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Ringfort at Cloonmung

Fairy forts (also known as raths from the Irish, referring to an earthen mound) are the remains of lios (ringforts), hillforts or other circular dwellings in Ireland.[1] From (possibly) late Iron Age to early Christian times, the island's occupants built circular structures with earth banks or ditches. These were sometimes topped with wooden palisades, and wooden framed buildings. As the dwellings were not durable, in many cases only vague circular marks remain in the landscape.[2] Raths and lios are found in all parts of Ireland.



Tradition claimed that ringforts were "fairy forts" imbued with Druids' magic and believers in the fairies did not alter them. The early pre-Celtic inhabitants of Ireland (known as the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fir Bolg) came to be seen as mythical and were associated with stories of fairies, also known as the "Good People". Fairy forts and prehistoric Tumuli were seen as entrances to their world.[3] Even cutting brush, especially the sceach or whitethorn, on fairy forts was reputed to be the death of those who performed the act.[4]

There are many folk tales about supernatural events happening at fairy forts. Real accidents which happened at ringforts could be given supernatural explanations. For example, a man who tried to blast a dolmen suffered a septic hand. The wrecked dolmen was subsequently left untouched.[5]

Other traditions hold that a leprechaun may allegedly know of hidden gold in a fairy fort.[6]

In literature, British author Rudyard Kipling made allusions to the process by which such legends grow in his 1906 novel, Puck of Pook's Hill.[7]

Example talesEdit

Fairies' revengeEdit

Workmen were working to level earthworks in a fairy fort at Dooneeva. The originator of this fell apparently dead. His wife, a wise woman brought him back to life magically.[8]

A cow taken and restoredEdit

A farmer's best cow kept grazing in a fairy fort. It was unlucky for the cow to graze there but the cow pined when it was prevented from going to the fairy fort. One day the farmer found the cow there with broken legs. He killed the cow and his family ate the meat, some fresh and some salted. A year later the cow was seen in the fairy fort. The fairies told the farmer they had taken the cow because they needed the milk for their children. They had substituted an old stray horse and made the horse to be like the cow. The farmer took his cow home. He became very prosperous because the fairies supported him.[9]

An old fairy was prevented from marrying a young girlEdit

A rich farmer's son investigated why none of the cows would enter a field with a fairy fort and found an old fairy in the fort. The old fairy asked the young man to help him get a young girl for his wife. The farmer's son would not give the young girl to the old fairy but instead married her himself. As revenge the old fairy destroyed most of the father's property.

The farmer's son and his wife rode to her parents' house. The daughter proved who she was. The daughter had three brothers. The brothers went to the fairy fort and started digging till they found a large flat stone. The old fairy begged them to spare his house. When they spared it he became their friend and restored what he had taken.[10]

Developer's downfall is fairies' revengeEdit

Even in 2011, the financial ruin of developer Seán Quinn was blamed on his moving a fairy fort.[11]

"Taken" (1945)Edit

A woman was ill and died not long after marrying. He married again not a year after her being buried. The tale goes that every night in the house, somebody would come in and eat any food that was left out. One night the man decided to stay up in the corner of the kitchen. When he did this a woman came in, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She had told him that she had been living in the liss in the corner of his farm where the fairies were keeping her prisoner. She said that the fairies wouldn't allow her to eat and that the farmer must write to her people and tell them that she was in the liss with the fairies. She wasn't able to eat because if she did then she would have to stay with the fairies forever until she died. The farmer did as she said the next day and wrote the note. The people got the note but did nothing out of fear for what would happen to the woman and the children. The farmer wrote seven sealed letters and finally the neighbors decided that it would be a shame to leave the woman in the liss. The people went to a priest who told them it would be against God's law to get the woman from the liss. He said that as unmoral as it would be to leave the woman in the liss it would be more unmoral to break God's law and have two wives living in this world. They returned and sorrowed and the woman heard from the farmer. She then returned to the liss with the fairies and ate their bread and remained with them.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Fairy Forts, Music, & Language of Ireland". Archived from the original on 16 June 2007.
  2. ^ "The Celts & Celtic Ireland". Archived from the original on 7 December 2006.
  3. ^ "An Other World". The British Council, Poland. 2004. Archived from the original on 25 April 2007.
  4. ^ Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green, Meeting The Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland, p 125 ISBN 1-58542-206-1
  5. ^ "A Folklore Survey of County Clare: Fairies and Fairy Forts and Mounds". Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  6. ^ "THE LEPRECHAUN". Ethnic Dolls From Around The World - National and Regional Costumes. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  7. ^ Rudyard Kipling. "Puck of Pook's Hill".
  8. ^ "A Folklore Survey of County Clare: Fairies and Fairy Forts and Mounds".
  9. ^ "Tales of Fairies and the Ghost World: Fairy Cows".
  10. ^ "Tales of Fairies and the Ghost World: The Farmer of Tralee and the Fairy Cows".
  11. ^ Greg Harkin (4 December 2012). "Sean Quinn's downfall is fairies' revenge say locals in Cavan". Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  12. ^ "Readings". Retrieved 23 October 2018.

External linksEdit