, which we latterly discovered is very much in tune with all things faerie. Little did we know that a Fairy Dog was about to be taken under the matronage of the Fairy Cat matriarch.
The little dog came in to our lives in quite a serendipitous way. And where there is whim and whimsy then you are getting closer to the fairies. He was found by a friend on a roundabout near Bundoran on New Year’s Day and he narrowly escaped being hit. This kindly person took him in once he ascertained with the Gardai that no one had reported him lost. Over the next three days it became clear that the puppy was profoundly deaf.
Fleadhs and Fairies work together not only because they both start with the letter F! In my latest blog in the my series An A-Z of Things to See in Ireland, both are inextricably connected. Fleadh is short for the fleadh cheoil, which translates as a music festival. And if you want to go fairy hunting in Ireland than music will help you in your search if fairies are on your list of things to see in Ireland.
There are many music festivals in Ireland, especially during the summer months. A quick internet check will show you that there is generally a festival going on somewhere in Ireland every month of the year! However, there is a long list to choose from if you are visiting Ireland in July or August. But when we say fleadhs then the kind of music you will be seeing played is traditional Irish or Irish folk music. This can include séan nos singers, rebel songs, as well as folk rock that has its roots in traditional music. It is also work checking for Summer Schools in the area where you are visiting because not only will you hear amazing sessions of music, you will also be able to attend classes and improve your own musical skills in tin whistle, fiddle, flute, bohran, mandolin, harp, bazooki and more!
Here’s a clip of Tony Cuckson singing the traditional song “My Lagan Love” just to get you into the fleadh mood.
But I have to draw your attention to the All Ireland Fleadh or Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann which will be held again in 2012 in Cavan Town. This is the third year in a row that Cavan has hosted this important national and international festival. It is the second biggest festival in Ireland and will be held this year from Friday, 10th August until Monday, 20th August, 2012.
Cavan is very handy for what I call Fairy Central in Ireland. But I have to warn you. The fairies like gifts. Some of us leave chocolate. Others leave a shiny coin. But some musically gifted visitors give them song! I was guiding some Fleadh 2011 guests from Cincinnati, Ohio around the Cavan Burren Forest last August and these musicians were moved to give the fairies living in the forest a song as an offering for wandering around their home turf.
The original fairy race, the Tuatha de Danaan, first landed in their ships of silver and ships of gold, on Iron Mountain, Slieve Anieran, in County Leitrim, which is the county to the south and west of County Cavan. With its holy wells, sweat houses and limestone geology it is not hard to view this landscape as sacred.
When the Tuatha de Danaan were vanquished at the Second Battle of Moytura they went underground and became the fairy or faerie folk. Legend tells us that after their defeat they headed back to their homeplace at Slieve Anieran and so this part of Ireland has a very palpable sense of fairy eyes, fairy music, fairy dust, fairy magic and fairy mischief. There is a very strong presence for those who want to go fairy hunting. If you have an open heart and are willing to make an exchange (for the fairies are strongly motivated by the principle of reciprocity) then they may deign to make themselves known to you.
But I caution you that you need to approach respectfully. The sceptics amongst you should be kindly advised to hold their opinions to themselves. Criticism or mockery is a heart scald to any species.