THE WIZARD EARL OF KILDARE

Kilkea Castle (2)

When you think of wizards, Harry Potter and Merlin may be the first names that spring to mind, however Ireland has not been without its own Sorcerers. When you think of Irish Legend, sometimes the line between fact and folklore is a shimmering tale of enchantment, as is the case with The Wizard Earl of Kildare.
The Earl Gerald Fitzgerald was born in the early part of the 16th Century and sent to be educated in Europe where he embraced the Renaissance. During this time his preferred studies were in Medicine, Astronomy and Metallurgy and after some time Gerald discovered he had a penchant for Alchemy.
After a number of years travelling through Europe and after the death of Henry VIII, lost lands in Ireland were returned to the Fitzgerald family and Gerod Earla, as he was known to the Irish, took up residence at Kilkea Castle in County Kildare.
Gerald spent years quietly studying and practising the Occult until his wife became overcome with curiosity and demanded to be a witness to his feats of Dark Magic.
The Wizard Earl agreed, with the warning that if she were to show fear, then his wife would never see him again. He then set about three tests to see if her resolve was strong enough to outweigh her fear.
For the first test Gerald commanded the River Greese to swell up and flood the Banqueting hall in which they sat. The waters rose to the mouth of his wife and she did not flinch.
Satisfied, he moved on to the second test in which he summoned the form of a long departed friend. The dead man strode through the hall, stopped in front of the Countess Fitzgerald and took her hand. He then walked out through the wall at the other end.
When she showed no reaction, the Earl moved on to the third test in which he conjured a serpent like monster that wrapped itself around his stoic wife. Once again there was no fear and so Gerald Fitzgerald made the decision to show her how he could transform his very being.
Gerald told his wife to close her eyes and when she heard him stamp three times, to open them. She did so and a black bird appeared before her. The bird flew up to her shoulder and began to sing. It was at this point the castle cat pounced and the Countess fainted with shock. When she was revived there was no sign of either the cat or the bird.
Legend says that Gerod Earla was never seen again, yet some historians believe the Earl lived out the remainder of his life in semi-captivity in London only returning back to Ireland for burial in 1585.
The story did not end there, as it is believed the Wizard Earl and his closest men at arms have laid in an enchanted sleep in a cave for centuries under the Rath on the hill of Mullaghmast, just north of Kilkea Castle.
Every seven years the Earl Gerald Fitzgerald rises up and mounts his white horse, shod in silver. He rides across the Curragh with his men, bringing fear to the travellers and farmers in their wake, with sightings have appeared as late as the end of the nineteenth century.
It is said that one brave soul entered the Cave and began to draw his sword from its sheath for protection. This act awoke the Earl from his slumber and he asked “Is it time yet?” The trespasser sheathed his sword and replied it was not and Gerald returned to sleep.
“Time for what?” you might ask. The legend says that when the silver shoes of the white steed are worn to nothing, the enchantment will break and Gerald Fitzgerald will rise up in full strength to rid Ireland of its enemies.
Fact, folklore or all of the above, the legend has stood the test of time and Kilkea Castle remains. In fact you can stay there yourself and walk through the very halls and grounds that once belonged to the FitzGerald family. If you should be visiting in the seventh year and see Gerald thundering past on his white horse, take a look at its silver shoes. If they are no more, pack your bag and run, as the Wizard Earl will be coming home.

PISÉOGS – THE CURSE OF THE IRISH

egg piseóg

Every culture has its own form of folk magic, both dark and light. Whatever form the magic takes, the goal is the same, normally wishing to cause harm to another. In Ireland these magicks are known as Piseógs (Pish-ogues). The name is commonly used to cover all superstitions, but in reality a Piseóg has much darker connotations. An Irish curse (although sometimes used for protection) designed for maximum impact, cast by a foe, a neighbour with a grudge or even the fairies themselves.
Much folk magic uses an external force, such as summoning a demon to do one’s bidding, or in Jewish folklore, writing an intention on a piece of paper and placing it in the mouth of a Golem who will then carry out the required action.
Piseógs are different. It is thought that the very intention of wanting to cause harm is enough to actually make that wish come to pass. Although often a catalyst (much like the Voodoo Doll) is used, it is not believed to have power itself. It is meant to be seen by the intended victim, to strike fear into the core of their very soul. This is where the power lies – in causing terror.
Many Piseógs reflect the nature of Irish Agricultural life. Curses are placed on farmers, crops and cattle and the catalyst is quite often an egg. So are they true curses, or simply a trick of the mind caused by fear and panic?
Your cows aren’t giving any milk. Is it because a jealous competitor has put a Piseóg on you and used a cursed three legged milking stool in his shed to drain your herd dry?
Your cattle are breeding stillborn and diseased calves. Is it because a neighbour has rubbed a cursed egg on their own stillborn calf, pierced the egg and left it your hay for your cattle to feed from?
Are you having no luck in your new house because an egg was cursed and left on your path by the fairies who did not want you to build there? Did the breaking of this egg release bad energy?
A farmer sees eggs laying in the hay he feeds to his cattle, or left lying in his ploughed potato fields. Immediately he believes he has been cursed, a neighbour has doomed him to fail. So what can he do but try and remove the terror. The farmer destroys the hay or the drills he had ready for planting. As a result the cattle are not fed and die or the crops aren’t sown. The farm is destroyed by the hand of the farmer himself. The curse is a success.
Whether it is whole or part animal carcasses being hung from your gate to curse the land, the mutterings of the malicious cursing you to never have a day’s luck, or a Piseóg placed on your home for ill health or poverty, one thing is for sure. In Irish folk magic words are powerful and the tool to facilitate the message more powerful still. Nothing however, is more potent than the fear and horror they create in the minds of the victims.
The mental anguish of the terrified recipient and the destruction they cause as a result is far more effective than any direct attack could ever be. So whether the curse itself is real, or whether psychological impact is the key, Piseógs work. Keep that in mind if you hear the crack of an eggshell under your foot and stop and ask yourself, who did you upset?
evidence of a piseóg

NEWGRANGE – A WINTER SOLSTICE TALE

winter-solstice-Newgrange

Newgrange is a historical monument that stands within the Boyne Valley in County Meath and is over 5000 years old. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, it is classified as a Passage Tomb but is better described as an Ancient Temple. A construction of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance, Newgrange remains as one of the world’s most significant heritage sites.
The main structure is formed in a mound over one acre and has a retaining wall of some 97 kerbstones, richly decorated in Megalithic art. It is part of a series of structures built along a meandering part of the River Boyne known as the Neolithic Brú na Bóinne complex.
During medieval times, Newgrange and the surrounding constructions were introduced into folklore as many believed that the ancient Kings of Tara were interred here, whilst others thought it as the home of the mythical God like beings known as Tuatha De Danann. In fact texts from the 11th and 12th centuries give accounts of residency and clan deceit relating to the Brú na Bóinne.
During this time the mounds and surrounding land had become a part of the holdings of the Cistercian Abbey of Mellifont. These farms were known as granges and by the late 1300s’ the site was known as ‘the new grange’.
The 19 metre long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber, so called because the overall layout represents a cross. Archaeological digs inside the passage have produced burnt and decayed human bone which gives credence to the belief that corpses were placed within Newgrange, some having been cremated as was customary. Artefacts including tools and jewellery were also found during excavation in a manner similar to other Neolithic Irish passage graves.
Newgrange is of course most famous for the incredible event within the passage and chamber that takes place during the Winter Solstice. At approximately 9 am on 21st December as the sun rises, a narrow ray of light begins to penetrate an orifice above the entrance of the passage known as the roof-box.

As the sun ascends over a period of some fourteen minutes, the beam of sunlight travels along the passageway, widening until it reaches the central chamber. The entire room is spectacularly illuminated, marking a significant astronomical moment in the calendar.

A major feat of Neolithic engineering to welcome in a new year that has remained virtually unchanged in thousands of years. So coveted are the few spaces available to witness this historical and magical event, a lottery is held each year.

Subject to weather conditions the lucky chosen few wait in anticipation in the dark hollow before spending fourteen minutes of wonder and excitement, watching as the ray of sun creeps towards the sleeping chamber. They are witnesses to a bygone age of mystery and ingenuity until Newgrange is once again plunged into darkness for another year.
Newgrange

FIVE HAUNTED PLACES TO VISIT IN CORK CITY

The County of Cork has a varied and somewhat troubled history with much of it centring on Cork City itself. Let’s take a look at some of the places where that history refuses to be left in the past.

CORK CITY GAOL
Cork City Gaol 2
Built to replace the old, overcrowded prison, Cork City Gaol was opened to prisoners in 1824. An imposing gothic style citadel just 2 kilometres from the very heart of Cork City, the prison remained home to both male and female convicts over the course of almost one hundred years. Having been an all-women’s gaol from 1878, the final inmates were male Republicans who fought against the Anglo-Irish treaty during the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. In August of 1923 the prison closed its entrance gates to the incarcerated for the last time. The question however, is did everyone leave? Now a Heritage centre, visitors often report the sound of the shuffling feet of inmates in the West Wing and voices are heard throughout the gaol. When the centre first opened in 1993 workers heard the sound of a child saying “Daddy”. Their investigations led to them to be confronted by the spectral image of a lady in a green shawl. The prison is valued not only as a place of heritage, but for its paranormal reputation and for years has played host to the Annual Irish Ghost Convention, which takes place each October. Open to visitors all year round, you can step through the gates and into the gaol, alert for the residual sights and sounds of long ago. Of course if you are brave enough you can always take the night tour, however be warned that the sound of scuffing shoes behind you and the whisper in your ear may not be from a fellow tourist!

St Finbarrs
ST. FINBARR’S HOSPITAL, DOUGLAS ROAD, CORK CITY
A working hospital today, St Finbarr’s started life in 1840 as the Cork Union Workhouse. Some were held here against their wills and some used it as a place of refuge because they simply had nowhere else to go. At the time of the Great Famine from 1845-1848 the building was pushed beyond its limits and over 2000 citizens were housed in sheds and outbuildings, the disease and horror of destitution never more real and deadly . The facility also became home to the Cork Fever Hospital. Diphtheria, Typhoid and Tuberculosis were rife and people were dying in the hundreds weekly, their disease ridden bodies carted away via the passageways running beneath the buildings. At the start of the twentieth century, the premises became the County Home for the Infirm and District Hospital. In truth the buildings became a place to put those deemed to be a nuisance to society and became home to the elderly, unmarried mothers and their children as well as the criminally insane and those in need of psychiatric care. Now a hospital with specialist units, over many years the same ghost has been seen and spoken of by patients and staff alike. The ghost of a nun, believed to be from the forties is seen on the upper floors of the hospital, which always housed the medical cases. She walks around the wards and corridors, as if doing her rounds and checking on her charges, believed to speak to children as she goes. A place of tragedy and despair, it would be hard to imagine how there wouldn’t be remnants of the past remaining.

Carr's Hill Famine Cemetery
CARR’S HILL CEMETERY
The worst point of the famine was in the winter of 1846/47 and it became known as ‘Black 47’. It was the worst in living memory and those living in rural communities fled to the city believing they would find refuge and food. This influx brought the already crippled city to its knees and many were left to die in the streets. Cemeteries inside the city boundaries were overflowing so a local landowner saw an opportunity to turn a profit from misery by releasing some of his land just outside of Cork city. Known as Carr’s Hole, with at least 5000 bodies interred, the mass graves contained so many coffins the ones at the top of the plots were barely covered with earth and the putrid stench of decaying flesh filled the air. While there have been no particular sightings documented, Carr’s Hill cemetery as with all famine cemeteries are whispered about locally as a place where the dead cannot rest. Unfortunately tragedy doesn’t finish there, as the graveyard continued to be used as a Pauper’s burial site until the nineteen fifties. Dying in poverty and disease, these victims were buried like animals in unconsecrated ground, no dignity and no grave markings – a person would be hard pressed to not sense something in this place. Be careful not to step upon the Hungry Grass covering the dead however, you don’t want to become a victim too…….
Maldron Cork
MALDRON HOTEL, CORK
Just three minutes from the main thoroughfare of Patrick Street, the Maldron in Cork started life as the North Infirmary Hospital in 1720. A basic medical centre, it was only built to initially support 24 patients. It witnessed major historical events in Cork city’s history and treated the war wounded and oppressed in secret. After over two and half centuries of the lowest level of care, amid protests the hospital was finally closed in 1987. During its abandonment, the building was subject to vandalism, fire damage and finally dereliction. It was then developed into accommodation for the business sector and finally in 2008 became The Maldron Hotel. This hotel is the subject of many claims of paranormal activity. It is believed to be haunted by a woman who died giving birth when it was the North Infirmary, cleaning staff have allegedly been left terrified and the gym has succumbed to broken mirrors and equipment breaking for no reason. Paranormal investigators have chosen to stay in rooms 318/319 which are mysteriously separated by a closed off room 325 and supposedly active. Whether these claims are to be believed or not, you will have to spend the night and find out!

Our Lady's
OUR LADY’S HOSPITAL AND ST KEVIN’S ASYLUM, SHANAKIEL, CORK
Our Lady’s hospital, also known as Eglinton Asylum was originally built to accommodate 500 patients, however demand was such it was extended further and finally in 1852 admissions began into the 1000 feet long gothic monstrosity. Our Lady’s Hospital continually failed to meet with demand and so in 1893 St Kevin’s was built as an annexe, linked by an extensive passageway, the majority of which was underground. Conditions were atrocious and reports spanning from 1934 to 1940 recorded mattresses on floors, unsanitary living conditions, no basic amenities and inmates being subjected to filth and squalor, describing the situation as a ‘Chapter of Horrors.’ Due to its proximity to the River Lee, many patient deaths were as a result of drowning. St Kevin’s itself remained a mental institution until closure in 2002. It is now abandoned, although some parts are being renovated into living accommodation. Known in paranormal circles worldwide, St Kevin’s has earned itself the reputation of being the creepiest place in Cork. Those who have ventured into the dark, oppressive corridors and rooms of this historical atrocity describe it as intense and unwelcoming. There is a constant feeling of someone over your shoulder and the sounds of heels clicking on the derelict floor. Even the most seasoned of ghost hunters have said it is impossible to stay more than a couple of hours before being overcome with the thick, heavy air of evil in the place. Whether the site remains abandoned or the apartment conversions are finished and new residents move in, one thing is for sure-some of the old residents remain and it is not a place for the faint hearted.

WEREWOLVES OF OSSORY

Celtic Werewolf

In 1182, a priest set out from Ulster to the south of Ireland on official Holy Business with his squire. They travelled from morning until dusk, when they moved from the road and into the edge of the forest to seek shelter. As it grew dark the squire lit a fire as much to protect them from anything lurking in the trees as for warmth, as the priest was on a mission and knew the Devil would be out to try and to lure him from his path.

As the squire slept, the priest sat by the light of the fire, the noises of the forest all around him. He suddenly looked up realising there was no sound, just eerie silence. A snap of a branch startled the priest and he moved closer to the flames as he heard a raspy voice call out;

“Father, do not be afraid, I mean you no harm.” The priest called back out into the trees “Move into the light my son and I shall have no need to be afraid.” With this there was some shuffling and the priest squinted into the darkness but could see nothing. The voice said “I fear my physical appearance will cause you distress and I do not wish to see you alarmed, I merely seek the help of a Holy man.” The priest replied “My son I have travelled this country and seen the damage and deformity that illness and disease can cause. I will not be alarmed.”

With this a great hulking shape emerged from the still of the night, matted fur, dripping from its jowls, sharp pointed teeth glistening in the light of the fire. The priest was terrified, yet stayed calm so as not to cause further anguish to his squire who was now awake and cowering in fear behind a tree. Without a doubt the priest knew before him was a wolf-man. He had heard stories of the same being used as weapons among the Ancient Kings of Ireland as they battled one another.

“Explain yourself and know I am protected by the Lord God,” said the priest. “Father, I too am a Christian. Years ago my clan were cursed by Abbot Natalis. Every seven years, two of our clan are transformed into werewolves and banished to the forest. When we return after seven years, two more take our place. The sin for which my clan was punished has long been forgotten but we remain cursed.” The priest knew of Natalis and his severe methods of forcing Christianity upon a Pagan land. The wolf-man continued, “My wife and I were very old on our turning and she now lies wounded and dying in the forest. I beg of you to administer the Last Rites so she may die a Christian and pass into heaven. “

The priest agreed and leaving his squire behind followed the werewolf into the forest. As they approached a hollow in the trees, the priest could make out the outline of the she-wolf. As he neared he could hear her shallow rasping breaths. “Help me father and hear my contrition” she begged.

“I want to”, said the priest “but first I need proof that you are indeed human under your fur.” With this the she-wolf used her last ounce of strength to tear fur and skin from her front leg and paw so the priest could see she was indeed, a dying old woman. He hurriedly gave her the Last Rites as she died.

The grateful werewolf took the priest back to his squire and the priest promised to call again. He informed his bishop who in turn reported to Rome, documented in 1185. Despite his best efforts the priest was unable to find the werewolf or his clan again.

THE HUNGRY GRASS

Hungry-Grass

If you have ever found yourself in an Irish country pub and listened in on a conversation or two, you may have heard mention of Feár Gortach (Fair Gor-toc) or The Hungry Grass. If you are foolish enough to step on the Hungry Grass, you will be doomed to suffer insatiable hunger, that is until you die.

In the late 1840’s the Irish Famine took hold and man, woman and child were left to starve to death as a direct result of the Potato Blight and a misuse of resources under British rule. Over a million people died in poverty, starvation and agony. These victims of famine were thrown into mass graves, usually fields, their souls forever to be in torment.

All over Ireland there were hundreds of mass graves, or Famine Graveyards as they became known. All were originally un-consecrated, although in later years many became memorialised and recognised consecrated ground. Some however, remained buried in cold, unhallowed ground, souls crying out for their purgatory to end. Over the top of these burial sites the grass grew and it was cursed. It was hungry.

Anyone spending time in Ireland will at some point be told of a short cut and inevitably this will lead to crossing a field. From Cork to Kilkenny and Galway to Connemara, you will hear tales of people losing their way on such short cuts and being caught by the Hungry Grass. A young man walking home, a sunny day, strolling through the field, found days later, not knowing where he is, starving and confused. He is taken home and no amount of nursing or food can save him. Others are so overwhelmed by the touch of the cursed grass that they drop dead of hunger where they stand. The victims of the Famine have become predatory, seeking to drag others into their hell and your only protection is to carry a crust of bread in your pocket – and even this may not be enough to save you.

Next time you are walking through a field, ask yourself is that a brush of grass around your ankles, or the bony fingers of the ravenous seeking company as misery requires……

A million unheard voices
Starved and damned to hell
If you set foot on the Hungry Grass
They’ll take you there as well.

A million unheard voices
Cry the agony of their final hour
If you set foot on The Hungry Grass
Your soul they will devour.

THE MURDER OF THE COLLEEN BAWN

The Colleen Bawn

Ellen Hanley was a young lady with her whole life before her. That precious life was cut tragically short by way of callous, premeditated murder, at just fifteen years old.
Ellen was a farmer’s daughter born in Bruree, County Limerick, Ireland in 1803. Her mother died when she was just six years old and she was raised by her uncle. A stunning girl, Ellen was regarded as intelligent and friendly and it was these qualities that caught the eye of a twenty something high class gentleman called John Scanlan.
Despite Ellen’s concerns about the huge chasm between their social backgrounds and age, John convinced her that everything would be fine and the two eloped and were married in Limerick in the summer of 1819. After just five weeks of marriage, John Scanlan grew weary of his new young bride and decided it was time to get rid of her. Together with his manservant, Stephen Sullivan, John plotted the murder of Ellen Hanley.
One evening Sullivan took Ellen out for a boating trip on the River Shannon in Scanlan’s boat, armed with a musket, fully intent on murdering his Master’s wife. When the time came to commit the heinous crime however, Sullivan lost his nerve and was unable to go through with it, so returned to shore in Glin.
John Scanlan was furious that his plan had failed, so he plied Sullivan with whiskey and persuaded him to take her out once again. This time, full of Dutch courage, Sullivan shot Ellen in cold blood, and then removed her clothing and wedding ring, hiding them in the boat. He then weighted her down with rocks, and dumped her heartlessly into the Shannon, where the cold, dark waters enveloped Ellen’s lifeless body.
Weeks passed and Scanlan and Sullivan believed they had got away with their horrendous act. On the 6th September 1819, Ellen Hanley washed up on the banks of Moneypoint, Kilrush, in County Clare. Outrage and horror swept across the people of Clare and Limerick and the two men went on the run.
A massive search took place and John Scanlan was caught. The trial was a sensation, because of the high class of the Scanlan family and because they had hired the great Daniel O’Connell, later to become known as The Liberator to defend their own. With high social standing and a top barrister on his side, Scanlan fully expected to be acquitted. He was wrong.
Found guilty of the murder of his wife, John Scanlan was sentenced to death. He was taken by horse-drawn carriage to Gallows Green in County Clare, or almost. The horses refused to cross the bridge into Gallows Green and Scanlan was made to walk the remaining distance to his place of execution. On 16 March 1820, John Scanlan was hanged.
Four months later, Stephen Sullivan was captured and his trial in Limerick made the headlines. He was immediately found guilty and sentenced to hang. Just before the Hangman placed the noose around his neck, Sullivan told the full story of the murder.
Ellen Hanley is buried in Burrane Cemetery near Kilrush. A Celtic Cross was erected by a local in her memory, with the inscription;
‘Here lies the Colleen Bawn
Murdered on the Shannon
July 14th 1819. R.I.P’

Ghoulish souvenir hunters have chipped away at it over the years and now nothing is left but her grave. Ellen Hanley’s story is very much alive however, in novels, plays and even an opera. If you find yourself on the Ferry to Killimer, stop by and spare a thought for the Fair Girl, spare a moment for The Coleen Bawn.

THE TALE OF THE FEARSOME IRISH SHAPESHIFTER – THE PÚCA

Púca
Throughout Europe and probably the world, every country has its own version of the Púca (also known as Pooka, Phouka and Phuca). In Ireland it is of the faery realm, a creature that changes appearance and a most feared and esteemed part of Celtic folklore. Púca translates as ghost or spirit, a good description of an evasive yet terrifying dark being who materialises at night throughout the country.
Mostly this shape-shifter will appear in rural areas, particularly on mountains and hills. Seen as many things including a rabbit, in County Down it is seen as a hideous goblin, demanding a share of the harvest. In County Laois it is seen as giant hairy bogeyman and in Waterford and Wexford it is seen as an enormous eagle. In Roscommon people see the Púca as a black goat with large horns, but most will say it is a Black Stallion with a wild flowing mane and yellow eyes that burn like sulphur.
The Púca is synonymous with the Gaelic festival of Samhain, to mark the bringing in of the harvest and the start of winter. In fact November 1st, the traditional start of this festival is also known as ‘Púca Day’. It is said that fruit must not be eaten after this day as it has been spat on by the Púca, thus bewitching it and making it inedible. After harvesting anything left in the field is considered to be ‘puka’ or faery-blasted, meaning it is spoiled and must not be touched. This is left and known as Púca’s Share.
The 1st of November is believed to be the one day the Púca is supposed to be civil. Indeed it was thought if you treated it with reverence you could find it in good humour, giving you warnings or prophecies or even saving you from the malevolent fairies who roam abroad at this time of year. Oscar Wilde’s own mother Jane, a poet in her own right and a prolific collector of Irish Fairy Tales believed them to come to the aid of farmers in need. Ask anyone who has encountered the Púca however, and they will have a very different story.
The Púca in its guise as a Dark Horse will roam the landscape, ochre eyes blazing, tearing down fences and destroying farms. It tramples crops and makes cattle stampede. Its stare will cause cows to stop producing milk and hens to stop laying eggs. The Púca has the ability to converse with humans and before its nightly run will call to a house for company. If that company is refused then the property will be razed to the ground.
Lonely travellers walking country roads have been swept up and thrown onto the back of the wild stallion and taken on a nightlong terrifying ride through the countryside, to be shaken off in the grey light of morning, traumatised, no memory of the ride yet changed forever.
One man, weary of having been taken twice was believed to have tricked the Púca on the third time by wearing silver spurs and causing it much pain. In return for his dismount the Púca agreed to leave him alone.
Only one has succeeded in catching and taming the Púca, the High King Brian Boru. He brought the creature to bear by making a bridle using three strands of its mane. In return for its freedom the Púca was made to promise not to harm an Irishman again, unless he was intoxicated or partaking in evil deeds. After some years the notoriously untrustworthy and untruthful tormentor reverted to old tricks, forgetting the promise it had made.
The story of the Púca remains very much alive in modern times, being referenced in the poems of W.B Yeats and more recently in the films Harvey and Donnie Darko. Until a short time ago, in South Fermanagh locals would gather in high places to await a speaking horse on Bilberry Sunday. If you were to go looking for one now, you should start in Wicklow, in Poulaphuca, which translates as ‘The Púca’s Hole’.
So if you were drunk last night and have woken up the worse for wear, mysterious injuries and no memory of events, you might well have been under the spell of the Púca – you may have been taken on the ride of your life.

CHANGELINGS – THE DARK SIDE OF IRISH FAERY LORE

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
(Excerpt from ‘The Stolen Child’ by W.B Yeats)

Written about by renowned poets such as Yeats and William Allingham and used as a defence for murder in the 1800’s, mothers for generations in Ireland have been protecting their small ones from abduction, not from humans but from the fairies who replaced them with Changelings, known as Beácán (bay-cawn). According to legend, abductions took place to increase the strength of faery stock as their own often died during birth and red blood was required in order for the faeries to get into heaven.

The faeries would swap a sickly faery known as the Changeling for the child, whom they would resemble. The Changeling would be recognisable due to an ugly appearance, ill health, bad temper and an old world look of knowledge in their eyes.

There were many protections and deterrents against such abduction. Fireside tongs were laid across the cradle as fairies were thought to be afraid of iron. Red garments were laid in the cradle as these reminded faeries of their fate and Day of Judgement and so were avoided. Crucifixes were hung over cribs like mobiles. Babies were sprinkled with Holy Water to gain God’s protection. They were splashed with urine, as faeries did not like unclean babies. Boys would be dressed as girls and vice versa in order to confuse the faery folk.

In order for a parent to see if their child had been swapped for a faery, they would leave a set of pipes at their side as no faery can resist playing them and thus their true identity would be revealed.

If all the deterrents failed and families were left with a Changeling, there were two options. The first was to threaten its well-being, such as leaving it unattended outside the door. The reasoning was that the faeries remained protective of their own and to avoid any chance of harm they simply returned the child to its parents and took their own back. The second was to keep the faery, which would wither and die within a couple of years if action wasn’t taken.

It was believed that if you felt there was no likelihood of the return of your child and you could not bear to raise the Changeling, you could be rid of it by way of burning. Methods included leaving it in the open fire, feeding it foxglove tea so as to burn internally, or scooping the faery up on a red hot shovel and leaving it on a manure heap.

The danger is of course, that lore and legend can be deemed as fact or they can be used to try and excuse one’s own heinous crime. Indeed one of Ireland’s most written about and strangest murders was that of Bridget Cleary, a young woman who was accused of being a Changeling and was tortured to death by her own family in the late nineteenth century. Bridget was ultimately burned over the fire as her husband wanted to be rid of the Changeling he alleged her to be. Of course she may not have been a Changeling at all but a victim of a piséog – however that’s a story for next time……
Changeling

BLARNEY CASTLE

Blarney Castle is in the heart of Blarney Village in County Cork, beside the River Martin where the ghosts of salmon can be seen trying to catch flies. A castle has stood on the site since the tenth century and the third incarnation is the prominent stone structure you see today, built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster in 1446. It is home to the world famous Blarney Stone, known as the Stone of Eloquence, believed to be a half of the Stone of Scone itself following the McCarthy family alliance with Robert the Bruce in 1314. If you are prepared to climb the steps to the top, a kiss of this rock will mean you will never be lost for words. Kissed by everyone from tourists, to Mick Jagger and Laurel and Hardy, it is set high on top of the castle, over 130 feet from the ground.
The Badger Caves run beneath the castle and are known for enabling the Castle Garrison to evade Lord Broghill, who was attacking on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. Now with little of them accessible to the public they were said to contain three secret passages that lead to the Lake, to Cork and to Kerry. The Garrison are believed to have taken with them the treasure of the castle and thrown it into the lake. Later owners all but drained the lake to try and find it, but the treasure remains undiscovered.
Hidden behind the Battlements is the Poison Garden in which grow lethal and debilitating plants, from Deadly Nightshade and Hellebore, to plants made famous by Harry Potter such as Mandrake and Wolfsbane.
The castle is just the beginning as there is so much more to explore. In the shadow of the Keep stands Blarney House. Originally built at the start of the eighteenth century, it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1874. This imposing gothic house would not be out of place in a Hammer Horror film and remains a family home today.
Rock Close is the place for all things magical and mysterious. It is thought that a Witch dwelling in Blarney since the dawn of time told the McCarthy clan the power of the Blarney Stone. She is imprisoned in the Witch Stone until nightfall, where she goes to her Kitchen, a cave beside the Witch Stone. If you get there very early you may still see the embers dying, long after she is once again imprisoned. For years the Witch has taken firewood from the estate for her kitchen and in return she must grant wishes for castle visitors who use the Wishing Steps. It is said that if you close your eyes and climb down and back up the steps and if you focus on just one wish, it will come true within the year. No peeking!
Druids were believed to have been on the land many centuries ago and you can see evidence of this today. A Druid cave, a circle of stones for gatherings and a Sacrificial Altar for sacrifices to the Pagan gods all remain.
A Fairy Glade also stands within Rock Close and you are welcome to enter, but remember they are cunning folk and should you see a Fairy, don’t let yourself get fooled.
At Blarney Castle there are tourist traps, there is history, there is folklore, and there is mystery. It is down to you to figure it out. Time stands still in Blarney so don’t be in a hurry. And do kiss the Blarney Stone and climb the Wishing Steps, because you never know…….
Blarney Castle