An Poc Sídhe: A Tale from the Fairy Forts for Halloween

On high cliffs above the Atlantic sea,
The genius of thy country came to thee.
One sacred object still before thy view,
For hapless Erin some great deed to do.

– ‘O’Connell’ by Ellen O’Connell Fitz-Simon[1]

Halloween is upon us and to celebrate, we present a folktale about fairy forts from the abundance of material on this topic.  It comes from the district of Derrynane, birthplace of The Liberator, where today you can take part in the Derrynane Fairy Trail on the great man’s doorstep.  Indeed, there is a magnificent fairy fort in the grounds of Derrynane House currently undergoing work by the OPW.[2]


On the Fairy Trail: Ring Fort and ’Fairy Tower’ (Summer House) in the grounds of Derrynane House


The tale presented below was collected by folklorist Jeremiah Curtin in the late nineteenth century.  He tells how one day, he met a blind man and an old woman named Maggie Doyle leaning on a staff.  He ‘walked the way’ with them and they agreed to tell what they knew about fairies, ghosts, and buried treasure.


Jeremiah remarked that the old woman spoke English ‘only when forced to it, and then very badly’ and that the blind man had ‘suffered peculiarly from the fairies – they have lamed the poor fellow, taken his eyesight, and have barely left the life in him.’


This is one of three stories Maggie shared with Jeremiah:


Once I spent the night at a house near Waterville, about six miles from Derrynane.  The woman of the house was lying in bed at the time and a young child with her.  The husband heard an infant crying outside under the window, and running to the bed he said:

‘Mary, have you the child with you?’

‘Indeed, then, I have, John.’

‘Well, I heard a child crying under the window.  I’ll go this minute and see whose it is.’

‘In the name of God,’ screamed the wife, ‘stop inside!  Get the holy water and sprinkle it over the children and over me and yourself.’

He did this, and then sprinkled some in the kitchen.  He heard the crying go off farther and farther till it seemed half a mile away: it was very pitiful and sad.  If he had gone to the door the man of the house would have got a fairy stroke and the mother would have been taken as a nurse to the fort.

‘This is all the old woman told,’ writes Jeremiah, ‘she promised to come on the following day, but I have not seen her since.  The blind man informed me some evenings later that she was sick and in the hospital.  Her sickness was caused, as she said, by telling me tales in the daytime.  Many of the old people will tell tales only in the evening; it is not right, not lucky, to do so during daylight.’[3]


Castleisland has its own store of tales of the supernatural.  The ghostly tale of Gerald, Earl of Desmond, rising from his grave at Kilnananima in the dead of night to return to his castle at Ardnagragh, is one example and was recently published on this website.[4]


Castleisland District Heritage is currently building a collection of local folktales.  If you would like to contribute, please get in touch.


[1] From ‘O’Connell’ in Darrynane in Eighteen Hundred and Thirty-Two, and Other Poems (1863) dedicated to the Marchioness of Normanby and produced in aid of charity by Ellen Fitz-Simon, daughter of The Liberator, at Glancullen in 1862 (pp145-147). 

A contemporary reviewer of the book, who described O’Connell as the ‘true-hearted uncrowned monarch,’ stated, ‘Mrs Fitzsimon has worthily paid the tribute of a gifted mind and a cultivated intellect to an adored father’s memory; and, shall not a grateful country build that material monument, in a style of surpassing excellence, which must hold out a premium and an incentive to Irish virtue, genius, and patriotism amongst future generations of our countrymen’ (The Evening Freeman, 4 February 1863). 

The title poem, ‘Darrynane in 1832,’ in which the author strolls around the O’Connell domains and describes the environment, was recreated as ‘Ellen’s Walk’ and broadcast on RTE Lyric FM on 26 February 2023.  Other poems in the book include ‘The Clare Peasants Address to the River Fergus in 1829,’ ‘The Address of Certain Ladies to Constantine, Earl of Mulgrave, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland’ in 1836, ‘To The Queen’ (June 1837 and December 1861), ‘The Fisher’s Choice,’ a true tale from the south-west coast of Ireland from 1837 and ‘Song of the Irish Emigrant in North America.’  Explanatory notes to some of the poems at the back of the book are useful.   Some of the poems were printed in the collections of Crofton Croker and Samuel Lover and in newspapers and periodicals.

A review of the book in The Athenaeum (7 February 1863) dismissed it as ‘too hastily dashed off to interest the reader.’

Ellen Bridget O’Connell Fitz-Simon (1805-1883), author of the collection of verse, was O’Connell’s first daughter.  She married Christopher Fitz-Simon Esq MP DL of Glencullen, Co Dublin and the couple had a large family, many of whom died in infancy.  Ellen died at 40 Lee Park, Blackheath, Kent on 27 January 1883: ‘Mrs Fitzsimon inherited no small share of the ability of her famous father.  Her literary tastes were of the highest order, and had the lady herself so desired it, might have secured for her a distinguished position in the world of letters.  The merit of the few items which did find their way from her pen to publicity left no doubt of the ability and skill of the authoress.  It is possible, however, that had Mrs Fitzsimon been spared some time longer she would have left a more enduring and important memorial of her capacity as a writer.  She was, we understand, engaged in collecting the material for a life of Daniel O’Connell, and had succeeded in amassing a comprehensive and valuable store of original matter.  The fact that she succeeded so far is in itself full of interest for Irish readers, but it is to be regretted that one so well qualified to put them together was called away just when she had collated her biographical details’ (Freeman’s Journal, 1 February 1883).  An Account of the life of Daniel O’Connell by his daughter, Ellen Fitzsimon (1843) in manuscript (MS 1503) and Recollections of Daniel O’Connell by his daughter Ellen Fitzsimon (1876) in manuscript (MS 1504) are held in the National Library of Ireland.

[2] The ring fort is not noticed by Donovan in the Ordnance Survey Books or named in a topographical survey carried out by the Irish Tourist Assocation (ITA) a century later in which it was described as: ‘Circular Stone Fort on Miss O’Connell’s lands, half-way between the Hotel [Darrynane, at Darrynane More] and Darrynane Abbey’ (I.T.A. Topographical and General Survey of Caherdaniel 10 October 1942).  Four forts are mentioned in this survey including the nearby Cahernageeha stone fort ‘on the lands of Lord Adare.’  Cahernageeha fort is in the townland of that name (Kilcrohane parish) adjoining Darrynane Beg.   See  Spelling variations (including Cahernaguihy) are given here

[3] Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World in South-West Munster (1895), pp132-143.