In Ballingarry, County Limerick there is a mountain called Knockfierna and in that mountain is a Fairy Castle.
High above anywhere else in Limerick, some 950 feet above sea level is the top of Knockfierna or ‘Knock Dhoinn Firinne’. It translates as the Mountain of Truth, home to Donn Firinne, the Celtic God of the Dead, also known as the Chief of the Mountain and the Fairy King.
Knockfierna is full of dark history, legend and mysticism and to walk upon the craggy hillside is to take a step back in time and sate ethereal curiosity. 1837 hailed the archaeological discovery of the Ballingarry Ogham Stone, one of only a handful found on Ireland’s shores. Ogham refers to Primitive Irish text dating back to the 4th century and possibly earlier which was carved with sharp implements into the stone as a way of recording personal information such as land ownership.
On the Strickeen lies the Lisnafeen Fairy Fort with a diameter of 100 feet, believed to be imbued with fairy magic. On the northern slope is a dolman known as ‘Giant Fawha’s Grave’ and the Cairn or monument at the summit is believed to be the site of the ancient temple of Stuadhraicin.
But what of the fairy castle? Well let me tell you a tale – a tale of the Devil Daly…….
Carroll O’Daly was a blackguard and a rogue from the Province of Connaught. He had no work and roamed from town to town without a care, a man of no respect, no fear and no consequence. He would walk through churchyards and over fairy ground at any time of day and night without protection or blessing, believing himself to be untouchable.
Finding himself in Munster, O’Daly began to head for the trading town of Kilmallock and before long found himself at the foot of Knockfierna where he met a man riding a white pony. They sauntered along in silence together and after a while Carroll ventured to ask where the man was heading.
The man told O’Daly that they were not going the same way, as he and his white pony where heading up the hillside. Carroll asked what would take him there and the reply he received was ‘The Good People’.
O’Daly said ‘The Fairies?!’ to which the man furiously hushed him in the event he would be sorry for his words. With that Carroll O’Daly was wished a safe journey and the man began his ascent. Having been up to so much mischief himself, Carroll did not believe his companion and stopped to watch. The mountain was lit fully by the full moon and he could make out the silhouette of a man and a pony. His curiosity piqued, O’Daly made the decision to follow and tethered his horse to a nearby thorny tree. Cursing as he went Carroll traipsed and climbed through rugged and boggy terrain, finally stepping out into green pasture where the white pony freely grazed.
O’Daly looked around and could not see the absent rider. What he did see was a black gaping orifice in the mountainside known as the Poulnabreine or Poul Dubh, the entrance to the Fairy Castle. Carroll had heard a story as a child, of a surveyor called Ahern who decided to gauge the depth of the hole with a line, only to be drawn into the hole and never seen again.
Dismissing the story and his devilish side taking over, O’Daly decided to knock and see if the Fairy King was home. He picked up a nearby boulder with both hands and threw it with all the force he could muster into the hole. The angry sound of the rock bouncing through the mountain echoed through the night and Carroll leant in to hear it reach the bottom. Only it didn’t. Before he knew what was happening a rush of air came from the opening and the very boulder he had thrown hit him square in the head so hard he was sent tumbling down the craggy hillside to the bottom of Knockfierna. The following morning he was found alive, but severely battered and bleeding. Carroll O’Daly had his cough firmly softened and was trouble no more. The fairies were able to come out at night and dance in a ring undisturbed, the only sign of their activities being the circular beaten grass still visible in the daylight.
In later years Knockfierna became a place of protection and refuge. A Mass Rock still plays host to religious gatherings, originally created so that the Catholics of the 1700’s could take Mass in secret following the outlawing of religion during the Penal Laws under the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Famine victims sought a haven on the rugged hillside and lived in tiny hovels of stone, the foundations still remaining today. In memory of them all a Holy Cross stands tall, protecting Knockfierna and all who fall within its shadow.
With leprechaun sightings documented as recently as 1938, and the talismans for Irish curses known as Piseogs found nestled in the thorns and moss, Knockfierna will always be home to ‘The Good People’. My advice? Do explore the history and folklore of this wonderful place, the Mountain of Truth, but don’t go knocking for entry to the fairy castle…..you might never be heard of again!