The Faeries, by William Allingham

William Allingham (1828 – 1889) wrote a brief poem about faeries. To most people, it’s just a cute and catchy poem for children. However, for those who’ve studied faeries, he’s left many clues about them.

The Faeries

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping altogether;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owls’ feather!

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

Because this poem is so famous, it’s often quoted.  For example, the opening lines were quoted near the beginning of the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. They also appeared in Mike Mignola’s comic book short story Hellboy: The Corpse, and in the 1973 horror film Don’t Look in the Basement.

In addition, the working title of Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men was “For Fear Of Little Men”.

William Allingham and Ballyshannon

William Allingham was born around 1828 in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, Ireland.  If you’ve seen the wild countryside around County Donegal, the poem has even greater significance.  The landscape is ideal for encountering faeries.

Interestingly, archaeological digs around Ballyshannon have found pieces of quartz placed in the hands of those who died.  The mystical significance of quartz makes this very curious.

Ballyshannon’s faerie history

Ballyshannon, created a Borough in 1613, is Ireland’s oldest town.  In the Irish language, the town’s name is Béal Átha Seanaidh.

The highest point in the town of Ballyshannon is called Mullgoose, the site of  the Mullaghnashee.  That may come from “mullach,” meaning on top of, and “sidhe” or “sidh” (pronounced “shee”) meaning faeries.

At one point, St. Anne’s church was built on that site, and both the church and graveyard next to it were referred to as Sidh Aedh Ruaidh, or the Fairy Mound of Red Hugh.

“Red Hugh” — King Aedh Ruadh — ruled Ireland in the third century B.C.

A later “Red Hugh” was Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill, anglicized as Hugh Roe Ó Donnell (abt. 1572 – 10 September 1602), often called Red Hugh II.

He was the King of Tír Chonaill (or Tyrconnell) in Donegal, and he led a rebellion against English government in Ireland.  His story was made into a movie in 1966, The Fighting Prince of Donegal (Disney).

Many people believe that the hill at Mullgoose is a faerie mound, and an access point to the middle world of the faeries.

Toadstools photo by melanie kuipers of Germany
Connemara road photo by johnotte of the Netherlands

Alice Brand, by Sir Walter Scott

Those who have touched the fae world have sometimes written poetry about it. Here is a section of “The Lady of the Lake”, part of the Selected poems of Sir Walter Scott.

The story

Alice Brand and her lover, Richard, are living as outlaws in the woods. Richard thinks he had accidentally killed Alice’s brother, Ethert Brand.

In this poem, the couple meets a hideous elfen creature, who claims that Richard deliberately killed Ethert.

Alice, certain of her lover’s innocence, confronts the elf and, defending Richard, she makes a sign of the cross three times. This releases the elf from a spell, and he reveals himself as Ethert Brand.

The three then return home, happily.

Alice Brand

Merry it is in the good greenwood,
When the mavis and merle are singing,
When the deer sweeps by, and the hounds are in cry,
And the hunter’s horn is ringing.

“O Alice Brand, my native land
Is lost for love of you;
And we must hold by wood aud wold,
As outlaws wont to do.

“O Alice, ’twas all for thy locks so bright
And ’twas all for thine eyes so blue,
That on the night of our luckless flight
Thy brother bold I slew.

“Now must I teach to hew the beech
The hand that held the glaive,
For leaves to spread our lowly bed,
And stakes to fence our cave.

“And for vest of pall, thy fingers small,
That wont on harp to stray,
A cloak must shear from the slaughter’d deer,
To keep the cold away.

“Richard! if my brother died,
‘Twas but a fatal chance;
For darkling was the battle tried,
And fortune sped the lance.

“If pall and vair no more I wear,
Nor thou the crimson sheen,
As warm, we’ll say, is the russet grey,
As gay the forest-green.

“And, Richard, if our lot be hard,
And lost thy native land,
Still Alice has her own Richard,
And he his Alice Brand. ”

‘Tis merry, ’tis merry, in good greenwood,
So blithe Lady Alice is singing;
On the beech’s pride, and oak’s brown side
Lord Richard’s axe is ringing.

Up spoke the moody Elfin King,
Who won’d within the hill
Like wind in the porch of a ruin’d church
His voice was ghostly shrill.

“Why sounds yon stroke on beech and oak,
Our moonlight circle’s screen?
Or who comes here to chase the deer,
Beloved of our Elfin Queen?
Or who may dare on wold to wear
The fairies’ fatal green?

“Up, Urgan, up! to yon mortal hie,
For thou wert christen’d man;
For cross or sign thou wilt not fly,
For mutter’d word or ban.

“Lay on him the curse of the wither’d heart,
The curse of the sleepless eye;
Till he wish and pray that his life would part,
Nor yet find leave to die.”

‘Tis merry, ’tis merry, in good greenwood,
Though the birds have still’d their singing;
The evening blaze doth Alice raise,
And Richard is fagots bringing.

Up Urgan starts, that hideous dwarf,
Before Lord Richard stands
And, as he cross’d and bless’d himself,
“I fear not sign,” quoth the grisly elf,
“That is made with bloody hands.”

But out then spoke she, Alice Brand,
That woman, void of fear,—
“And if there’s blood upon his hand,
‘Tis but the blood of deer.”

“Now loud thou liest, thou bold of mood!
It cleaves unto his hand
The stain of thine own kindly blood,
The blood of Ethert Brand.”

Then forward stepp’d she, Alice Brand,
And made the holy sign,—
“And if there’s blood on Richard’s hand
A spotless hand is mine.”

“And I conjure thee, Demon elf
By Him whom Demons fear,
To show us whence thou art thyself,
And what thine errand here?”

“‘Tis merry, ’tis merry, in Fairy-land,
When fairy birds are singing,
When the court doth ride by their monarch’s side
With bit and bridle ringing:

“And gaily shines the Fairy-land—
But all is glistening show,
Like the idle gleam that December’s beam
Can dart on ice and snow.

“And fading, like that varied gleam,
Is our inconstant shape,
Who now like knight and lady seem,
And now like dwarf and ape.

“It was between the night and day,
When the Fairy King has power
That I sunk down in a sinful fray,
And, ‘twixt life and death,was snatch’d away
To the joyless Elfin bower.

“But wist I of a woman bold
Who thrice my brow durst sign,
I might regain my mortal mold,
As fair a form as thine.”

She cross’d him once, she cross’d him twice,
That lady was so brave
The fouler grew his goblin hue,
The darker grew the cave.

She cross’d him thrice, that lady bold
He rose beneath her hand
The fairest knight on Scottish mold,
Her brother, Ethert Brand!

Merry it is in good greenwood
When the mavis and merle are singing,
But merrier were they in Dunfermline grey,
When all the bells were ringing.

Photo credits:
Forest photo – John Nyberg, Copenhagen, Denmark

Thomas the Rhymer

Those who have touched the faerie world have sometimes written poetry about it.

Thomas the Rhymer is one of the most famous faerie / fairy poems.

Thomas the Rhymer was a real person, named Sir Thomas Learmount.  He lived during the 13th century, and was known for his prophecies.  Many people thought he was similar to Merlin.

He was nicknamed “True Thomas” because he could not tell a lie.

[Note: The “Eildon Tree” refers to a tree that once stood near the Eildon Hills. Today, a monument to the tree remains, just outside the Scottish town of Melrose.]

Thomas the Rhymer

thomas the rhymer poem illustrationTrue Thomas lay on Huntlie bank
A fairy he spied with his e’e
And there he saw a lady bright
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree

Her skirt was of the grass green silk
Her mantle of the velvet fine
At each tett of her horse’s mane
Hung fifty silver bells and nine

True Thomas, he pulled off his cap
And bowed low down to his knee
All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven
For thy peer on earth I never did see

Oh no, oh no, Thomas, she said
That name does not belong to me
I am but the Queen of fair Elfland
That am hither come to visit thee

Harp and carp, Thomas, she said
Harp and carp along with me
And if you dare to kiss my lips
Sure of your body I will be

Betide me well, betide me woe
That weird shall never daunton me
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips
All underneath the Eildon Tree

Now, ye maun go with me, she said
True Thomas, ye maun go with me
And ye maun serve me seven years
Though weal and woe, as may chance to be

She mounted on her milk white steed
She’s taken True Thomas up behind
And aye whenever her bridle rang
The steed flew swifter than the wind

Oh they rode on, and further on
The steed gaed swifter than the wind
Until they reached a desert wide
And living land was left behind

Light down, light down now, true Thomas
And lean you head upon my knee
Abide and rest a little space
And I will show you ferlies three

Oh, see you not yon narrow road
So thick beset with thorn and briars
That is the path of righteousness
Though after it but few enquire

And see you not that broad, broad road
That lies across that lily leven
That is the path of wickedness
Though some call it the road to Heaven

And see you not that bonnie road
That winds about the fernie brae
That is the road to fair Elfland
Where thou and I this night maun gae

But Thomas, you must hold your tongue
Whatever you may hear or see
For if you speak word in Elfin land
You’ll ne’er get back to you ain country

Then they came on to a garden green
And she pulled an apple frae a tree
Take this for thy wages, True Thomas
It will give the tongue that can never lie

My tongue is my own, True Thomas said
A goodly gift you would give to me
I neither dought to buy or sell
At fair or tryst where I may be

I dought neither speak to prince nor peer
Nor ask of grace from fair lady
Now hold thy peace, the lady said
For as I say, so it must be

He has gotten a coat of the even cloth
And a pair of shoes of velvet green
And till seven years were gone and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen

Photo credit
Emily Cahal, Salem, OR, USA