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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.
This summer if you are travelling to Northwest Ireland – especially West Cavan and Fermanagh – walk with Irish Blessings Tour guides Bee Smith and Tony Cuckson to some of the betwixt and between power places of this unique border region. With many visitors arriving in Ireland this summer for The Gathering 2013 walk the places where our ancestors have lived continuously since the times of the Megalith Makers.
Irish Blessings Tours creatrix, Bee Smith is a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark trained tour guide. Her talks with walks will enhance your understanding of the ancient sites, natural heritage, mythology and local history. Storyteller and musician Tony Cuckson embellishes the walks with his beguiling Armagh accent and humour.
Allow poet, writer and storyteller Bee Smith to lead you on a fairy hunt in the magical places within the ancient Irish kingdom of Breifne. Bee’s tours will show you places where modern and mythic Ireland meet, sharing those ‘betwixt and between’ places of Tir na nÓg, the rainbow bridges between time and the timeless. No tour of Ireland is complete without that ‘tingle factor’ that this part of Ireland never fails to deliver.
So come walking Betwixt & Between with Bee to places where the fairies still thrive, where you can feel the ancestors watching your back and feel peace dropping slowly upon your soul.
Pricing- €30 per hour
Book via email to email@example.com or by phone 071 964 3936.
Payment should be made via PayPal upon receipt of confirming email or text message.
Groups up to eight people, children with focus welcome
Seeking the Source at Shannon Pot
This one hour tour of the source of Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon, includes storytelling and music with Tony Cuckson. Meadows, fairy trees, story and song. This walk is completely accessible.
Crossover with Crom Cruich
The Ancestors at our Back
This walking tour of the Cavan Burren is a minimum two hours and includes the guide’s own poetry inspired by the landscape and the folklore associated with it. A half day could be easily spent exploring dolmens, cairns, wedge tombs and boulder formations. A longer tour with a picnic included can be negotiated.
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.
Halloween is one of the most betwixt and between times of year. This is because All Hallows Eve on 31st October heralded the Celtic New Year. The ancient Irish and other Celts felt that Samhain, which is also the Irish word for November) as the darkest time of the year was the gestation period for new growth. You cannot have new things without letting go of the old. So at Halloween is probably the most porous of all the thin times in the Celtic calendar. You are betwixt and between the old year and the new year. Not all the plant life has died off yet but in ancient times this was the time to slaughter the part of your herd that you needed to feed you over the winter months The dying down is part of the the natural cycle. We are entering the dark season of Samhain that is essential for the growth process that will begin to tentatively appear at Imbolc, or St. Brigid’s Day, the start of Celtic springtime.
Because this is such a betwixt and between time of year the fairies are thought to be particularly active. So you may get a chance to see them. But make sure that you are wearing your mask! The reason why we dress up and where masks is to hide our mortal beauty from the fairies. Being particularly powerful and the portal between the two worlds being gossamer fine, we hide our beauty, especially that of our children, so the fairies are not tempted to whisk them away to their parallel underworld.
You could say that this time of year is when Fairy Ireland is at its most potent. But if you wish to keep on the right side of The Good People you need to be prepared to leave them offerings. You could leave out milk and honey. They have a taste for shiny things so coins are always welcome. Likewise they seem to be happy with gifts of chocolate. I’ve been know to leave out the shiny silver or gold wrapped Hershey kisses and they always disappear!
Alternatively,one could also leave out the traditional Irish Halloween food barm brack, or bairín breac in Irish. If you have ever tasted raising bread then you will be able to approximate the taste of this yeasted raisin and sultana loaf. The added ingredient is a ring and a hazelnut in the shell. Some people put in other charms, similar to those the British add to the traditional heavy fruit cake that is eaten over the Christmas holidays. The charms go in for similar reasons as the passing of an old year into a new year is a great time for divination. Toy rings are still put in commercial loaves of barm brack here in Ireland. Getting the slice with the ring means that you will marry within the year. The older tradition of the hazel nut in the shell would indicate that you would not marry within the year.
Since fairies are earth spirits they are particularly take kindly to those who look after those species that are other than human. So if you put out bread crumbs, nuts or suet balls for the birds over the winter, leave piles of logs in your garden for hedgehogs to cosily hibernate, or other acts of environmental points you will certainly earn brownie points with the brownies, those helpful Scottish household elves.
Along with divination games and being respectful toward the fairies, storytelling has a long tradition of being associated with Samhain and Halloween. With most of the outdoor work over for the season, Samhain was the time of year where there was a bit more leisure. People gathered around the fireside and those pre-electric days they entertained each other in the firelight with tales that had been handed down generation upon generation. And, of course, there would be a few cautionary tales for the children. A little bit of judicious fear was likely to be laced into many tales. But also, there would be tales of authentic encounters with fairy water horses, puka, changelings and other betwixt and between tales.
Over the month of November, or Samhain as it is now in the Irish language, Irish Blessings Tours will be sharing a few bits of these authentic betwixt and between tales with you. Look out for our Halloween story podcast. Listen to the Holloween story below
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lovely Leitrim they call it on the welcome signs into the county and this small county promises some of the most unspoilt scenery in Ireland. For lovers of the beautiful Irish countryside Leitrim will never disappoint. For those of you who love Irish mythology you cannot miss visiting Slieve Anieran, or Iron Mountain, where the legendary Tuatha de Danaan first arrived in Ireland with their four gifts- Nuada’s sword, Lugh’s spear, Dagda’s cauldron and the stone of destiny.
So here are my top seven suggestions for things to see and do in Ireland.
1) Go fairy hunting on Slieve Anieran
This mountain ranges along the R207 between Drumshambo and Ballinagleragh with dramatic views of Lough Allen. Drive carefully over the minute track between Ballinamore and Ballinagleragh to the top of the mountain. The Leitrim Way will lead you up to a Mass Rock, where Catholics heard mass said during the days when practicing that faith was illegal.
2) Visit a Holy Well and Sweat House
Along the R207 at the foot of Slieve Anieran near the Lough Allen Adventure Centre is a sign leading to St. Aodh’s Holy Well. Holy wells are well maintained through out Ireland; holy wells are an atavism of the old Celtic spiritual reverence of nature, water in particular being regarded as sacred. Wells were venerated not just as having cures but also, coming underground, as being thin places or portals between this world and the spiritual world.
Leitrim and West Cavan are distinctive in having many examples of sweat houses. These were Irish country saunas. Turf was lit in the tiny stone structures and kept going for five house. The embers were raked and then wet rushes were put on top to create the steam. The Ballinagleragh Sweat House is interesting as there is a stream where you could plunge after your steam. Folklore says that they were used for arthritis, rheumatism and fever cures. But given Ireland’s climate why are they not wider spread throughout the island? Is this another gift that the Tuatha de Danaan brought with them and the tradition remained strong in the de Danaan homeplace?
3) The Costello Chapel in Carrick on Shannon
Reputedly the second smallest chapel in the world and certainly the smallest one in Ireland this minute place of worship was built as one Irishman’s Taj Mahal to a beloved wife. The gentleman who commissioned this chapel is laid to rest beside his wife, although outliving her by decades. A curiosity in terms of Victorian era monument making it is an interesting neo-Gothic piece of architecture.
The chapel is on the corner of Leitrim’s county town’s Main Street where it intersects Bridge Street, opposite the Market Yard where there is one of Ireland’s best Farmer’s Markets each Thursday.
4) Take to the Boats!
There is fine fishing in Lough Allen and the other lakes in the centre of the county. However, if angling is not your sport you can hire a narrowboat and putter along the Shannon Erne Waterway, exploring the stops along the network of canal locks until you enter Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. Ballinamore is a good base for narrowboat adventures.
But if you don’t have a week or even a weekend for slow travel you may fancy a shorter jaunt on the water. Carrick on Shannon’s Moon River Boat hosts many events during the high season. If you are a lover of Yeat’s poetry you may want to visit Parkes Castle and take a trip out to the Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, which inspired Yeats’ poem of that name.
5) Glencar Waterfalls and Lake
While on the subject of William Butler Lake’s it is worth mentioning another beauty spot that inspired his poem “The Stolen Child.” Up at the tip of North Leitrim close to the Sligo boundary is Glencar Waterfall. This peaceful spot is accessed from a turn off the N16 between Manorhamilton and Sligo. It is also a good fairy hunting spot so be sure to bring a little offering for the fairies and they may show themselves. Remember, they like chocolate! And shiny things like coins, but please do not toss coins into the the stream.
6) The Organic Centre
One comment I’ve heard about this garden is that it is always changing and evolving. A major training centre in Ireland promoting organic and sustainable living, the Organic Centre has polytunnels, orchard, willow nursery and woodland to explore. It’s distinctive grass roof and reed bed system shows that it walks its talk. Weekend courses are run year round and there is a shop where you can buy seeds, books and other useful garden equipment. A nursery provides vegetable, herb, shrub and flower plant stock, too.
7) The Séan Mac Diarmuida Memorial Cottage
Irish history lovers will not want to miss this historical monument to one of the 1916 signatories of Ireland’s Declaration of Independence. A native of Kiltyclogher, the family homeplace of Séan McDermott (or Mac Diarmuida) is now a small museum. You can find this by turning right off the N16 at the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance. There is a left hand turning posted on this road traveling through Glenfarne, one of Leitrim’s Seven Glens, towards Kiltyclogher. There is also a memorial in the centre of the village to their local hero.
There are many more things to see and do in Lovely Leitrim but these few pointers will put you on track to discover some of your own favourites no matter which part of the county you decide to explore.
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.