The Fairy Forts of Ireland
The Irish Heritage Council believes that there are over 60,000 ráth or Fairy Forts in Ireland. Occasionally while driving the back roads of Tipperary you will see large mounds of earth that appear at random in the landscape. There is a distinct possibility that these “hills” are actually, what are known as Fairy Forts or ráth.
Ráth were ancient circular settlements that had earth walls. The walls were built using dirt from a ditch or moat that encircled the Ráth. It was a very effective way to create an additional defense around the settlement. Sometimes the top of the earth wall was also topped with a wooden palisade. The majority of ráth date to between 500-900 A.D, but there is some evidence that they may even date to earlier prehistoric times. In the west of Ireland where stone was much more common, large circular stonewalls were found. In some of these stone ráths or caiseals remains of huts can be found in the interior.
With the passing of time and the wear of nature, many ráth became lost. Those that were found were explained as Fairy Forts or places where the Sidhe lived. They were gateways to the realm of the fairies and woe betide anyone who damaged them. Fairies, or the Tuatha De Danaan, were banished underground legend has it by the Milesians and these forts, some with subterranean passageways were seen as escape routes. The Forts if tampered with would cause great harm to crops and livestock so farmers had to take precautions.
Many legends still survive around the ráth and fairy forts. It is considered very unlucky to take brush, wood or bushes from the sites as they are deemed fairy trees. The path between a fort and a tree or another fort was called a fairy path. If you built your house on this path, your household would suffer sickness and misfortune. If you wanted to build a house, the test to see if it is a fairy path is simple. A small pile of stones should be placed and left overnight on each corner of the proposed building. If the stones were, there in the morning it was a safe place to build.
Evening time is the most dangerous around a fairy fort, falling asleep beside a ráth is just asking for trouble. Folktales tell of people waking up with vivid dreams of attending banquets and feasting parties, and then they discover they have slept away 10 years or more. Sometimes the dreamer awoke only to find that they were now a spirit and they had died during the night. Fairies are considered great pranksters and a simple way to combat their fun is to turn your coat inside out.
These stories and legends have, to a certain extent, preserved the Irish landscape and many of these historical locations. Even today the belief in fairies and the anger rained down on humans when these fairy forts and ráths are destroyed are still in force today. There are quite a few that believe the Irish economy collapsed because the M3 motorway was built through Tara and several developers have fallen on very hard times because they destroyed fairy forts. These days there is a very heavy fine for those that destroy the forts.
In 2015 Eddie Lenihan, one of the few practicing seanchaithe warned about disturbing these ancient dwellings. He is protesting the possible destruction of a fairy fort in Waterford by a US conglomerate. Eddie warns that it is “It’s not a matter of if it will close but when it will close. People will think you are a crank if you say something like this and there will be much laughter.”
News site Irish Central lists incidents that are described as evidence of malevolent curses and bad luck from disturbing ancient dwellings:
“In June 2007 Minister for the Environment Dick Roche signed an order destroying the Lismullin Henge. Lismullin Henge was a 4,000 year old astronomical observatory and place of worship and hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds of the century. Roche was since held up by an armed gang in the Druids Glen Hotel and also lost his job and was then demoted. Martin Cullen the then Minister for Transport nearly got sucked out of a helicopter when the door fell off on one of his extravagantly expensive trips. The chief Health and Safety Officer was seriously injured by a falling tree when felling began at Rath Lugh in 2007.”
If you want to find out more about Fairy Forts check out this list of fairy haunts in Ireland or better yet like this page on Facebook to help save the forts. Most of the pictures on this post are from the Facebook page.
The Knockgraffon Motte or is around 4 km north of Cahir. Legend says that it was the coronation place of the High Kings of Munster.
Mutton Hill Motte in the Tipperary Hills just outside of Tipp town, also known as Cup and Saucer Hill. This post is from Instagram and you can see the hill in a very short video.
This Fort is located about 3km south of the Rock of Cashel and archaeologists were finally able to begin exploration of the fort in 2010. This rath is unusually large and very rare as it has three rings.
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