CHANGELING

One of the most common Fae species known in folklore … “Changelings” are faerie creatures that replace stolen human children. These are sometimes called an “auf” or “oaf.” In fairy lore and myth, there are many tales about fairies stealing a human child and substituting it with a misshapen fairy baby known as a “changeling.” Sometimes, they are replaced not by fairies but by demons, trolls, nereids, or spirits. Sometimes, they replace the child with a piece of wood that appears to be alive under a glamour for a short period of time.

Adults have been reportedly taken and replaced as well, especially in Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia. There is also the historic-day event of a man murdering his wife, Bridget Cleary, in Ireland. because they believed she was replaced by a changeling.

Throughout world lore, fairies, for some reason, like to kidnap human adults and children. Some claim the abducted human children are given to demons, faeries, or the devil or imbued into faerie races to strengthen their stock. Sometimes, newlywedded wives and mothers are taken. It is believed that some nursing mothers were kidnapped to provide milk to fairy children.

In the United States, there was an attested case of Miss Kittie Crowe who was believed to have been taken from fairies in 1876. It has been rumored that King Charles I of England (1600-1649) was a changeling as a nursemaid claimed a hooded figure appeared at his bedside and cast a cloak over his cradle with him in it.

The most targeted human victims are usually unbaptized babies, blonde-haired children, those with blue eyes, pretty girls, women touched by the fae, those found walking in a fairy ring, those wandering near fairy mounds at night, and anyone who sleeps under a hawthorn bush. In Catholic folklore, there is a widespread belief that infants are susceptible to demonic possession, which is why baptism is very important.

Changeling Traits

When a parent discovers the baby in their crib is not their own, for whatever reason, certain telltale signs signify it is a fairy surrogate. These changelings could have a deformed appearance, a wizened look, appear thin or weak, sickly or ailing, and not stop crying.

Adult changelings appear to have a voracious appetite, are aging, exhibit unfamiliar behavior and trickery, love dancing and frolicking outside when thinking they are alone not being observed by others, and often comment on their own age.

There is a myth in Ireland that a left-handed child is not human but rather a changeling. A child with a caul (remnant amniotic membrane) across their face was a changeling in Scotland.

Changelings are described as creatures that look like the humans they replace but are often sickly, aged, withered, or just “off.” Sometimes, they possess physical features rare in humans, such as an infant having a beard or long teeth. They come off as being more intelligent or gifted than those usual for their physical age appearance.

Sometimes, if a changeling is raised as a human child and is never detected, they will forget they are fae and continue living a human life. Those that do remember may return to their fae families leaving the human family without warning, while the abducted human may never return.

Around the World

While predominantly ascribed to the legends and lore of Celtic countries, their existence is described worldwide. In European folklore, they are seen as deformed or imbecilic offspring of fairies or elves. The Welsh call this fairy race the “cipenapers” (a contraction of kidnappers). In world folklore, there are many creatures similar to the “changeling.” Many of these are described as creatures left by spirits. They are mentioned in African, Asian, Germanic, and Scandinavian folklore.

In Scandinavia during the Medieval period, trolls were believed to trick humans into raising their offspring. They often targeted unbaptized children since those baptized were protected from trolls. In Scotland, it was said the replacement children gave fairy children a tithe to Hell as discussed in the infamous ballad “Tam Lin.” In Germany, they are called Wechselbalg, Wechselkind, Kielkopf, or Dickkopf. They are said to either be the devil, a female dwarf, a water spirit, or a Roggenmuhme (Rye Mother – a demonic woman living in cornfields and stealing human children). In the Anglo-Scottish border region of Scotland, it was believed that the faeries living in the “elf hills” would spirit away children and adults, taking them back to their world, and a simulation of the victim, usually by an adult male elf left to be suckled by the mother. The elves would treat the human baby well and raise it as one of their own.

In Poland, the Boginka or Mamuna was a Slavic spirit that would exchange babies with changelings that often possessed abnormally large abdomens, small or large heads, humps, thin arms/legs, hair body, and/or long claws. In Spain, it is often a nymph called Xana who would appear to travellers to help them. These little female fairies were born with enchanting beauty and would often deliver babies for humans that they’d swap with fairy babies because Xana could not produce milk. The Igbo people of eastern Nigeria believed that women in the tribe who lost numerous children were being tormented by a malicious spirit known as an ogbanje that reincarnated itself over and over.

Social scientists such as folklorist D.L. Ashliman claim that this myth illustrates the aspect of family survival in pre-industrial Europe. Families then relied on the productive labor of each family member to subsist, and there had to be a solution for those family members who drained the resources. Since changeling’s appetites were known to be voracious, they were seen as a threat to the family. Infanticide was sometimes utilized as the solution to this dilemma.

Some scientists claim that the “changeling” accusation would often be used to explain deformed, developmentally disabled, or neurodivergent children. Various legends have claimed those with symptoms of spinal Bifida, cystic fibrosis, PKU, progeria, Down syndrome, homocystinuria, Williams syndrome, Hurler syndrome, Hunter syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, Prader-Willi syndrome, and cerebral palsy were symptoms of a “changeling.”

As parents had higher expectations of childbirth and when children were born with ailments, they preferred to find a demon to blame for the ailment. Regressive autism has been compared to the marks of a changeling child. Before autism was defined and understood, it was very common for children possessing autistic traits to be labeled as elf-children or changelings because of their strange, inexplicable behavior. The obsession that faeries seem to have with an impulse to count things is now a trait found in autistic cases.

A network of humans today, known as “Otherkin” sometimes identify as being “changelings” (or elves, fairies, faeries, aliens, and were-creatures) often because their life experiences exist with feeling out of place in this world so much that they self-identify as being not human.

In movies, music, books, magazines, art, and literature there has been much focus on “changelings” and its phenomena.

Throughout the world, in folklore, there is a method of detecting changelings, such as eggshells. Arranging empty eggshells around a fireplace or hearth, a changeling can’t help but get up and examine them. They will peer into each other, saying, “This is but a windbag; I am so many hundred years old, and I have never seen the like of this.” Another method is for one to pretend that they are brewing water into the halves of eggshells. The changeling is said to jump up and declare, “I have seen the egg before the hen, I have seen the acorn before the oak, but I have never seen brewing in an eggshell before!” thereby revealing its age such as “I’m 1500 years old in the world and I’ve never seen a brewery of eggshells before!” Other methods are causing it pain or making it laugh. Many child abuse cases in Ireland have excuses that it was done only to reveal the changeling inside. In German and Irish lore, a changeling can be revealed by tricking it to believe its being heated or cooked in a oven. Also whipping, hitting, or abusing the changeling will sometimes force it out.

Füssli- Der Wechselbalg-1780

When a changeling reveals itself, lore states it’ll disappear up a chimney, and the real baby will be found alive and well outside the door or sleeping in its cradle.

Many spells and prayers exist to protect a child from a changeling. One method is leaving pieces of iron beneath the cradle, making rowan wood crosses with red thread, using St. John’s wort, or wrapping a child in its father’s shirt. Keeping an inverted coat or open iron scissors near the bed is also said to deter them. A red ribbon tied around the baby’s wrist or wearing a red hat would prevent an abduction in Poland. Not washing diapers after sunset, not turning one’s head away from a sleeping baby, and keeping a baby out of moonlight would also be protective measures.

In Cornwall, the magical stones known as the “Men an Tol” are believed to be guarded by a faerie who can return stolen children when the changeling baby is based through the stone.

  This article is a work in progress. Please return for more lore. 

Bibliography / Recommended Reading:

 

Changelings in Media and the Movies:

Changeling – movie, 2008 is about a changeling.

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic – children’s television series featuring shape-shifting pony-like creatures called changelings.

So Weird – Disney Channel episode “Changeling” features a child swapped with a changeling.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – race of shape-shifting aliens called “changelings.”

Supernatural – Season 3, “The Kids Are Alright” features changelings.

The Changeling – 2023 Horror fantasy television series by Kelly Marcel and Melina Matsoukas.

The Daisy Chain – 2008 movie about a little girl believing she was a changeling.

The Hole in the Ground – 2019 movie based on changeling folklore.

The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw is a story about a half human – half folk child exchanged for a human child.

The Watchers (PG-13: 2024): Set in Western Ireland, a human woman with changeling aspects gets trapped in the woods only to join three others also captive in a bunker where they have to entertain changelings at night, using them for a plot to escape their imprisonment beneath the surface and within the forest.

 


The Watchers (PG-13: 2024)

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The Watchers. Horror, Fantasy. Rated PG-13, released June 2024. Director: Ishana Shyamalan; Writers: Ishana Shyamalan; A.M. Shine; Starring: Dakota Fanning; Georgina Campbell; Olwen Fouéré; and more. IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt26736843/.

I’m always fascinated with films that embrace the age-old faerie lore and embed it into current times. This film does just that. Another stunning mysterious tale from the Shyamalan lineage, this time by his daughter … and lives up to the power of the Shyamalan collection. Taking place in the land of legends and fairy lore … western Ireland, a young artist gets stranded in the woods discovering three others who too, are trapped. They have to hide in a bunker every evening and daylight provides little time to find an escape before darkness falls. Strange phenomena cloaks their every move and soon its discovered that the species of Changelings of the Fae imprisoned under the earth has a plot for their escape. True to descriptive nature of changelings and dark fae, this film embraces the most horror filled nightmares surrounding them. It leaves room for a sequel, which I can only hope manifests into reality. Review by Oisin Rhymour, 5 stars out of 5.

 


The Lure (2015: NR)

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The Lure: NR; 2015. Drama, Fantasy, Horror. Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska; Writer: Robert Bolesto; Starring: Marta Mazurek; Kinga Preis; Michalina Olszanska; Kinga Preis; and more. IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5278832/.

By far the most enticing thrilling enchanting movie I’ve watched this year sofar (2024), definitely atop my all time favorites. The Lure, which i stumbled upon on some streaming channel I can’t remember which one … I was instantly mesmerized by this foreign horror musical drama featuring one of my favorite fae species … Mermaids. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m overly obsessed with Faerie lore. This movie embraces fae living amongst us in the 1980’s time period. Not only that, but the 80’s/alternative music atmosphere drives me home to my era, with even more excitement. The story shows the tale of mermaid sisters named “Silver” and “Golden” who become enchanted by the song of “Figs and Dates” band members partying on the beach – they make friends and become adopted by the cabaret club the band operates within. Its a twisted love story beyond the “Little Mermaid” obsession with a human and going through a twisted operation to gain human legs permanently. The sister doesn’t understand and decides to listen to her natural desires -devouring the flesh of humans in the city. While this pitstop was meant only as a stop-over for the sisters new life in America, they become trapped in Warsaw. The music, sex, horror, the gore, comedy, drama, and the art-house madness makes it a uniquely enchanting mermaid tale. Review: 5 stars out of 5 by Oisin Rhymour

 


Hag of Beara Stone

The Hag of Beara Stone or An Chailleach Bhéara
by Thomas Baurley, Folklorist and Archaeologist, Techno Tink, LLC
https://technowanderer.com/hag-of-beara-stone/
https://technotink.net/photography/?p=14442
https://archaeologyfinds.com/?p=305

Ring of Beara, County Kerry/County Cork, Ireland

Driving the Ring of Beara in West Cork/County Kerry, Ireland I came across the infamous “Hag of Beara” stone – also known as An Chailleach Bhéara or the White nun of Beara, The Cailleach, “Hag”, “Old Crone”, or Old Woman of Dingle. In Irish lore, she is known as the Cally Berry or Cailleach Bheara.  

This boulder is a fabled petrified stone of the Divine Hag or Cailleach, the Irish Goddess of Winter. The Queen of Winter.  Of course my visit to her was a rainy cold winter day and very tributing to that connutation.

Beara is also connected with the other Goddess/ poetesses: Brigit, Liadan, and Uallach.  She is seen as one of Ireland’s oldest aspects of the Great Goddess trinity, alongside younger incarnations as a maiden and mother. She is sometimes called the second side or winter half of the Goddess Brigid. She is said to rule the months between Samhain (around Nov 1st) until Beltane (around May 1st), while Brigid rules the summer months.  She is described to be an old crone who brings winter with her when she appears and wields powers over life and death. She could control the weather and many of her worshippers had a mixture of reverence with fear in tribute and respect for outcomes of their winter crops. She is the bringer of winter, goddess of Destruction, Goddess of Creation, and the weather witch.

Said to have been born on Samhain in the “Teach Mor” or Great House in what is now known as “Tivore” on the  Dingle peninsula in county Kerry. Her house was known as “the house farthest west in Ireland.” Cailleach Bheara was originally named “Boi” a variant of the word for a cow “‘bó’”.  The ‘Oileán Baoi’ (Boi Island), or Dursey Island, was named after her maiden image of “Bo”.  She is known as a Goddess of Creation, nick-named the hag or hooded one, and is a special Deity to the Beara Peninsula of County Cork, Ireland which her Beara name is associated. She is described as having worn a hood or a veil given to her by Saint Cummine for a hundred years. She welcomed the winter weather every winter in this area overlooking the sea. Imprisoned as petrified to stone for centuries past and to come. She holds special attribution to the countryside of County Cork (elder age) and County Kerry (childhood). Rumored to be a mother or foster mother to ancestors of many clans in these counties, including Corca Loighdhe and Corca Dhuibhne.  She has been referenced as either being the wife or daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, the Irish God of the Sea. It is said she had seven periods of youth one after another, that every man that lived with her died of old age and is why her descendants are many, making up entire tribes and races extending from Ireland to Scotland. She was also said to have had many lovers, including the Fenian warrior “Fothad Donainne”.

Originally a Pagan Deity, she was intermingled into Christian mythology with the arrival of Saint Caithighearn, who came to Kilcatherine and the surrounding area preaching Christianity. Caithighearn was seen as a threat to the Hag of Beara.  Cailleach never related to Christian wisdom but was curious about it for its threat to her. It is said that after a day of food gathering on the peninsula, the hag returned to Kilcatherine to find the saint asleep, approached her, and stole her prayer book. A cripple nearby saw this theft and awoke the Saint who saw the Hag running away. As the saint ran after her, caught up with her in Ard na Cailli, she took the prayer book back and turned the hag to stone with her back to the hill and face the sea. This is the “Hag of Beara” stone, which I visited on this rainy day of December 19th, 2023. I could feel the sorrow, the loneliness, the solitude, and the magic surrounding the stone. I could also feel the rumored “warmth” and inner dampness of the stone, which is said to remain moist despite the warmth of summer months because of the life force it contains. In her youth, she was called the “Daughter of the Sun,” and she was powerful during the summer months and weakened towards the winter months.  By spring, she loses her strength, overcome by the powers of the Spring Equinox.   She is said to visit a hidden Well of Youth that she drinks from as the sun rises, and this is how she transforms into the young, beautiful Bride or Brigid Goddess, her other half.

The Scottish also honor and tribute the Cailleach as a mother of all Gods and Goddesses in Scotland, as powerful as most Gaelic myths profess her to be. There, she is often called the Cailleach Bheur, Beira, or Carlin. She is said to predate Celtic Mythology. She has existed “from the long eternity of the world.”   Some have placed her in the realms of the Fomorians and Titans, but that is another tale.  Some have quoted her as a Spanish princess named Beara, and others have attributed her to being a bastardized version of Kali, the great Hindu Goddess brought to Britain by Indian immigrants. She is internationally seen as a crone Goddess, dressed in grey with dun-colored plaid wrapped around her shoulders, with faces wan and blue like a corpse with long white or grey hair speckled with frost. A single eye in the center of her forehead, a being who can see beyond this world and into the next – and likened to the Fomorians because of this depiction. She sometimes appears in myth wearing an apron or a creel strapped to her back and carrying a wooden staff. Other sources describe the staff as a wand or hammer, potentially a shillelagh or walking stick/club made from the wood of the blackthorn tree associated with the crone and witches. Some say we get the modern depiction of the hagly witch in our Halloween imagery as that from the Cailleach. She is well known through the mythology and legends of the British Isles.

The British called her the Black Annis and the Cailleach ny Groamch or Cailleach Groarnagh on the Isle of Man. Other names for her are said to be the Blue Hag of Winter, Bone Mother, Woman of Stones, Cailleach Nollaig (The Christmas old wife), and Cailleach Mhor Nam Fiadh (the great old woman of the deer), and Cailleach Beinne Breac (old woman of the speckled mountain).

One Scottish legend is Cailleach as the winter Goddess ushering in the cold and dark winter months beginning at Samhain, keeping the lands cold until Imbolc (St Brigid Day). It is said on Samhain that she goes to the Corryvreckan whirlpool just north of the Isle of Jura to wash her great plaid. When the plaid emerges from the clean and shining white waters, she uses it to cover Scotland in a blanket of snow. Through winter, she walks the land, striking the ground and trees with her staff, crushing any sign of growth appearing.

In one myth, she imprisons the young virginal Brid, the personification of Spring, inside Ben Nevis on Samhain. Her son Angus, King of Summer, learns about Brid’s imprisonment in a dream and consults the king of the Green Isle for her whereabouts – the king replies, “The fair princess whom you saw is Brid, and in the days when you will be king of summer, she will be your queen. Your mother has full knowledge of this, and she wishes to keep you away from Brid so that her reign may be prolonged.”   He then sets out seeking his beloved and frees her from the confines of the mountain on the eve of Imbolc. Once the Cailleach learns of this, She immediately chases after the couple, and a great fight ensues. The battle continues through the night until Cailleach escapes her son’s potentially fatal blow by turning her into a standing stone – the Hag of Beara. She is to remain in that form until the following Samhain where she will appear again to usher in the winter and imprison Brid within Ben Nevis as an eternal cycle of light and dark, changing of the seasons, and fertility of the land.

In the Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael refers to Cailleach as “the first week of April, represented as a wild hag with a venomous temper, hurrying about with a magic wand on her withered hand, switching the grass and keeping down the vegetation to the detriment of man and beast. When, however, the grass upborne by the warm sun, the gentle dew, and the fragrant rain overcomes the “Cailleach,” she flies into a terrible temper, throwing her wand into the roots of a whin bush, and disappears in a whirling cloud of angry passion til the beginning of April comes again.”

Another Pagan tale is that she encountered two huntsmen while transformed into a deer. She appears to them as the crone and points them toward the best hunting grounds, and the two young men kill an immense stag they drag home to their father. Upon reaching the cottage, the stag disappears, and the father scolds them for not having the meat as the Cailleach had instructed and let the fairies take it from them. She is associated with various creatures, including birds found in Ireland. She, in particular, is associated with the deer she safeguards, wolves, black cats, wild cattle, and goats.

She is also written as the narrator for “The Lament of the Hag of Beara,” an Irish medieval poem in which she bitterly laments the passing of her youth and her decrepit old age. She is also written about in the collection of stories within the Great Book of Lecan which is dated approximately 1400 C.E. In the 12th century, she is named the White Nun of Beare in the Vision of Mac Conglinne. In the Lament of the Hag of Beara, she narrates a world ruled by the flow and ebb of the sea tide, with the turn of which life will dwindle, as with the coming tide, it waxes to its full powers and energy, according to folklorist Eleanor Hull in the interpretation of the medieval poem. The Hag of Beara somberly reminisces about their youth when she drank mead and wine with kings and now lives a lonely abandoned life amongst the “gloom of a prayer” and “shriveled old hags.”  This is befitting for my journey here this week as I myself embrace the onsets of “old age” still working through my divinity from youth to father to old man. I embrace a solitary Winter Solstice holiday and solitude averse to my younger wild parties and adventurous days. I sat, peering over the Bay from her stone, contemplating my state of being and aging as I feel its effects on my body.

I am the Hag of Beare,
An ever-new smock I used to wear;
Today—such is my mean estate—-
I wear not even a cast-off smock.

The maidens rejoice
When May-day comes to them,
For me, sorrow is meeter,
I am wretched; I am an old hag.

Amen! Woe is me!
Every acorn has to drop.
After feasting by shining candles
To be in the gloom of a prayer.

I had my day with Kings,
Drinking mead and wine;
Today, I drink whey water
Among shriveled old hags.

~ excerpts from a 1919 translation by Lady Augusta Gregory, Trinity College, Dublin.

According to mythology, she dropped or threw stones from her apron as she passed around Ireland through Scotland. Each of these stones grew into rock formations or mountains associated with her, which are recognizable places of worship for her tribute and prayers. Her name, “Boi,” gave rise to the Oilean Baoi or Dursey Island located at the tip of the Beara peninsula, said to be her home.

She has several landmarks attributed to her throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the British Isles, such as the (1) Hag’s Head in County Clair, the Ceann Cailli rock formation on the southernmost point of the Cliffs of Moher, Co. Claire. (2) the “Hag of Beara” Rock chair, a natural boulder in Kilcatherine, Beara, Co. Cork claimed to be her fossilized remains on a chair which she sits overlooking the sea awaiting Manannan mac Lir, the God of the Sea, sometimes defined as her husband or father. (3) Sliabh na Cailli or “The Hag’s Mountain” in County Meath. (4)  This stone here, the “Hag of Beara” – a large rock overlooking Coulagh Bay, close to Eyeries in County Cork, represents her face turned to stone as she stared out to sea, awaiting for Manannan mac Lir to return to her. It’s the (5) Beinn na Caillich on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.  (6) The scarred path down the side of Schiehallion bears her name, Sgriob na Calliach, or “furrows of the Cailleach,” where she lost footing and slid down the mountain. (7) the Ailsa Craig supposed was created from a dropped boulder when a fisherman sailed his boat underneath the Cailleach, and the sail of his boat brushed the inside of her thigh, frightening her and causing her to drop the boulder. (8) the Cailleach stone on Gigha and (9) the Callanais stones on the Isle of Lewis. (10) Loch Awe on the banks of Ben Cruachan was a great well on the summit from which the Cailleach drew her water daily; it was covered by a heavy stone slab; this slab was to be replaced by sunset or the water inside the well would spill out and flood the world – one tiring evening she removed the stone slab to draw her water. She sat down to rest before walking home. Exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep on the hillside, and the water tumbled from the well in vast torrents and streamed down the mountainside – the roar of water awoke her. She quickly replaced the slab in enough time to prevent the world from being flooded, but the once fertile Vale of Tempe got covered and became Loch Awe.

(11) The House of the Cailleach, Taigh na Cailleach at the head of Glen Lyon, is situated by Glen Cailleach and is seen as a shrine to her for hundreds if not thousands of years involving a Beltane rite where the stones stacked at its entrance were removed, roof freshly thatched, and a family of water-worn stones resembling figures of the Cailleach, the Bodach (old man), and the Nighean (daughter) were brought outside for the summer months. Samhain placed the stones back inside the house before the entrance was sealed until the next summer when the rite repeated. Some say that the (12) Megalithic tombs at Carrowmore were created from stones falling from her apron. (13) The same is true of the passage tombs on the Coolera Peninsula outside of Sligo. (The stones that created these were supposedly collected by the Cailleach from the megalithic tombs at Lough crew) (14), and in the Dartry Mountains, there is even the Cailleach’s house. I’ve been to this house, and it resonates so well with her legend.

At each location, pilgrims, visitors, spiritualists, and tourists often leave coins, clooties, and other offerings for her tribute and request prayers. It is said that she is the stone “Hag of Beara” when she presides over the winter months, but come summer, when Brigid rules, she transforms back into her human shape on Samhain.

She is celebrated on various feast days, including February 1st, the Feast Day of St. Bridgit, the day the Cailleach is supposed to transfer her power to Bridgit, who brings forth the spring and summer months. Suppose this day (also known as Groundhog’s Day in the Americas) has favorable weather. In that case, this is taken as a bad omen that the Cailleach can collect extra firewood and draw the winter out, but if the weather is bad, the Cailleach will remain asleep, and winter will be shortened. Some associate this with the American celebration of Groundhog’s Day and determination if we’ll have a longer winter or an earlier spring. The American spinoff is about a bad weather day, limiting the collection of firewood to whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow based on the weather of the day.

March 25th in Scotland is the Latha na Cailliche (Day of the Old Woman), which celebrates the transition of winter into summer. This was also the atypical “New Year’s Day” in Scotland until it changed to the present attribution of January 1st during the 17th century. Competitions and festivities were often held on this day to see who could drive the winter hag away. During Beltane celebrations, around May 1st, on the Isle of Man, many competitions occur where staged battles between summer and winter take place, with summer always triumphing.

Location: Traveling from Ardgroom to Eyeries along the Beara Way Cycle route or Ring of Beara, follow south past the Kilcatherine Church. It is on the right side overlooking Coulagh Bay and is marked by a signpost. There is limited parking available. It’s a small walk down the hill. During winter, it is wet and boggy, so I recommend wellies.

References:

 


The Ballycrovane Ogham Stone of Beara

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Ballycrovane Ogham Stone or Beara Ogham Stone
(Béal A’Chorraigh Bháin)
Co. Cork, Southern Ireland
Irish grid ref: V 6569 5291

At this point in my journey, I was bouncing between West Cork and County Kerry, so I apologize for any content stating that this standing stone is in Kerry – it’s in West Cork. As I spied on the map, an Ogham Stone was outside of the Ballycrovane quay, so I took a gander. It is in the backyard of a private cottage with very few parking places without blocking the residents. They have an iron gate with a 2 Euro donation box to wander up to see the stone firsthand. It is a massive pointed granite monolith atop a hillock overlooking the Ballycrovane Harbour, standing approximately 17 feet tall. The Ogham inscription purports to say, “Son of Deich descendant of Torainn” (MAQUI DECCEDDAS AVI TURANIAS). There is also a modern national monument declaration plaque below.

The monument is a carved thin pillar-stone tall granite standing stone with an estimated age of over 2,000 years before the present. It is across the Ballycrovane Quay / Kenmare Bay from the Hag of Beara along the Ring of Beara on the Beara Peninsula. It is a few hundred yards southeast of the “Faunkill and the Woods” road and the coastguard station. This has been stated to be the tallest Ogham stone in Ireland and possibly Europe at 17 feet (5.3 meters), with another approximately several feet below the ground. The Ogham inscription is at the eastern edge, which is hard to see due to weathering.

The language Ogham was known as the only written language of the early Celts, a mnemonic device with an alphabetic interpretation that existed pre-Roman times until approximately the 5th century C.E. The script consists of a series of short notches or strokes carved vertically and slanting on the edges in other instances. A Latin translation of Ogham is believed to have allowed scholars to read the Ogham script alphabet. It is 30 letters of straight lines and notches carved on the edge of a piece of stone or wood, divided into four categories of five sounds. These symbols are found mainly on standing stones, though examples on wood and above lintels also exist. Most Ogham is found in Ireland (heavy in southern Ireland), but others are found in Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Scotland, and Wales.

Sources:

Ancient Stones 2012 Hags, Cats, and Stones on the Beara Peninsula. Website http://ancientstones.blogspot.com/2012/02/drumlave-stones-with-hungry-hill-in.html referenced 5/13/24.

Iles, Susanne 2007 The Ring of Beara Blog: Ballycrovane Ogham Stone. Website referenced https://ringofbeara.wordpress.com/2007/11/03/ballycrovane-ogham-stone/ on 5/13/24.

Journal of Antiquities. Website referenced https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2014/09/07/ballycrovane-ogham-stone-co-cork-southern-ireland/ on 5/13/24.

Oxford Press 1998 Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.

Readers Digest 1992 Illustrated Guide to Ireland. The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London.

Roaring Water 2014 Ballycrovane Ogham Stone. Website https://roaringwaterjournal.com/tag/ballycrovane-ogham-stone/ referenced on 5/13/24.

Scherman, Katherine 1981 The Flowering Of Ireland, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London.


 


Stone Circles

by Thomas Baurley, Archaeologist and Folklorist

Stone Circles can be found worldwide but are most notorious in the British, Irish, and Scottish landscapes. Stones can be small, medium, and large, often dug into the ground as deep as they rise above the ground. A Stone Circle is a circular ring of stones, often with a defined entrance between two stones, with arrangements often related to the path of the rising and setting sun or the moon at sacred times of the year or in geographic alignment with other sites, hills, and circles.


Uragh Stone Circle and Famine Cottage, County Kerry, Ireland

Generally, however, stone circles are believed to be used by ancient peoples for magic, ritual, religion, astronomy, burials, and gatherings. Some have been used as tombs. In all reality, most of them do not know the true purpose as most stone circles belong to past people who did not leave behind written explanations or histories. Some stones have been inscribed with symbols, Ogham, and inscriptions. Much of what has been written about stone circles is from antiquarians, mystics, anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and religious zealots. Generally, they are believed to have been used for multiple purposes – most commonly thought were religious or ceremonial, burials, and community gatherings.

Many stone circles have been recorded to possess lunar and solar alignments or astrological mapping. Some have called them solar and lunar observatories used by the ancients. Often, they are primarily a circular geometry with usually an empty center. Though altar, sacrificial, or standing stones are found in the center of many. Stones in Britain, Scotland, and Ireland have been recorded and estimated to have been erected roughly 3000-2500 B.C.E. (Before the common era) during the Middle Neolithic (3700-2500 B.C.E.). Others are dated to the Late Neolithic and the Bronze Age.

They were abundantly built in coastal and lowland areas, especially in the northern part of what is now known as the United Kingdom. Stonehenge and Avebury are the most famous European stone circles, built around 3100 BCE. There have been recorded over 1303 stone circles in Ireland, Brittany, and Britain. Largest numbers were found in Scotland at 508 sites, 316 in England, 187 in Ireland, 156 in Northern Ireland, 81 in Wales, 49 in Brittany, and 6 in the Channel Islands.

The oldest stone circle, however, is the Gobekli Tepe in Anatolia, Turkey, estimated to be approximately 9,000-12,000 years old. In Europe, stone circles are often attributed to having been built by Druids. There is faint realism there; however, although celebrants of Druidic religions have built many stone circles (even modern ones), the most notorious historic circles are pre-Celtic and pre-Druid. Still, they may have been taken over through time by those of the Druid faith. Many modern-day Pagans claim them as their spiritual centers, as many are tied to the Equinoxes and Solstices. Outside of modern recreated stone circles like Maryhill Stonehenge, there does exist indigenous stone circles even in the United States – such as the Ellis Hollow Stone Circle in Ithaca, New York, which is located in a nature preserve, consisting of 13 standing stones arranged in a circle about 30′ in diameter. It is believed to have been placed there by people from the Late Woodland period around 1000 B.C.E.

Mythology and Folklore
In British and Irish folklore and legend, stone circles are notorious for being the haunt of faeries. Some say they are remnants of people turned to stone for dancing during the Equinoxes, Solstices, or Sabbaths. Burial mounds at, in, or near them are believed to be entrances to the Otherworld or the Land of the Fae. Most stone circles, especially in Europe, have supernatural tales associated with them, ranging from sightings of beings varying from Druids, Witches, Banshees, Hobs, Giants, boggarts, leprechauns, spectral figures, and phantom black doors on the moors.

Many artifacts have been found associated with stone circles from religious, ceremonial, habitation, and/or burial. Prehistoric lithics, flints, and stone weapons are often found around these circles. In European lore, these lithics were often called Elf Shot and believed to have been made by Elves that were fired at humans in the past.

References:

  • Ancient Ireland 2024 Uragh Stone Circle And Lake Of Gleninchaquin. Ancient Ireland Tourism. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://www.ancientirelandtourism.com/uragh-stone-circle-and-lake-of-gleninchaquin/
  • Bretgaunt 2021 Dancing stones and peeing giants: the folklore of ancient sites in Derbyshire. BUXTON MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://buxtonmuseumandartgallery.wordpress.com/2021/12/10/dancing-stones-and-peeing-giants-the-folklore-of-ancient-sites-in-derbyshire/#:~:text=Stone%20circles%20and%20standing%20stones%20were%20often%20the%20haunt%20of,otherworld%20and%20the%20fairy%20kingdom.
  • Burgoyne, Mindie 2023 Drawn to the Mystery of Ireland’s Stone Circles. Website referenced 3/28/2024 at https://travelhag.com/stone-circles/
  • 2011 Uragh Stone Circle on the Beara Peninsula – Enchanting. Thin Places Mystical Tours. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://thinplacestour.com/uragh-stone-circle/
  • Byron, Susan 2024 Uragh Stone Circle. Ireland’s Hidden Gems. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://www.irelands-hidden-gems.com/uragh-stone-circle.html
  • Clarice 2021 Uragh Stone Circle: Magical Ireland. Nourishing Ireland. website referenced 3/28/24 at https://nourishingireland.com/uragh-stone-circle-magical-ireland/
  • Hannon, Ed 2020 Uragh Stone Circle, Kerry, Ireland. Visions of the Past. website referenced 3/28/24 at https://visionsofthepastblog.com/2020/07/22/uragh-stone-circle-kerry-ireland/
  • Irish Archaeology 2024 Uragh Stone Circle. website referenced 3/28/24 at https://irisharchaeology.org/uragh-stone-circle/
  • Megalithic 2024 Uragh NE – Stone Circle in Ireland (Republic of) in Co. Kerry. The Megalithic Portal. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=3528
  • Larson, Celeste 2022 Reflections from Uragh Stone Circle, Ireland. Mage by Moonlight. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://magebymoonlight.com/uragh-stone-circle/
  • Tripadvisor 2024 Uragh Stone Circle. Trip Advisor. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g4045372-d8787688-Reviews-Uragh_Stone_Circle-Tuosist_County_Kerry.html
  • Unknown 2024 Uragh Stone Circle. Megalithic Ireland. Website referenced 3/28/24 at http://www.megalithicireland.com/Uragh%20Stone%20Circle.html
  • Wikipedia 2024 Uragh Stone Circle. Wikipedia. Website referenced 3/28/24 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uragh_Stone_Circle
(more…)

 


The Fairy-Go-Round Ring Fort, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland

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The Fairy-Go-Round Fairy Fort
Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland
https://www.fairyfortdingle.com/


During my 2023 December trompings around County Kerry on the Dingle Peninsula I pitstopped at this very cool Ring fort, also known as a “Fairy Fort”.  A tourist-attraction with a petting farm, this privately owned attraction is 10 km west of Dingle in the parish of Kilvickadownig. Its along the world famous Slea Head Drive.  This Ring fort, also known as a “Rath”, “Lios”, or “Fairy Fort” is a circular ancient pre-Celtic settlement and fort that is composed of a circular interior enclosed by a earthen bank and foss. There has been determined to be approximately 3-4 huts and souterrain that would have existed here. The bank rises approximately 4.2 meters above the base of the fosse and 2.5 meters above the interior. The entrance faces due East and is 3 meters width. 

Mythologically this is known as a Fairy Fort. The owners have called it the “Fairy Go Round.”   Historically, pre-Celtic forts and settlements were once attributed to be the circular fortified settlements of the pre-Celtic inhabitants of Ireland known as the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fír Bolg even though archaeologically we know they were built by humans during the Bronze age upwards towards 1000 CE.  Ring forts can be found throughout Northern Europe and are particularly abundant in the Isles like Ireland, England, and Scotland. Myth and legends surround these ruins and many superstitious will avoid them, believing them to be faerie domain and portals to the world of the Fae. Farmers who are superstitious will not farm nor develope near them, never altering the remains. Many believe the grounds are imbued with Druid magic. Even the cutting of the whitethorn trees (fairy trees) near them will often be believed to result in instant death upon whomever did the cutting. Others say that entering these fairy forts during the witching hours of 1 am – 5 am woulld never leave the fort alive. 

 This particular ring fort again is on private property shared with the public for a admission fee. In addition for entertainment of children, there is a animal petting farm on site with sheep, goats, lambs, kids, horses, and donkeys. 

 


Mass Rocks

by Thomas Baurley: 19 February 2024

Mass Rocks: Generally, a “Mass Rock” was used as an altar in the mid-17th century for Catholic masses in Ireland and Scotland or regions where the Protestants persecuted the Catholics. In Irish they were called Carraig an Aifrinn. These were popular occurrences during the Penal times (the 1690s to 1750s AD) (or 1690-1750 C.E.). England’s King Henry VIII started a massive religious persecution of the Catholic Church in Ireland, forbidding Catholics from holding mass. This ended during the Catholic Emancipation of 1829 CE. During this time, the Irish Catholics “clung to the Mass, crossed themselves when they passed Protestant ministers on the road, had to be dragged into Protestant churches and put cotton wool in their ears rather than listen to Protestant sermons,” stated Marcus Tanner in his 2004 book “Last of the Celts.”

As a result of persecution, clergy and their congregations sought out remote, hidden, isolated locations to hold mass and other ceremonies to observe Catholic Mass. Many of these locations were marked by large stones with etchings of a cross marked into them. It was extremely risky to be caught practicing during the persecution, resulting in harm, especially during Cromwell’s campaign and the Penal Law 1695. Under the 1704 Registration Act, Bishops were banished, and priests had to register to preach. “Priest hunters” were employed and set out upon the countryside to arrest unregistered priests and Presbyterian preachers under the Act of 1709.

The Penal Act made laws and enforcements based on:

  • Restrictions on how Catholic children were educated
  • Bans on Catholics holding public office
  • Bans on Catholics serving in the Army
  • Bans on Catholics voting
  • Bans of Catholics inheriting Protestant lands
  • Bans on celebration of Catholic Mass
  • Execution or Expelling Catholic clergy from the country
  • Taking Catholic land and distributing it amongst British Lords
  • Dividing inherited lands equally between children to reduce land size held by individual Catholics

The Mass Rocks of Ireland

Again, while some occurrences are found in other places in the Western World with archaeological cross glyph remnants of crosses etched into stones, the “Mass Rock” concept is primarily found in Ireland and some occurrences in Scotland. It is defined as a “rock or earth-fast boulder used as an altar or stone-built altar used when Mass was being celebrated during the Cromwellian period (1650’s) and Penal times (1690-1750), with a recurrent use during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-2022. Many of these rocks/boulders often possess a inscribed or scratched/etched cross into the stone. (Archaeological Survey Database of Ireland) These are found in isolated places where religious ceremonies such as the Catholic Mass would be celebrated by the congregations, often in secret. Starting with Oliver Cromwell’s decimation of Ireland followed by William the III’s victories at the Boyne and Limerick under the Penal Laws, it was a dangerous time for the Catholics.

The infamous “Cathedral Cave” at the Isle of Eigg in Scotland is a good example. In 1698, the Inner Hebrides was predominantly Catholic, and the laity secretly attended mass at a Mass stone inside a large high-roofed coastal cave known as “the cave of worship.” These sites, too, have “mass stones” or “mass rocks” called Clachan Ìobairt, meaning “Offering Stones.”. These are remnants from when Roman Catholic priests were outlawed in Scotland.

Mass rocks had symbols of the cross either carved, scratched, or drawn upon them. Sometimes, a stone would be taken from a church ruin, brought to an isolated location, and have a simple cross carved at its top. This would mark the location of these secret masses.

Often held at night, the celebrants would trek out to the Mass rock in darkness with the clergy. They would kneel on the ground before the mass rock while others stood guard. A curtain was often drawn around the makeshift altar upon which a book, tablecloth, wine, water, and bread would be placed. The curtain would hide the identity of the person offering the Eucharist.

In addition to remote locales in the woods, cross-etched stones can be found at holy wells and graveyards, other locations where mass was found to be held.

Much historical and urban lore is associated with mass rocks, ranging from miracles to ghost stories. In the story of the widow’s hunger, cures, miracles, and protestant neighbors hiding or helping priests, the priest cannot stop for any reason with mass, or they’d follow in the tragic death of being shot or killed at the moment of transubstantiation. According to author Tony Nugent, the last Roman Catholic Priest to be killed at a mass rock was in 1829 at Inse an tSagairt, near Bonane in County Kerry. He states in his 2013 book Were You at the Rock? The History of Mass Rocks in Ireland that the priest was captured by a local woman and her five accomplices who ran a nearby shebeen splitting the 45-pound bounty. They beheaded him at a house near Kenmare, taking his decapitated head to Cork, and were denied the award because the Catholic Emancipation had just been signed into law, so they threw the head into the River Lee.

Penal Mass

By the late 17th century, many were moved into thatched Mass houses. The Archaeological Survey of Ireland maintains a database for pre-1700 sites, and the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage maintains one for post-1700 sites. In 1979, the Pope recognized the importance of Mass Rocks as a historical reminder of the past persecutions that the Irish faced. After these outdoor sites stopped hosting open-air masses, they continued to have some use for pattern days and Christmas. Many of these sites were re-used when the 2020-2022 COVID-19 pandemic outlawed indoor gatherings, so many returned to mass rocks to celebrate mass. They are often used today for celebrations and Mass. Today, it is commonplace to find celebrations at Mass Rocks on June 20th for the Feast of the Irish Martyrs.

Mass Rock Sites:

Pike Woods Mass Rock, County Kerry, Ireland
A 23-hectare compact wood on the outskirts of Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. Within a mature stand of mixed conifer and deciduous trees such as Sessile Oak, Ash, and Scots pine. Woodford River flows through Pike Wood, creating a microclimate that encourages numerous plant species to grow and critters to dwell. A “Mass Rock” can be found midway through the forest as an early 16th-17th century location for secret Catholic Masses. The 3d model sketch fab of the rock is here: https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/mass-rock-killarney-pike-wood-598a95e5c6814bd189e359646eec6726

REFERENCES:

 


Tobar Ghobanatan

Tobar Ghobanatan Holy Wells and Shrine
Ballyvourney, County Cork, Ireland
https://wells.naiads.org/tobar-ghobnatan-holy-wells-st-abbans-well-and-st-gobnaits-well/

1ST WELL: ST. ABBAN’S WELL OR ST. GOBNAIT’S WELL
As you drive up to the Tobar Ghobnatan Statue, Well, Hut, Grave, Church ruins, and yard, you will see on your right a wrought iron archway with the letters spelling “HOLY WELL” along its top. Another sign labels it as the “Tobar Ghobnatan Holy Well”. When I walked through this archway, I immediately spied a 3/4 large ring of mushrooms known as a Fairy Ring. I had to walk around it 9 times to see if a gateway to the land of Fae would appear. Magical as the site was, alas, no gateway appeared that I was aware of. A short walk down the path you will find the well at the base of a wishing tree.

The tree is covered with rags or clouties, as well as many other trinkets placed there or tied to the branches as offerings and prayers. These are often cleaned up and removed by the church, occasionally, some say online. The well has steps down into it, but it can often be difficult to access without crawling on your knees to get to the magical waters.

There are two taps nearby where one can retrieve the water. This well is believed to be a lot older than the Christian occupation and creation of this monastic site, probably as a Fairy Well or Pagan Shrine. Today, visitors claim it is either St. Abban’s Well and/or St. Gobnait’s Well. From the Cult following, I would think it has more to do with St. Gobnait than St. Abban, even though technically, I’ve read it is primarily called St. Abban’s Well. The Other well is up the hill by St. Gobnait’s Hut and Statue. It’s unclear which Saint claimed which Pagan well when they took the land.

In Neo-Pagan practice and visitations of the site, the well is circled either three times clockwise, or in a trio set of three times three. It is conducted clockwise to gain something, pay tribute to the well, or weave a certain kind of magic. It is done counter-clockwise to unwind something, to banish something, or to undo a spell, curse, or action. It is common then to make an offering to the well or tree. The participant then goes to the well, collects water, offers it back to the earth, and then either takes a sip of the magical waters or splashes it on their face.

It is common to fill a bottle with the magic waters to take home. A bin of empty clean water bottles for those who forgot to bring a bottle is located along one of the rock walls. This well is a very common location for seamen to collect water from to bring to their boats used for safe passage during their expeditions.

In Christian/Catholic observation of the rounds, the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary”, and the Glorias are spoken at each of the stations. At this station, they do a decade of the rosary and drink the water from the Well. According to the stations, the rounds, or the turas, this is station 10: St. Abban’s Well. Every year on the 11th of February, the parish priest would bring out a 13th-century wooden statue of St. Gobnait, upon which pilgrims would measure a ribbon against the statue and wrap it around the figure, then take the ribbon home to use for healing magic.

Next to the well is a large tree called a Wishing Tree, which is part of any number of such trees found on this monastic site. Covering this particular tree are offerings to St. Gobniat (and the ancestral water spirits or Naiads of this well) in the form of rags (clouties/clooties – pieces of cloth tied around its branches), prayers, trinkets, tokens, pictures, charms, and/or a variety of personal effects from undergarments, hair ties, belts, shoes, rings, jewelry, toys, prayer cards, or other effects. The belief behind pieces of cloth is that they are to get rid of an illness, and once the cloth decays, so will the illness. It is a concept of leaving something behind of themselves or their loved ones in need of healing.

Along the stone wall and around the well is an assortment of cups, jars, and/or bottles that someone can use to gather water from the well for drinking and/or blessing. As far as I know, the well water is not tested or certified, so drinking from such is at one’s own risk. Anything can get into these public wells, and a variety of items, from coins, pins, and garbage, are sometimes found thrown into them. When I visited, there was a large bin of washed-out plastic bottles for visitors to fill up with holy well water and take with them.

SECOND WELL: ST. GOBNAIT’S WELL (or ST. ABBAN’S WELL)

Again, like the well above, no one is clear on who claimed this Fairy Well, but it seems to be primarily associated with Saint Gobnait since it is located in front of her house, hut, or kitchen. Both wells are part of the pilgrimage and rounds regardless.

In Christian/Catholic observation of the rounds, the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary”, and the Glorias are spoken at each of the stations. At this station, they do a decade of the rosary and drink the water from the Well.

To complete the pilgrimage the pilgrim walks down the road to St Gobnait’s well (Station 10). The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary, and 7 Gloria, one decade of the rosary, and drinks the water from the well. Like many holy wells in Ireland St Gobnait’s well is associated with a rag tree, and there is a tradition of leaving votive offerings at this tree.

Below is a photo of the tree taken when I last visited here in 2006, as you can see is covered with rags beads, and tokens left by pilgrims. I think it looks quite lovely. Since my last visit, most of these offerings have been removed, but a few are still to be found. This well seems a bit questionable as to the safety of the water but is still one apparently drunken from.

This well is in front of the round circular stone hut north of the statue called the “House of St. Gobnait” or the “St. Ghobnatan’s Kitchen”. Earlier evidence suggests that the site was an early pre-Medieval to Medieval bronze and ironworking site which operated out of this hut. Evidence for this comes from iron slag, a crucible, and other metalworking artifacts found during the excavation of the site. Evidence that the wells were Pagan shrines pre-dating Christianity combined with the metalworking has led some rumors to run wild that it could be the metalworking site of the Tuatha Dé Danann’s Smith known as Goibnui who share phonetic similarities to the name of Saint Gobnait.

There is no evidence found to this ‘hunch’ someone probably weaved online in a blog, but it does add a sense of urban lore to the site that would make it an exciting tidbit of the mythos. (Especially since there really exists no solid evidence of any of the Tuatha Dé Danann legend site locations except folklore) In this hut, pilgrims etch a cross into the stones atop this well as well as the entrance stones in the hut during their turas.Read more: Tobar Ghobnatan Holy Wells: St. Abban’s Well and St. Gobnait’s Well

BOTH WELLS:

Both of the wells are named after the Matron Saint of Ballyvourney and sacred Bee-Keeping mistress, Saint Ghobnatan (a.k.a. Saint Gobnait) of the holy pilgrimage site and monastic settlement known as “Tobar Ghobnatan“. This is the legendary home of St. Gobnait/Ghobnatan. It is located a kilometer south of the village of Ballyvourney where her church Móin Mór (a.k.a. Bairnech) was built. There are two holy wells at this site, both of which are believed to pre-date St. Abban and Gobnait’s arrival to the land, most likely Pagan shrines or Fairy wells. Today these wells are called “St. Abban’s Well” (most likely ‘FIRST WELL’) and “St. Gobnait’s Well” (most likely ‘SECOND WELL’).

There are several wells throughout Ireland (and other countries) dedicated to Saint Gobnait. There exists a dry well known as St. Debora, Deriola, or Abigails Well that is north of Ballyagran in a high field on the left of the road to Castletown which is believed to be the original Saint Gobnait’s Well. It is currently dry. Legends run wild of a white stag that can be seen at this well especially during February 11th, the Feast day of Saint Gobnait. There are other wells and shrines such as the church site in County Kerry at Dunquin which has a well near Dungarvan in Waterford.

Article by Thomas Baurley, Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Productions and Research Services: technogypsie.net. © 2013, updated 2023: All rights reserved.

How to get here: Drive West from Macroom to Kerry on the N22. As you pass through Ballymakerry (Baile Mhic Ire), you will pass a church on your right-hand side and will take the first left-hand turn after the church that has a signpost. Follow the road 400 meters, and you will see the first (and main) holy well on the right. You’ll need to go up the hill a bit for parking as it is a very narrow road. Take the next right-hand road (near where you can park by a graveyard) up the hill to see the other holy well, statue, hut, church ruins, and main graveyard. There is also a modernized porta-toilet in this parking lot so you don’t have to use the bushes. The GPS coordinates are 79: W 1967 7688. Longitude: 9° 10′ 5″ W, Latitude: 51° 56′ 18″ N.

Bibliography and Recommended Reading:

 


Ireland’s Last Witch Burning / Changeling murder: 1895 Bridget Cleary

Comments Off on Ireland’s Last Witch Burning / Changeling murder: 1895 Bridget Cleary | Adbductions, Changeling, Faerie Hills, Faeries, Living Myth Tags:, , , , ,

by Thomas Baurley

Christmas morning 2023 I trekked out to a real-life Witch hunt or Changeling location. Was I to meet the Fae in the legendary ringfort or simply come to a dead end? A dead end it was, of course. The Ringfort I believed was the location of the body swapping was on private property, and there was no way to find a way in with the time I had available. We’re talking about Ireland’s infamous last burning of a Witch or killing of a Changeling: that is the 1895 murder of Bridget Cleary in Ballyvadlea, Ireland. Her body was dumped in a shallow grave in a bog then relocated to an unmarked grave in a local cemetery. I casually explored a few graveyards, but could not find the grave – the grave and marriage photo is from historical archives.

This is a tale of folklore merging with national identity, as often is the case with folklore and a nation.

Folklore is complex, it is the beliefs, customs, stories, and practices of a culture, depicting the cultural process and history of a people. It has no single definition. It does define national identity, especially in the case of countries like Ireland and the United Kingdom so riddled with legends and lore. It depicts the daily life stories of a people. Ireland manifests stories of leprechauns and fairies. In the 16th century, the traditional political and religious autonomy of the Irish was overthrown by English colonization. This was followed closely by the Great Famine in the 1840s. The Irish belief system was challenged as was its national identity. As Ireland strugged with its own self-government afterward it braved balancing a new state of affairs and horrors to deal with. As the famine ravished rural Gaelic areas with death and emigration, the traditional culture was demised under industrialization and English customs. They did share the belief in fairies with the United Kingdom. If anything cultural the Irish are famous in the world for their belief in the Fae.

As the lore was passed on orally through the generations finding its way into literature and defining the landscape, many superstitions regulated how the Irish would function in its new world and boundaries.

Particular reverence and avoidance were made of fairy trees especially hawthorns and ancient ring forts deemed fairy forts – all as places where the Fae relocated, and portals to their dimensions existed. No elder would disrespect the fairies or have to pay the price if they did. Roads were re-routed to avoid fairy trees, farmers left the ringforts in their fields to be avoided, and corners of houses were removed so as to not overlap a fairy path.

If the fae were angered, they were often hostile, mischievous, and troublesome – lashing out with curses, sickness, misfortune, and sometimes death. Of the Genus “Fae” there were thousands of different kinds of species in Irish fairy lore – all possessing their own supernatural aspects, characteristics, and traits all rooted to the ancient Celtic and Gaelic Pagan Gods and Goddesses.

The fae was normally invisible to most of the human species living in the air, swimming in the seas, underground, or in the woods. They sometimes were human sized and othertimes minute. Some resembled humans living life parallel to humankind while others replaced humans. The fae was known to steal children and young adults replacing them with rotting withered changelings as a replacement. It has been said, that humans who spend too much time with the Fae may lose sense of time, have hundreds of years pass before they return to this dimension, othertimes are curses, waste away or die after their return.

Often the changelings are moody, evil-minded, sickly, or just not right in the head. Their behaviors are noticeably intolerable – such as sickly babies who never stop crying, and adults who no longer communicate or become anti-social. The only way to get rid of a Changeling and bring back the stolen human was death by fire. Or so the belief at that time dictated.

Such was the case with the good-spirited young woman named Bridget Cleary who was burnt to death by her husband Michael in hopes that she would be returned to him. This gave birth to the folk rhyme “Are you a witch or are you a fairy, or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?”

Bridget grew up in Ballyvadlea, 11 miles from Clonmel, in a very small village – daughter of local farmer Patrick Boland, she was educated by the local nuns and apprenticed to a dressmaker in Clonmel. She married Michael Cleary the local Clonmel cooper at age 18. She oddly lived on a fairy rath (fairy fort) and traveled within the fairy landscape selling eggs to supplement her dress-making income. She often went up on the local fairy fort atop Kylenagranagh Hill to deliver to the local seanchai, Jack Dunne.

Early March 1895 after a bitterly cold day she caught a chill returning to her cottage bedridden for many days afterwards only worsening in health. She was visited by friends and family, even her customer Jack Dunne, who upon seeing her stated “that is not Bridget Boland.” Her husband Michael heard this and steadily became convinced the woman sick in bed was a changeling. Jack recommended the local “Fairy Doctor” named Denis Ganey to come to see her – he was unable to in person but sent Michael an herbal concoction mixed with milk that would restore the real individual.

Threatening the changeling with fire and persistent questioning could also reveal the Changeling. March 14, 1895 neighbors Minnie and William Simpson came to visit Bridget they encountered a frightful scene of Jack Dunne and cousins Patrick, James, and William holding her down on the bed, forcing the concoction into her while she screamed of its bitterness. The next night, her cousin Joanna Burke visited to find Michael and Bridget fighting and telling Joanna that her husband was trying to make “a fairy of her” only to be stifled by Michael. He kept asking her if she was his wife. He lost control, tore off her clothes, and brandished a brand from the fire into her face.

Guests were locked into the cottage, and Bridget’s head struck the floor, and moments later her chemise was afire. Michael fed paraffin to the blaze, sat in a chair, and watched her burn saying “She’s not my wife. She’s an old deceiver sent in place of my wife”. Her burnt body was buried on adjacent land, and all swore silence, rumoring her disappearance, that she had gone with the fairies. All believed she would reappear at the Kylegranagh ring fort racing among the fairies on a white horse – and if the men were quick, could cut the cords tying her to the horse so she could return to them.

The horrible murder took place in southern Tipperary in Ballyvadlea near Clonmel, Ireland – around the Spring Equinox of 1895. In the small village of nine houses and a population of 30 – the world was rocked with headlines about the savagery of the Irish as it was told she was “slowly roasted to death because she was, in her relatives’ belief, bewitched”.

March 22, 1895, the local police discovered the charred remains of a woman in a boggy field within a shallow grave outside of ballyvadlea – severely burnt, naked, a few strands of her undergarments and black stockings. Her head was hidden within a sack. It was Michael’s wife Bridget Cleary. It was discovered that she was abused and murdered by her husband and father as well as other family members. Within the court, it was conspiracy-ridden with tales of changelings and kidnapping by the Fae. All ten in the house were arrested, men involved were given sentences ranging from 6 months to 20 years. Michael was sentenced to 20 years and upon release moved to Liverpool, then to Canada. The news classified it as a “witch burning case” (Glasgow Herald, July 5th, 1895) rather than a fairy burning for sensationalism, and therefore marked as the last witch burnt in Ireland.

References:

  • Bourke, Angela 2001 “The Burning of Bridget Cleary”. Penguin: New York.
  • Cork Examiner 1895 various articles March 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30 and April 3, 5, 6, 1895.
  • National Monuments Service 2023 Archaeological Survey of Ireland: ESRI Heritage Historic Environment Viewer at https://heritagedata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=0c9eb9575b544081b0d296436d8f60f8
  • Irish Place undated “The unmarked Grave: Brutal Murder or a Faery Killing the Slaying of Bridget Cleary” website referenced 12/24/23 at https://www.theirishplace.com/heritage/brutal-murder-or-a-faery-killing-the-slaying-of-bridget-cleary/attachment/the-unmarked-grave-of-bridget-cleary/
  • Irish Times 1895 Articles March 26, 27, 28th; April 2, 3, 6, 8th, 1895.
  • Kilkenny Castle undated “Folklore and Fairies and the Question of National Identity”. Website referenced 12/25/23 at https://kilkennycastle.ie/folklore-and-fairies-and-the-question-of-national-identity/
  • Munster Express 1895 “Johanna Burke’s testimony”.
  • Phil Cleary undated Bridget Cleary Murdered in 1895 in Ballyvadlea Just Another Little Murder. Website referenced 12/25/23 at https://philcleary.com.au/bridgetcleary/
  • Salaman, Redcliff N 2000 “The History and Social Influence of the Potato”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • Unknown 1895 “Witch-burning at Clonmel”. Folklore: Vol 6, no 4, pages 373-384.
  • Wilde 1979 “Irish Popular Superstitions”. Dublin.
  • Wildfire Films 2006 “Fairy Wife: The Burning of Bridget Cleary” TV Movie, director Adrian McCarthy and writer Angela Bourke. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0989816/

Suspected Ringforts:

 


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