Away. Come Away!

February 23, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom


The host is riding from Knocknarea
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, “Away, come away.”
William Butler Yeats
From The Hosting Of The Sidhe

There is a large rectangle of white stone on the steep slopes of Ben Bulben. It is said to be a door that opens each night when the faery host rides through air to gather on Knocknarea. They would pass directly over my favorite B&B in Sligo. Legend is filled with stories about the faery realm taking the occasional human with them on such adventures and this was a concern for Linda who was among those on pilgrimage one year. Her bedroom faced Ben Bulben and one night she put a small sign in the window. She’s in room #3. That was my bedroom. When I arrived at breakfast the next morning I’m not sure if she was delighted or disappointed to see me.

We laughed about it. But in local folklore such a concern was no laughing matter. W.B. Yeats collected many stories of faery encounters. This is one he published in 1902 in his book
The Celtic Twilight.

A little girl who was in service in the village of Grange, close under the seaward slopes of Ben Bulben, suddenly disappeared one night about three years ago. There was at once great excitement in the neighbourhood, because it was rumored that the faeries had taken her. A villager was said to have long struggled to hold her from them, but at last they prevailed, and he found nothing in his hands but a broomstick. The local constable was applied to, and he at once instituted a house-to-house search, and at the same time advised the people to burn all the bucalauns (ragweed) on the field she vanished from, because bucalauns are sacred to the faeries. They spent the whole night burning them, the constable repeating spells all the while. In the morning the little girl was found, the story goes, wandering in the field. She said the faeries had taken her away a great distance, riding on a faery horse.

There are loads of these stories. But what I find remarkable about this one is the constable. He clearly didn’t question the veracity of the nature of the girl’s disappearance and knew exactly what to do. I doubt there were spells included in any police training manual so his knowledge would have come from popular wisdom and the fact that familiarity with otherworld energies and beings was a vibrant thread woven in the fabric of life and belief for the Irish people of the time.

And from the reactions to the N18 Clare faery tree nearly one hundred years after this story was published, it seems that thread is still there.

Judith –