Fairy Forts

Background Information:

My informant is my aunt from rural Kerry. She is signified in this conversation by the initials J.O. She lived in a farmhouse growing up which had cows in a cowshed around the back of the house. This cowshed was said to be cursed as it was built on a fairy fort. Often (mis)identified as ringforts, fairy forts are small earthen mounds which are usually about the size of an anthill. They were said to be the homes of the Sí, or the fairy folk, who were the mischievous creatures who roamed pre-Christian Ireland. Belief in the Sí has not entirely died out, although it would rather be classed as legend now, a kind of thing that you “don’t not believe,” and is perhaps more confined to rural Ireland, yet she does not totally disbelieve in them. Building on a fairy fort was said to bring bad luck to those who interfered with the Sí.

Main Piece:

A: So tell me about the fairy fort at the house.

J.O.: Well there was a fairy fort around the back of the house, at the cow sheds.

A: And did the folk interact with you at all?

J.O.: Actually, and I’m not sure whether or not to believe in this, the fairies would interfere with the cows. I remember Dad coming in some evenings and saying that a cow had died, despite the fact there was no reason for them too. After they had all died we bought new cows, but they wouldn’t produce any milk. You’d try day after day and there would be absolutely nothing. After a while, Dad called in the vet, who couldn’t find a thing wrong with them, and asked about the others’ deaths, and the vet couldn’t explain it. So then Dad called in the priest, who went looking around the land, and sure enough at the back of the shed there was a small mound, maybe a foot high and a sort of round thing, and he said it was a fairy fort. He went on saying that building things on the forts angered the fair folk and that it was best to move the shed, lest they start bothering the house. I always thought it odd that the priest would tell us that, but Dad said that’s what you did when the Sí were acting up. That summer Dad knocked the shed and built it again at the end of the field. After that, the cows were grand. There was no problem with them, and the shed is still there today as far as I know.

A: And do you believe that it was the fairy folk that were messing with the cows?

J.O.: I don’t know what to believe to be honest. I mean, I can’t explain that the cows were fine once the shed was moved, but at the same time, it seems madness to actually attribute it to the fairy folk. Especially seeing as the priest and the vet couldn’t offer any better explanation. I’d be hesitant to believe it fully, but I would also have my land checked before building anything just to avoid any hassle, you know?


Performance Context: This folk belief was related to me over the phone, after I asked my aunt about the fairy forts, which were mentioned in class around this time. She then related to me this story about the fairy forts in her life.


My thoughts:

This is a classic story of suspended belief in legend. It utilizes a contrasting claim to land by both the fairy folk and the modern owners and the power of the fairy folk to influence the living. What is perhaps most striking, however, is the mention that it was the priest that noted the presence of the fairy folk. Ireland is an unusual case, as prehistoric beliefs in such peoples still persevere despite a heavy Catholic influence. This feels like a kind of cognitive dissonance, in which it is incredibly strange to align these two beliefs with such vastly different outlooks. Like many legends, such as Valk’s account of ghosts in Estonian property issues, the outside characters of the priest and the vet, a religious man and a scientist, serve to bolster the story and affirm the happenings on both counts. Again, it is worth noting that belief in the Sí is not entirely disregarded as part of the part, and is a living part of Irish history.