My brother has followed this blog from the beginning. With an open heart and gracious appreciation for this exploration of Ireland’s spiritual heritage, he has been generally enthusiastic about what I have written. With one very notable exception.
Several posts about the mystical and magical landscape of Benbulben included Benbulben, The Mystery Mountain? in which I mentioned the Tuatha Dé Danann first arriving in Ireland through the mists in airships. Airships? Really? This stretched the limits of credibility for my brother. He wondered if I had taken liberties with this language. In fact I had not. While there is not much historical record of this spectacular arrival, all writings that do exist specifically mention airships.
I had to step away from my familiarity with these writings and acknowledge that on first introduction this does seem a fantastical story. Perhaps made only slightly less fantastic through a portrayal of flying viking ships. However the truth of it is the Tuatha Dé, which means divine tribe, were not originally from this planet. Their celestial origins are alluded to in historical texts and recent written works but generally ignored. Yet legends and stories of ancestors with cosmic origins are found throughout the world and many cultures speak of themselves as children of the stars, including several indigenous American peoples. It’s fascinating to me that, with reference to airships so deeply embedded in Irish history, the cosmic beginnings of the Tuatha Dé are just faint whispers through the mists of time.
Returning to Benbulben to explore the faery lore that abounds there through the words of W.B. Yeats. By the time he was gathering and writing stories of mystical encounters the evolution of Earth and Otherworld spirits to faery was well established. This is from his book Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore written in 1902, just one of many writings where we find reference to fallen angels, the church’s explanation for the Tuatha Dé Dannan, Ireland’s indigenous spiritual ancestors, who were so embedded in the Irish psyche they could not be neatly or completely demonized.
There are some doubters even in the western villages. One woman told me last Christmas that she did not believe either in hell or in ghosts. Hell she thought was merely an invention got up by the priest to keep people good; and ghosts would not be permitted, she held, to go “trapsin about the earth” at their own free will; “but there are faeries,” she added, “and little leprechauns, and waterhorses, and fallen angels.” I have met also a man with a mohawk Indian tattooed upon his arm, who held exactly similar beliefs and unbeliefs. No matter what one doubts one never doubts the faeries, for, as the man with the mohawk Indian on his arm said to me, “they stand to reason.”
Michael Quirke is one of the most delightful encounters to be had in Ireland. Once a butcher of meat, he is now a butcher of wood in the very same butcher shop premises in Sligo Town. Enter the shop and he is ready with a story of the gods, goddesses and mythic heroes said to once roam the local landscape. As they say, he has certainly got the gift of gab.
I visit Michael on every trip and it was during one of these visits that I asked why this area was so spiritually powerful. He whipped out a map and with his finger drew a triangle between Benbulben, Knocknarea, and a mountain to the south and east of Sligo Town. This, he informed me, is the mystical area known as the Hosting of the Sídhe, the most historic and dense population of faery folk and spirits from other realms, most especially the Tuatha Dé Danann, in all of Ireland.
Our Rosses Point B&B sits in the middle of this mystical triangle with spectacular views of both Knocknarea and Benbulben from the breakfast solarium. Sitting in the mystery. What a wonderful way to begin the day.
When the Tuatha, also known as the People of the Light, arrived in Ireland, coming through the mists and clouds on airships, they encountered and defeated dark forces present in the land. Their weaponry was magic, primarily shapeshifting and weather magic.
Eventually the Milesians, the Celtic people, also came to Ireland and in another epic battle on the same battlefields near Sligo, they defeated the Tuatha. Although there is much written and said about this final battle, my favorite image comes from poet and author David Whyte. The Tuatha and Milesians were lined up on opposing ridges overlooking the battlefield, the Tuath resplendently dressed with a shining countenance and banners flying. When the Milesians descended to the field for battle, the Tuatha all turned to face the sun and disappeared into the light.
After this defeat it was agreed the Milesians would claim the world above ground and the Tuatha would live within the land itself. A parallel existence in a parallel dimension – a parallel dimension in the landscape of Benbulben, indeed a mountain of great mystery and power.
Watching The Mists of Avalon last night I was struck by the many ways in which this story reflects that of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Especially the parallel worlds of Avalon and Glastonbury, co-existing in the same physical place yet in different realms or dimensions. Avalon accessible only through the mists. Within other realms the Tuatha and faery folk co-exist with the Irish in the Sligo and Benbulben landscape. When the veils are thin, in those misty liminal times of Samhain and Beltaine – and indeed daily dusk and dawn – the threshold opens and the worlds meet. The abundance of faery stories from that area, many collected and recorded by W. B. Yeats, are a testament to these meetings.
How the Tuatha came to inhabit a parallel dimension….well, that’s another story. An epic story.
“An atmosphere of magic and mystery surrounds the Tuatha Dé…We read that they first came to Ireland in obscure clouds, landing on a mountain the west of the country, and that they caused an eclipse of the sun that lasted for three days.” Dáithí Ó hÓgáin
The Tuatha Dé Dannan, Ireland’s indigenous spiritual ancestors, arrived on airships through the mists and clouds on Beltaine. The literature is clear and consistent about this. They arrived between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago, the literature is wildly inconsistent about this.
Could Benbulben be the ‘mountain in the west of the country’? Spend any time in this area and it seems likely. Very likely.
Following the Benbulben thread as promised. In his book, The Celtic Twilight, W.B. Yeats wrote the following:
Drumcliff and Rosses were, are, and ever shall be, please Heaven! places of unearthly resort. I have lived near by them and in them, time after time, and have gathered thus many a crumb of faery lore. Drumcliff is a wide green valley, lying at the foot of Ben Bulben, the mountain in whose side the square white door swings open at nightfall to loose the faery riders on the world.
In fact there is a white square on the cliffs of Benbulben which, on a clear day, can be seen from our B&B located in Rosses Point. Legend says the faery host nightly ride, The Riding of the Sídhe, passes directly over our lodging. One woman who was with me in Ireland spent much of one day in the B&B garden contemplating this white square and decided a prudent move would be to put a note on the window in her room, which faced Benbulben, indicating that if they were looking for anyone to ride with them I was in room #3.
They didn’t fetch me that evening. But encounters in that landscape abound.