Having Found Faeries

Walking toward the top of Knock ma.

I don’t know if I am ever going to be finished with this research. It definitely doesn’t feel like I will be, and I don’t even think I want to be.

Since getting back from Ireland, I have spent a majority of my time reading the THIRTY books that I bought while I was in Ireland (I know, thirty – you can imagine what that was like to bring home on the plane). I didn’t want to report on some of my work without completing that part of the research, so I decided to write all the different blog posts as I go. I am now posting them all, since I at least need to wrap up what I have already accomplished this summer!

One of the most amazing parts of my trip was the day I was able to climb Knock ma, the faerie hill that was a big part of my research. I was only able to visit the site thanks to the help of Professor Conlee, who came over to do an evaluation of the Galway program. We went to Tuam, a town in County Galway that isn’t very far from Galway city. There we visited St. Mary’s Cathedral and were able to talk to a man who told us stories about Knock ma. When we told him that we were going to find the faerie hill, he seemed to get very excited. He framed his stories by claiming that it was actually his mother and uncle who really believed in them, but I couldn’t help wondering how superstitious he really was.

He claimed that his mother believed in faeries like we believe in each other. She was a very superstitious woman, and Knock ma was an especially important place to her. His uncle believed the same. There was a faerie ring in their backyard (a natural growth of mushrooms in a circle, though they are sometimes marked simply by an inexplicable change in the grass or terrain, always forming an almost perfect circle), and every November 4 he would leave a plate of colcannon (traditional Irish mashed potatoes) in the middle of the ring for the faeries. He was always thrilled, the man reported, when the next morning the plate would be empty, and even though any sort of animal could have eaten the dish (badgers was thrown out as a possible explanation), his uncle always insisted it was eaten by the faeries.

Similarly, our new friend told us about a local pub that was built perpendicular to the road, rather than facing it like most other buildings do. He told us that whenever a new structure is built, four stones will be placed at the four corners of the building, then left overnight. If they are all still standing the next morning, it was safe to build. If, however, one or more had fallen, that meant the building was sitting on a faerie path, which was very dangerous, since faeries could get caught inside the building. So the pub was built perpendicular to the road so that it wouldn’t block the faerie path.

And remember that he told all these stories in a very Christian context, since we were still in St. Mary’s Cathedral. Just take that as yet another example of the way Irish mythology and superstitions have developed – and survived – alongside (or, in some cases, in spite of) a strong Catholic influence.

Knock Ma was an incredible experience. At the top of the hill were two ancient cairns, and the site was not touristy at all, especially when compared to places like Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. It was very much just left as it had been, untouched. That became a natural occurrence in Ireland, one I noticed often. Faerie bushes are left untouched, and there is a great respect for things that belong to their ancient past, or even modern superstitions.

One of the cairns at the top of Knock ma.


  1. Lauren Greene says:

    Hi Katie –
    Your project sounds awesome! I really like the story about the perpendicular pub. I think it is fascinating to see how these pagan beliefs continue to this day. Best of luck with the rest of your research!