Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland

Preface

   The Sidhe cannot make themselves visible to all. They are shape-changers; they can grow small or grow large, they can take what shape they choose; they appear as men or women wearing clothes of many colours, of today or of some old forgotten fashion, or they are seen as bird or beast, or as a barrel or a flock of wool. They go by us in a cloud of dust; they are as many as the blades of grass. They are everywhere; their home is in the forths, the lisses, the ancient round grass-grown mounds. There are thorn-bushes they gather near and protect; if they have a mind for a house like our own they will build it up in a moment. They will remake a stone castle, battered by Cromwell's men if it takes their fancy, filling it with noise and lights. Their own country is Tir-nan-Og--the Country of the Young. It is under the ground or under the sea, or it may not be far from any of us. As to their food, they will use common things left for them on the hearth or outside the threshold, cold potatoes it may be, or a cup of water or of milk. But for their feasts they choose the best of all sorts, taking it from the solid world, leaving some worthless likeness in its place; when they rob the potatoes from the ridges the diggers find but rottenness and decay, they take the strength from the meat in the pot, so that when put on the plates it does not nourish. They will not touch salt; there is danger to them in it. They will go to good cellars to bring away the wine.
   Fighting is heard among them, and music that is more beautiful than any of this world; they are seen dancing on the rocks; they are often seen playing at the hurling, hitting balls towards the goal. In each one of their households there is a queen, and she has more power than the rest; but the greatest power belongs to their fool, the Fool of the Forth, Amadan-na-Briona. He is their strongest, the most wicked, the most deadly; there is no cure for any one he has struck.
   When they are friendly to a man they give him help in his work, putting their strength into his body. Or they may tell him where to find treasure, hidden gold; or through certain wise men or women who have learned from them or can ask and get their knowledge they will tell where cattle that have strayed may be found, or they will cure the sick or tell if a sickness is not to be cured. They will sometimes work as if against their own will or intention, giving back to the life of our world one who had received the call to go over to their own. They call many there, summoning them perhaps through the eye of a neighbour, the evil eye, or by a touch, a blow, a fall, a sudden terror. Those who have received their touch waste away from this world, lending their strength to the invisible ones; for the strength of a human body is needed by the shadows, it may be in their fighting, and certainly in their hurling to win the goal. Young men are taken for this, young mothers are taken that they may give the breast to newly born children among the Sidhe, young girls that they may themselves become mothers there.
   While these are away a body in their likeness, or the likeness of a body, is left lying in their place. They may be given leave to return to their village after a while, seven years it may be, or twice or three times seven. But some are sent back only at the end of the years allotted them at the time of their birth, old spent men and women, thought to have been dead a long time, given back to die and be buried on the face of the earth.
   There are two races among the Sidhe. One is tall and handsome, gay, and given to jesting and to playing pranks, leading us astray in the fields, giving gold that turns to withered leaves or to dust. These ride on horses through the night-time in large companies and troops, or ride in coaches, laughing and decked with flowers and fine clothes. The people of the other race are small, malicious, wide-bellied, carrying before them a bag. When a man or woman is about to die, a woman of the Sidhe will sometimes cry for a warning, keening and making lamentation. At the hour of death fighting may be heard in the air or about the house-that is, when the man in danger has friends among the shadows, who are fighting on his behalf.
   The dead are often seen among them, and will give help in danger to comrade or brother or friend. Sometimes they have a penance to work out, and will come and ask the living for help, for prayers, for the payment of a debt. They may wander in some strange shape, or be bound in the one place, or go through the air as birds. When the Sidhe pass by in a blast of wind we should say some words of blessing, for there may be among them some of our own dead. The dead are of the nature of the Saints, mortals who have put on immortality, who have known the troubles of the world. The Sidhe have been, like the Angels, from before the making of the earth. In the old times in Ireland they were called gods or the children of gods; now it is laid down they are those Angels who were cast out of heaven, being proud.
   This is the news I have been given of the people of the Sidhe by many who have seen them and some who have known their power.

A.G.
Coole, February 1916