Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland
Forths and Sheoguey Places
When as children
we ran up and down the green entrenchments of the big round
raths, the lisses or forths, of Esserkelly or Moneen, we knew they had been made
at one time for defence, and that is perhaps as much as is certainly known.
Those at my old home have never been opened, but in some of their like I have
gone down steps to small stonebuilt chambers that look too low for the
habitation of any living race.
There's a forth near our house, but it's not the good people that are in it, only the old inhabitants of Ireland shut up there below.
There are a few old forths about, some of them you mightn't notice unless you understood such things; but sometimes passing by you'd feel a cold wind blowing from them, would nearly rend you in two.
When I was a young chap myself I used to see a white woman walking about sometimes at midday--that's the worst hour there is--and she'd always go back into a forth, and forth of Cahir near Cloonmore, and disappear into it.
She was known to be a woman that had died nine years before; and she would sometimes come into the sister's house, and bid her keep it clean. But one time the sister's husband went to burn the inside of the forth, and the next morning his barn where he had all the wheat of the harvest and near a ton of hay and two or three packs of wool, was found to be on fire. And his own little girl, about eight years of age, was in the barn, and a labouring man broke through and brought a wet cloth with him and threw it over her and carried her out But she was as black as cinders and dead. Vexed they were at him burning the forth.
An Old Miller:
Did they get help to make those forths? You may know well that they did. There was an engineer here when that road was being made--a sort of an idolater or a foreigner he was--anyway he made it through the forth, and he didn't last long after. Those other engineers, Edgeworth and Hemans beyond at Ardrahan when the railway was made, I'm told they avoided such things.
A Slieve Echtge Man:
There were two brothers taken away sudden, two O'Briens. They were cutting heath one day and filling the cart with it, and a voice told them to leave off cutting the heath, but they went on, and a blow struck the cart on the axle. And soon after that one of the brothers sat down in his chair and died sudden. And the other was one day going to market, I was going to it that day myself, and he wasn't far beyond the white gate when the axle of the cart broke in that same place where it had got the blow, and so he had to go home again, and near the river where they're cutting the larch he turned in to talk to a poor man that was cutting a tree, and the tree fell, and top of it struck him and killed him. And it was last March that happened.
There was one Leary in dough had the land taken that's near Newtown racecourse. And he was out there one day building a wall, and it was time for his dinner, but he had none brought with him. And a man came to him and said "Is it home you'll be going for your dinner?" And he said "It's not worth my while to go back to dough, I'd have the day lost." And the man said, "Well, come in and eat a bit with me." And he brought him into a forth and there was everything that was grand, and the dinner they gave him of the best, so that he ate near two plates of it. And then he went out again to build the wail. And whether it was with lifting the heavy stones I don't know, but (with respects to you) when he was walking the road home he began to vomit, and what he vomited up was all green grass.
A Man on the Connemara Coast:
This is a faery stream we're passing; there were some used to see them by the side of it, and washing themselves in it. And there used to be heard a faery forge here every night, and the hammering of the iron could be heard, and the blast of the furnace.
There is a faery hill beyond there in the mountain, and some have seen fires in it all through the night. And one time the police were out there still-hunting, and the head of them, one Rogers, was in the middle of that place, and there he died, no one could say how, though some of his men were round about him.
That's a nice flat clean place that rock we're passing--that's the sort of place they'd be seen dancing or having their play.
I knew twin sons, Considines, and one was struck with madness in England, and one at home--Pat in England Mike in Connacht--at the one time. Both were sent to Ballinasloe Asylum, and got well in eight months, and that was ten year ago, and one of them is married and rearing a family. The mother used to be doing cures with herbs; it is likely that is the reason but she gave it up after they were struck.
There were three of another family went in to the Asylum, one this year, one next year, and one the year after, and no reason but that their house was close to the side of a forth.
When I was in Clare there was a forth, and two or three men went down it one time, and brought rushes and lights with them. And they came to where there was a woman washing at a river and they heard the crying of young lambs, and it November, for when we have winter, there is summer there. So they got afraid, and two of the men came back, but one of them stopped there and was never heard of after. The best of things they have, and no trouble at all but to be eating; but they have no chance of being saved till the Day of Judgment.
I knew another forth that two men watched, and at night there came out of it two troops of horses, and they began to graze. But when the men came near them they made for the forths, and all they got was a foal. And they kept it, and it was a mare-horse, and it had foals, and the breed was the best that was ever seen m the country.
There did strange things happen in that wood, noises would be heard, and those that went in to steal rods could never get them up on their back to bring them away. But there was one man said whatever happened he'd bring them, and he got them on to his back, and then they were lifted off it over the wood. But they fell again and he got them and carried them away; I suppose they thought well of him having so much courage.
Cruachmaa is the great place for them.
A man who had lost a blood mare met an old man from a forth who said "Put your right foot on my right foot." And he did so, and at once he saw the blood mare and his foal close by.
The Old Man Who Is Making a Well:
There was a man and his wife was brought away at Cruachmaa and he was told to go dig, and he'd get her out. And he began to dig, and when he had a hole made at the side of the hill he saw her coming out, but he couldn't stop the pick that he had lifted for the stroke, and it went through her head.
Whether they are in it or not, there are many tell stories of them. And I often saw the half of Cruachmaa covered--like as if there was a mist on it.
But one side of a wall is luckier than another, all the old people will tell you that there was a big Stone in the yard behind our house and my husband thought to blast it, for it was in the way, and my mother said "I'm in the house longer than you, and take my advice and never touch that stone," and he never did. But there was a man built a house close by and he wanted to close a passage, and one morning he came early and was laying hands on that stone to take it. But I was out when I heard him and drove him away. And the house never throve with him, he lost two or three children, and then he died himself.
At St. Patrick's well at Burren there used to be a great pattern every year. And every year there was something lost and killed at it, a horse or a man or a woman.
So at last the priest put a stop to it. And there was an old woman with me in the barracks at Burren, and she told me she remembered well when she was a young girl and the time came when the pattern used to be, the first year it was stopped her father put her up on a big high wall near the well, and bid her look down. And there she saw the whole place hill of the gentry, and they playing and dancing and having their own games, they were in such joy to have done away with the pattern. I suppose the well belonged to them before it got the name of St. Patrick.
There's a small little house not far down the road where they used to be very fond of going. And a woman in the town asked the old woman that lived in it what did they look like. And she said "For all the world like people coming in to Chapel."
There was a girl coming back here one time from Clough, and instead of coming here she went the Esserkelly road and was led astray and a man met her and says he, "why do you say you're going to Labane and it's to Roxborough you're facing?" and he turned her around. And when she got home she took off the bundle she had on her back, and what jumped out of it but a young hare.
I have a great little story about a woman--a jobber's wife that lived a mile beyond Ardrahan. She had business one time in Ballyvaughan, and when she was on the road beyond Kinvara a man came to her out of a forth and he asked her to go in and to please a child that was crying. So she went in and she pleased the child, and she saw in a corner an old man that never stopped from crying. And when she went out again she asked the man that brought her in, why was the old man roaring and crying. The man pointed to a milch cow in the meadow and he said, "Before the day is over he will be in the place of that cow, and it will be brought into the forth to give milk to the child." And she can tell herself that was true, for in the evening when she was coming back from Ballyvaughan, she saw in that field a cow dead, and being cut in pieces, and all the poor people bringing away bits of it, that was the old man that had been put in its place. There is poison in that meat, but no poison ever comes off the fire, but you must mind to throw away the top of the pot.
The forth where I heard the talking long ago, and left my can, it's only the other day I was telling Pat Stephens of it that has the land. And he told me he put a trough in it to catch the water about a month ago. And the next day one of his best bullocks died.
It's a bad piece of the road that poor boy fell off his cart at and was killed. There's a forth near it, and it's in that forth my five children are that were swept from me. I went and I told Father Carey I knew they were there, and he said "Say your prayers, my poor woman, that's all you can do." When they were young they were small and thin enough, they grew up like a bunch of rushes, but they got strong and stout and good-looking. Too good they were, so that everyone would remark them and would say, "Oh, look at Ellen O'Brien-look at Catherine--look at Martin! So good to work and so handsome, so loyal to their mother." And they were all taken from me, it never was in my family or in the father's, and how would they all gone now but one. Consumption they were said to get, but get it without some provocation? Four of them died with that, and Martin was drowned. One of the little girls was in America and the other at home, and they both got sick, and at the end of nine months both of them died.
Only twice they got a warning. Michael that was the first to go was out one morning very early to bring a letter to Mr. Crowe. And he met on the road a small little woman, and she came across him and across him again, and then again, as if to be humbugging him. And he got afraid, and told me about her when he got home. And not long after that he died.
And Ellen used to be going to milk the cow for the nuns morning and evening, and there's a place she had to pass, a sort of enchanted place, I forget the name of it. And when she came home one evening she said she'd go there no more, for when she was passing that place she saw a small little woman, with a little cloak about her, and her face not the size of a doll's face. And with the one look of her she got a fright and ran as fast as she could, and sat down to milk the cow. And when she was milking she looked up, and there was the small little woman coming along by the wall. And she said she'd never like to go up there again. So to move the thought out of her mind I said "Sure that's the little woman is stopping up at Shamus Mor's house." "Oh, it's not, Mother," said she; "I know well by her look she was no right person." "Then my poor girl you're lost," says I, "for I know it was the same woman that my husband saw." And sure enough, it was but a few weeks after that she died. There wasn't much change in them before their death, but there was a great change after.
And Martin, the last that went, was stout and strong and nothing ailed him, but he was drowned. He'd go down some-times to bathe in the sea and one day he said he was going, and I said, "Do not, for you have no swim."
But a boy of the neighbours came after that and called to him, and I was making the little dinner for him, and I didn't see him from the door. And I never knew he was gone till when I went out of the house the girl from next door looked at me some way strange, and then she told me two boys were drowned, and then she told me one of them was my own. Held down he was, they said, by something under water. They had him followed there.
It wasn't long after he died I woke one night and I felt some one near, and I struck the light and then I saw his shadow. He was wearing his little cap but under it I knew his face and the colour of his hair. And he never spoke and he was going out the door and I called to him and said "Oh, Martin, come back to me and I'll always be watching for you." And every night after that I'd hear things thrown about the house outside, and noises. So I got afraid to stop in it, and went to live in another house, and I told the priest I knew Martin was not dead but that he was living. And about eight weeks after Catherine dying, I had what I thought was a dream. I thought I dreamt that I saw her sweeping out the floor of the room, and I said, "Catherine, why are you sweeping? Sure you know I sweep the floor down and the hearth every night." And I said "Tell me where you are now?" And she said, "I'm in the forth beyond." And she said "I have a great deal of things to tell you, but I must look out and see are they watching me"; now wasn't that very sharp for a dream? And she went to look out the door, but she never came back again.
And in the morning when I told it to a few respectable people they said "Take care but it might have been no dream, but her-self that came back and talked to you." And I think it was, and that she came back to see me, and to keep the place well swept.
Sure we know there were some in the forths in the old times, for my aunt's husband was brought away into one, and why wouldn't they be there now? He was sent back out of it again; a girl led him home, and she told him he was brought away because he answered to the first call and that he had a right only to answer to the third. But he didn't want to come home. He said he saw more people in it than he ever saw at a hurling, and that he'd ask no better place than it in high heaven.
The Banshee always cries for the O'Briens. And Anthony O'Brien was a fine man when I married him, and handsome, and I could have had great marriages if I didn't choose him, and many wondered at me. And when he was took ill and in the bed, Johnny Rafferty came in one day, and says he "Is Anthony living?" and I said he was. "For," says he, "as I was passing, I heard crying, crying, from the hill where the forths are, and I thought it must be for Anthony, and that he was gone." And then Ellen, the little girl came running in, and she says, "I heard the mournfullest crying that ever you heard just behind the house." And I said "It must be the Banshee." And Anthony heard me say that where he was lying in the bed, and he called out, "If it's the Banshee it's for me, and I must die today or tomorrow." And in the middle of the next day, he died.
One time I was passing by a forth down there, and I saw a thick smoke coming out of it, straight up it went and then it spread at the top. And when it was clearing away I saw two rows of birds, one on the one side and one on the other, and I stopped to look at them. They were white, and had shoulders and heads like dogs, and there was a great noise like a rattling, and a man that was passing by looked up and said "God speed you," and they flew away.
A Seaside Man:
There were five boys of the Callinans, and they rich and well-to-do, were out in a boat, and a ship came out from the shore and touched it and it sank, and the ship was seen no more. And one of the boys held on to the boat, and some men came out and brought him to land. But the second time after that he went out, he was swept.
An Old Man in Gort Workhouse:
I knew an old man was in here was greatly given to card-playing. And one night he was up on the hill beyond, towards Slieve Echtge, where there is a big forth, and he went into it, and there he found a lot of them playing cards. Like any other card-players they looked, and he sat down and played with them, and they played fair. And when he woke in the morning, he was lying outside on the hill, and nothing under his head but a tuft of rushes.
Old Hanrahan one time went out to the forth that's in front of his house and cut a bush, and he a fresh man enough. And next morning he hadn't a blade of hair on his head-not a blade. And he had to buy a wig and to wear it for the rest of his life. I remember him and the wig well.
And it was some years after that that Delane, the father of the great cricketer, was passing by that way, and the water had risen and he strayed off the road into it. And as he got farther and farther in, till he was covered to better than his waist, he heard like the voice of his wife crying, "Go on, John, go on farther." And he called out, "These are John Hanrahan's faeries that took the hair off him." "And what did you do then?" they asked him when he got safe to the house, and was telling this. And he said, "I turned my coat inside out, and after that they troubled me no more, and so I got safe to the road again." But no one ever had luck that meddled with a forth, so it's always said.
There's Mrs. Lynch's daughter was coming through the trees about eight months ago and when she came to a thicket of bushes, a short little man came out, about three feet high, dressed all in white, and he white himself or grey, and asked her to come with him, and she ran away as fast as she could. And with the fright she got, she fell into a sickness-what they call the sickness of Peter and Paul--and you'd think she'd tear the house down when it comes on her.
I met a woman some time ago told me more about the forths in this place than ever I knew before, and well she might for she had passed seven years in them, working, working, minding children and the like all the time; no singing or dancing for her.
There was one Rock, was brought into a forth. A three-legged horse came for him one night and brought him away; and when he got there they all called him by his name.
There was a man up there cut a tree in one of them, and he was took ill immediately after, and didn't live long.
There's a bad bit of road near Kinvara Chapel, just when you get within sight of the sea. I know a man has to pass there, and he wouldn't go on the driver's side of the car, for it's to the right side those things are to be seen. Sure there was a boy lost his life falling off a car there last Friday week.
One night passing the big tree at Raheen I heard the sound of a handsaw in the air, and I looked up and there in the top of a larch tree that's near to a beech I saw a man sitting and cutting it with the handsaw. So I hurried away home. But the next time I passed that way I took a view of it to see might it have been one of the Dillons that might be stealing timber; and there was no sign of a cut or a touch in it at all.
There was a man on the road between Chevy and Marble Hill, where there is a faery plumb-stone, that stands straight up and it about five feet in height, and the man was building a house and carried it away to put above his door. And from the time he brought it away, all his stock began to die, and whenever he went in or out, night or day, he was severely beaten. So at last he took the stone down and put it back where it was before, and from that time nothing has troubled him.
Myself and two of my brothers were over at Inchy Weir to catch a horse, and growing close by the water there was a bush the form of an umbrella, very close and thick at the top. So we began fooling as boys do, and I said, "I'll bet a button none of you will make a stone go through the bush." So I took up a pebble of cow-dung and threw it, and they all threw, and no sooner did the pebble hit the bush than there came from it music, like a band playing. So we all ran for our lives, and when we had got about two hundred yards we looked back and we saw something moving round the bush, first it had the clothes of a woman and then of a man. So we stopped to see no more.
Well, it was some years after that when Sir William ordered all the bushes in that part to be cut down. And one Prendergast a boy that used to be a beater here and that went to America after, went to cut them just in the same place where I had seen that sight, and a thorn ran into his eye and blinded him, and he never got the sight of it again.
An Old Woman near Ballinsloe:
There are many forths around, and in that one beyond, there is often music heard. The smith's father heard the music one time he was passing and he could not stop from dancing till he was tired. I heard him tell that myself.
And over there to the left there is a forth had an opening in it, and the steward wanted to get it closed up, and he could get no men to do it. And at last a young man said he would, and he went to work and at the end of the week he was dead.
And there was a girl milking a cow not long after that, and she saw him coming to her, and she ran away, and he called to her to stop and she did not, and he said "That you may never milk another cow!" And within a week, she herself was dead.
There was a woman over there in that house you can see, and she wanted to root up a forth; covetousness it was, she had plenty and she wanted more. And she tried to get a man to do it and she could not, but at last a man that had been turned out of his holding, and that was in want, said he would do it. And before he went to work he went on his two knees, and he wished that whatever harm might come from it might come on her, and not on himself. And so it did, and her hands got crippled and crappled. And they travelled the world and could get no relief for her, and her cattle began to die, and she died herself in the end. And the daughter and the son-in-law had to leave that house and to build another, for they were losing all the cattle, and they are left alone now, but the daughter lost a finger by it.
A Man near Corcomroe:
I saw a light myself one night in the big forth over there near the sea. Like a bonfire it was) and going up about thirty feet into the air.
Ghosts are to be heard about the forths. They make a heavy noise, and there are creaks in their shoes. Doing a penance I suppose they are. And there's many see the lights in the forths at Newtown.
One time I was cutting bushes up there near the river, and I cut a big thorn bush, I thought it no harm to do it when it wasn't standing by itself, but m a thicket, and it old and half-rotten. And when I had it cut, I heard some one talking very loud to my wife, that was gathering kippeens down in the field the other side of the wall. And I went down to know who it was self some one was talking, for I heard his voice where you were, talking to her. And when I asked her she said "No, it's to yourself someone was talking, for I heard his voice where you were, and I saw no one." So I said, "Surely it's one of them mourning for the bush I cut," for the sound of his voice was as if he was mad vexed.
I think it's not in the tree at the corner there's anything, it's something in the place. Not long ago there was one Greeley going to Galway with a load of barley, and when he came to that corner he heard the sound of a train crossing from inside the wall, and the horse stopped. And then he heard it a second time and the horse refused to go on, and at the end he had to turn back home again, for he had no use trying to make the horse go on.
There were ash trees growing around the blessed well at Corker, and one night Deeley, the uncle of Pat Deeley that lives beyond, and two other men went to cut them down, to get the makings of a car-body. And the next day Deeley's lip was drawn down--like this--and water running from it for the rest of his life. I often see him; and as to the two other men, they died soon after.
And big Joyce that was a servant to John O'Hara, he went to cut trees one night near that hole at Raheen, near the corner of the road, and he was prevented, and never could get the handsaw near a tree, nor the other men that were with him.
And there was another man went and cut a bush not far from the Kinvara road, and with the first stroke he heard a sort of a cough or a groan come from beneath it, that was a token to him to leave it alone. But he wouldn't leave off, and his mouth was drawn to one side all of a sudden and in two days after he was dead. Surely, one should leave such things alone.
I had a fall myself in Galway the other day that I couldn't move my arm to play the pipes if you gave me Ireland. And a man said to me--and they are very smart people in Gaiway that two or three got a fall and a hurt in that same place. "There is places in the sea where there is drowning," he said, "and places on the land as well where there do be accidents, and no man can save himself from them, for it is the will of God."
A Man Asking Alms:
It's not safe sometimes to meddle with walls. There was a man beyond Gort knocked some old walls not long ago, and he's dead since.
But it's by the big tree outside Raheen where you take the turn to Kinvara that the most things are seen. There was a boy living with Conor in Gort that was out before daylight with a load of hay in a cart, and he sitting on top of it, and he was found lying dead just beside the tree, where he fell from the top of the cart, and the horse was standing there stock-still. There was a shower of rain fell while he was lying there, and I passed the road two hours later, and saw where the dust was dry where his body had been lying. And it was only yesterday I was hearing a story of that very same place. There was a man coming from Galway with a ton weight of a load on his cart, and when he carne to that tree the linching of his wheel came out, and the cart fell down. And presently a little man, about two and a half feet in height, came out from the wall and lifted up the cart, and held it up till he had the linching put up again. And he never said a word but went away as he came, and the man came into Gort. And I remember myself, the black and white dog used to be on the road between Hanlon's gate and Gort. It was there for ten years and no one ever saw it, but one evening Father Boyle's man was going out to look at a few little sheep and lambs belonging to the priest, and when he came to the stile the dog put up its paws on it and looked at him, and he was afraid to go on. So next morning he told Father Boyle about it and he said "I think that you won't see it any more." And sure enough from that day it never was seen again.
I don't know did I draw down to you before, your ladyship, the greatest wonder ever I saw in my life?
I was passing by the forth at Corcomroe, coming back from some shopping I had done in Belharbour, and I saw twelve of the finest horses ever I saw, and riders on them racing round the forth. Many a race I saw since I lived in this world, but never a race like that, for tipping and tugging and welting the horses; the jockeys in coloured clothes, striped and blue, and little blue caps on them, and a lady in the front of them on a bayish horse and wearing a scarlet jacket.
I told what I saw the same evening to an old woman living near and she said, "Whatever you saw keep it secret, or some harm will come upon you." There was another thing I saw besides the riders. There were crowds and crowds of people, standing as we would against walls or on a stage, and taking a view. They were shouting, but the men racing on the horses said nothing at all. Never a race like that one, with the swiftness and I the welting and fine horses that were in it.
What clothing had these people? They had coats on them, and on their back there were pictures, pictures in the form of people. Shields I think they were. Anyway there were pictures on them. Striped the coats were, and a sort of scollop on them the same as that screen in the window (a blind with Celtic design). They had little blue caps, such as wore them, but some had nothing on the head at all; and they had blue slippers--those I saw of them--but I was afeared to take more than a side view except of the racers.
An Old Army Man:
You know the forth where the old man lost his hair? Well there's another man, Waters, that married Brian's sister, has the second sight, and there's a big bush left in that forth, and when he goes there he sees a woman sitting under it, and she lighting a fire.
Cloran's father was living over at Knockrnaa one time and his wife died, and he believed it was taken into the hill she was. So he went one morning and dug a hole in the side of the hill. But the next morning when he went back to dig again, the ho]e was filled up and the grass growing over it as before. And this he did two or three times. And then some one told him to put his pick and his spade across the hole. And so he did, and it wasn't filled up again. But what happened after I don't know.
An Old Army Man:
That's a bad bit of road near Kinvara where the boy lost his life last week; I know it well, And I knew him, a quiet boy, and married to a widow woman; she wanted the help of a man, and he was young. What would ail him to fall off the side of an ass-car and to be killed?