Monday, 16 November 2009

Fairy Mounds....

The name 'Fairy Mount' evokes thoughts about the Celtic Otherworld, folklore and the romance of the "little people".

Its use as the label for this fine earthwork is therefore all the more striking when one considers that it was built in the late 12th century when they Anglo-Normans seized land at the expense of the native population.

How it actually got this name is therefore of some interest.

It is tempting to suggest that it may have been the result of the romantic imagination of some 18th century Anglo-Irish landowner rather than some timeless lore of the local people.


Fairy Mount is undoubtedly one of the by-products of the Anglo-Norman colonisation of Louth in the 1180s.

The early ecclesiastical settlement at Louth was initially held by the King but was granted to Geoffrey de Lusignan in 1254.

The motte is likely to have been built before 1196 for the medieval documents record that the 'castle' of Louth was burnt in that year.

Wright's plan and section of the monument show the classic profile of an Anglo-Norman motte-castle: a circular flat-topped mound (c.29m in diameter at base, 11m at top) encircled by a fosse (Mount Ash - Knockbridge for details on motte-castles in general).

Though Wright provides no details on the history of Fairy Mount, he does make one important statement regarding its design, describing his plan view (his Fig. 2) as 'Ichnography of same with part of the town trench'.

This is one of only a handful of documentary clues that indicate that the Anglo-Normans established a borough at Louth.

The reason for their choice of Louth was its importance in pre-Norman times as a monastic and diocesan centre.

From the sheer size of the ecclesiastical enclosure (diameter 640m by 320m) that marked its precinct, Louth appears to have been a very large ecclesiastical settlement. Analysis by John Bradley (1985) and others shows that the motte was actually built on the line of this pre-Norman monastic enclosure.

'Borough' is here used in the sense of a legal framework for the creation of an urban settlement, in terms of a plot-pattern of living spaces, fixed rents, rights to hold markets, and legal privledges for its citizens, e.g. burgesses.

Orkney fairy mounds

Fairy Mounds feature heavily in the folk lore of Britain and Ireland. The mounds are believed to be the dwelling place of fairies (or faeries), elves or the sidhe. Fairy favour could bring prosperity and happiness but woe betide the miserable mortal who offends a fairy!

Just one of the many creative ways fairies chose to wreak revenge was by leaving a changeling in place of a human baby.

It’s no wonder that, for fear of angering their supernatural neighbours, Medieval people made offerings and referred to them euphemistically by terms such as ‘the good folk’ or the ‘good neighbours’.

Archaeologists are interested in Fairy Mounds for quite a different reason. When excavated, they usually prove to be interesting sites from the neolithic era. Many of them, like

Maeshowe in the Orkney Islands, are burial chambers but any circular building covered with soil and grass could create the appearance of a fairy mound. If the roof has fallen in, the mound will be solid; if the roof remains, then it will be hollow. Superstition aside, there was a practical reason for keeping yourself and your livestock away from a so-called fairy mound – you might fall in!

Killashee - longford in Midlands

Killashee or Cill na Sidhe when translated means
‘The Church of the Fairy Mound’ or ‘The Wood of the Fairies’.

These translations could be linked to the existence of a number of forts throughout the parish and mounds or hills which overlook the village, notably ‘Carrig’, known locally as ‘Burke’s Hill, ‘Crochans’ on the Lanesboro road, ‘an Culighan’ at the old Rectory.

The earliest references to Killashee as a parish are in the Roman Annates of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Here Killashee is referred to under an astonishing variety of spellings, such are Killacythe, Kylnascyth, Kilnasichigi and under the names indicative of the titular of the Church Kilfegalen, Kilfylan and Kilfulan.

In 1302 Dhomnal O Farrell, Chieftain of Annaly, founded the convent of St John the Baptist at Middletown. But perhaps the most historic religious site was the Grey Friars monastery of Ballinakill, Middletown and Clonough, know as the land of Cluaindoeochra.

Its patron was Ernan and this foundation is almost as old as Clonmacnoise.

There are other very interesting historical reminiscences to note about Killashee. In 1430 Ballyclare Castle, the ruins of which are still to be seen today.

1 comment:

ruthie said...

Hello to you, i love this post, so full of information, so intriguing these fairy mounds, thank you for sharing * ruthie