Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sheean - a place apart.

Although Sheean lies within the townland of Ballygillaheen, it is a place apart, hidden by woodland within the landscape.
Sheean - An Sián / An Síodhán, The Fairy Mound aerial view. ©
There are two routes to the fairy mound, the first takes you past the COMB FIELD, up a bohereen
to the top of the ridge and into a field which looks towards the Slieve Bloom mountains.

Past the Comb Field

To the top of the ridge
Here there is a small standing stone known as the Licking Stone, beloved of the cattle who graze here. One theory for its' attraction is that it provides the animals licking it with essential minerals, the other is that it sits close to Sheean and therefore contains some sort of animal magnetism which draws the cows and keeps them healthy.

 From the Licking Stone it is an easy walk across the fields to the mound within the trees, seen in the distance.

The second route runs along a green lane, then, byway of field margins, onto the small woodland which surrounds Sheean.

The green lane to Sheean.

I first went to Sheean by this route many years ago and when I mentioned my visit to Jim he seemed surprised that I would want to go there. Then he warned me never to visit after dark. 
"Even in summer" he explained "you have to be away from there before 9pm." 
His advice apparently came from his own experience. 

When he was a young man, he and his friends would ramble to a house near to Sheean to play cards. 
"And there was no drink taken on these occasions" he insisted.  
They would usually leave together but one night Jim was the last to go and passing the woodland in the darkness he heard music. It was beautiful music and he knew that it was the Sídhe enticing him into trees and on into their mound.
He ran as fast as possible until he got home to his mother and he admitted to me that he was afeared 
and would never pass there alone again.

Another man, Pat, farmed the land in the area and worked late in the fields, but never past 9pm. 
Many times he returned to his tractor to drive home only to discover that it wouldn't start and 
he'd have to leave it overnight. On returning the following morning the tractor would start up immediately and finally Pat realised that it was the Good People. 
They were tricking him into staying, would try to keep him there and he would never see home again. 
From then on Pat always left the engine running in the evening whilst he worked so if  he lost track 
of time and it began to grow dark he knew he could make a quick escape. 

Trees enclosing the mound.

Today Sheean is still known as the place of the Good People and is rarely visited.

If you do take a chance and go there, walk through the surrounding trees until you reach a clearing
and make sure to bring a gift for the Sídhe, some cheese or a drop of poitín will do nicely.
Approach quietly, acknowledge their presence and leave your offering at the foot of the tree which stands like a guardian on the path.

Walk slowly into the wide ditch and make your way, sunwise, until you reach a small overgrown path.

Climb the path with care and stand beneath the old archway of two whitethorn trees.

Two entwined whitethorns covered with ivy stand on the mound.

Listen to voices on the wind....

but be sure to leave before 9pm. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Otherworld shenanigans in Ballygillaheen.

Jim's reminiscences of the old days included some tales set in Ballygillaheen, a townland half a mile away where he went to National School as a child.  
Ballygillaheen is now a scattering of houses but back then many families lived there and although
the walk to school was an easy one for Jim it took him past the dreaded Comb Field.
This field was renowned because it was here that the Banshee's comb was found. 

The Comb Field today.
The Banshee, Bean sí, or female dweller of the fairy mound, is a supernatural being said to follow certain old Irish families. She brings the message of approaching death to family members by visiting them or by wailing at night near their homes.  

This particular Banshee frequented Ballygillaheen dressed in white and could be seen on certain nights combing her long grey hair with a comb fashioned from white bone. 
One time her visits became more numerous, as though she was searching the area for someone or something. No deaths occurred so it was finally understood that the Banshee had lost her comb. 

Ancient Irish ornamented Combs, made of bone, now in the National Museum.
Pic ©

A local lad found it in the field not far from the school and he had sense enough to leave the comb where it was. He knew that if he took it home she would visit him that night to retrieve it 
and no one wanted a visit from the Banshee.

A woman not far from the area was not so lucky and the story, recorded in 1976, was recounted by her granddaughter, Bridie Dunn:

" ... my grandmother ... was telling me that she was going home from town one day. 
She picked up a lovely comb and brought it home with her. And that night there was an awful noise at the door and the old man said he would get up and see who it was. So she told him not to. 
And he suddenly saw the comb and he put the comb on the tongs, you know, and sure he put
the tongs out the door with the comb and the tongs were broken in his hands."*

In many places similar tales are told concerning the Banshee searching for her comb and it is well known that you should not face her directly and never touch her. 
The best way is to pass her the comb through a window or a partly open door and always to place it on tongs, a shovel or any iron implement which gives protection against Otherworldly forces.

The best advice was given to me by Jim, "if you do find a comb, it is better to leave it where it lies."

As far as I know the Banshee of Ballygillaheen finally found her comb as the area has been quiet
and she has not been seen now for several years.

* This tale is local to where I live and was recorded under "Comb Legends" in Patricia Lysaght's excellent. in-depth study of Banshee folklore in Ireland - 

"The Banshee - The Irish Death Messenger" available here:

The 'Otherworld Shenanigans' posts are based upon the tales and reminiscences of my elderly neighbour, Jim, who lived his life in the same house he was born in.
Jim died several years ago and is remembered as a real character by those who knew him.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Otherworld shenanigans on the local Fairy Path.

I have written before about the Lough Field (here here) and the stories told to me by my late neighbour, Jim.
One particular tale, which he received from his mother, concerned the local Fairy Path.

Before the River Barrow was re-routed there was a lough near to our home, Lough Duff, ' dark lake' containing an island upon which stood a fairy thorn.
It was known that the local Sídhe had their home within the water and would gather at the tree to begin their travels across the country. Their route, the Fairy Path, crossed a small field, a road, a second field then continued eastwards towards another lough.

No one back then would build on a Fairy Path as it meant that the occupants would never have any rest from the Good People. The way to avoid this was to stand four posts at each corner of a new site and leave them overnight. If all the posts were standing the following morning it was safe to continue, if any had moved or fallen it was acknowledged that the Sídhe objected and it was better to build elsewhere.

1829 Map ©
The 1829 Ordanance Survey Map of the area depicts Lough Duff with the island &  tree. 
Our home is marked X,  the wooden cabin Y & the second field Z. 

Jim recounted that long ago a stranger came to the area and built a wooden cabin near to the roadside in the first field. Unfortunately it seems the man knew little of fairy lore as he built directly on the Fairy Path.
After he moved in to his new home he would carefully close the doors, front and back, each morning before he left for work and when he returned in the evening both doors would be standing wide open. He couldn't explain it but the locals knew what was happening.
It was the Sídhe. He had built his house on their path and would never have a moment's peace again.
Whatever the man tried the doors would be open when he came home and eventually tiring of the Otherworldly shenanigans, he left the cabin to live elsewhere, allowing the structure to fall and the Good People to travel their path unhindered again.

Photo taken from the road, through the blackthorn where the cabin once stood, 
you can see gaps in the hedge where the Fairy Path runs either side of some thorn trees.
The Lough Field is beyond.

Our home, along the road, was also originally a wooden structure.
In the corner of the oldest part of the cottage stands a post, preserved by danish oil and wood hardener, with stone walls on either side.
The previous owners maintained that it was the remains of another fairy thorn but that is unlikely given the beliefs of the time however, it may be one of the original posts erected to check that the site did 
not obstruct the Fairy Path.

The old wooden post marking a corner of the original dwelling?

Many years later, in 2009, a man from a nearby town bought the field across the road from the site
of the old cabin. His plan was to build a modern, two storey house, not to live in but to sell for a profit. When the architect came to look around we spoke with him and explained about the Fairy Path which cuts across part of the site.
He nodded politely but told us it would make no difference, the new house would be built regardless.

Sure enough building began a few months later and the ground floor walls were constructed.
Not long afterwards we heard sounds coming from the house in the evening after the builders had left and several people reported hearing doors slamming where there were no doors.
Shadowy shapes were seen passing the empty window frames at dusk.

Jim had the explanation for what was happening: the Sídhe were unhappy with the construction and making their presence felt. In the past none had built on the old Fairy Path and remained there and none would do so now.
Now, in 2015, the house is still unsold.

The end of the house where the Fairy Path runs & the overgrown For Sale sign.

The 'Otherworld Shenanigans' posts are based upon the tales and reminiscences of my elderly neighbour, Jim, who lived his life in the same house he was born in.
Jim died several years ago and is remembered as a real character by those who knew him.