"Fabio" - acrylic on reclaimed wood, 9" x 6" Inquiries. Available at the Olive Stack Gallery. This piece is small enough for international shipping, or to fly home in my suitcase for that special someone.
A moody day in Ireland....alternating bright sunshine and ice balls falling from the sky. The early morning sunlight was perfect out in the country, where I learned of fairy raths and ring forts as we raced back just in time to open the gallery for the day's trade.
There are mystical circles throughout Ireland, believed to be homes of the fairies (or faeries), impish creatures who can cause mischief if you bother them. There aren't any leprechauns in Ireland (that is an American myth) but the fairies and banshees hold vast power and command respect, even to this day.
No one steps foot in a fairy fort, nor disturbs its stones nor trims the trees and bushes around it. Legend has it stepping into the fort results in certain death of the trespasser, his family or his livestock.
The practical purpose of these stone rings was to protect the local families and livestock from wolves and other predators. Land around the fort was cultivated, but people lived inside, and livestock were brought in at nightfall for safety. There were sometimes moats or thorn bushes surrounding the fort for extra protection. These weren't battle-ready structures. Often there were several within a small area to afford protection for all.
After the practical use of these ring forts was no longer necessary, the Celtic legends which grew up around them ensured their continued existence and protection. In early years, families whose babies died prior to baptism often snuck into these sacred places to bury their dead, as the Catholic Church would not allow them to be buried on consecrated ground. The parents knew no one would disturb the graves of their children by entering the rath. I can only imagine how brave these families must have been to venture inside the circle with their precious babies. These graves also deter many (but not all) landowners from disturbing the sites today.
The fairy raths are also said to be portals to other worlds (Celtic legend holds there are many co-existing worlds), and are particularly sensitive and more "open" each Halloween and May Eve.
But before you pack a bag and camp near the circle on your way to Candy Land, you should know these other worlds aren't places you would want to visit! Women who go to those worlds and then return are called "Banshees" (from the Irish bean sidhe, women of the fairy mound), and are wailing spirits who foretell death.
Special thanks to Ger Greaney for all the wisdom, folklore and insight on fairy forts, and for making himself available for a phone consult during our drive through the country. Just another reason while Listowelians are magical!