Where is Fairyland?
This is a question with no definitive answer, unfortunately. The belief is that fairy worlds are found near borders and thresholds. Examples include the point of forests and woods that separate nature from civilisation or a mountaintop that separates the land from the sky.
There are those who say Fairyland is in a precise location such as the Hollow Hills where the Tuatha de Danann fled and became the ‘Sidhe’ (means hill, mound or supernatural). It is also possible that entrance to Fairyland lies at the bottom of a lake, in a forest clearing, on a mountain or moorland. Regardless of where it is, its entrance is only open to a select few. You could be part of a crowd and be the only person to see it!
According to Celtic tradition, fairies live either in or beneath the hills and mountains in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales. History is littered with tales of men and women who accidentally found an entrance in a hill. One rumour suggests that if you find the right hill or mountain, walking around it nine times will reveal its secret entrance.
In Joseph Jacob’s English Fairy Tales, published in 1890, a boy named Childe Rowland must enter the land of the fairies to rescue his sister, Burd Ellen, who has been kidnapped by an Elf King and is imprisoned in his Dark Tower. Rowland circled a terraced mound three times and had to do so in the opposite direction of the sun. He chanted “Open, door! And let me come in.” Suddenly, a door opened and allowed him to enter Fairyland.
A fairy ring is distinguishable by a circle of darker than usual grass which is caused by the spread of fungus. They mark the meadows and fields where fairies dance during their clandestine midnight parties. On rare occasions, a circle of mushrooms springs from these circles and some of these rings are known to be hundreds of years old.
According to legend, once you step inside a real fairy ring, you will succumb to the irresistible urge to dance and will have no desire ever to leave. As we discuss later, the passage of time in Fairyland is very different to our world. If you spend what you believe is one night dancing inside the fairy ring, you will discover that several years have passed!
In The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley, we learn the dangers of setting foot inside the fairy ring. In the tale, a man named Rhys was returning from work with his friend Llewellyn when he heard music. His friend was unable to hear, but Rhys insisted on finding out the source. It transpired that he encountered fairies in a ring, but to the outside world, Rhys had vanished.
Llewellyn was arrested on suspicion of causing the disappearance, but when he led the local people to the site where Rhys vanished, they discovered a fairy ring, dozens of little people and Rhys inside dancing. They pulled him from the ring but soon, Rhys became melancholy. Depending on which version of the story you believe, Rhys either died in bed or vanished.
Caves regularly appear in tales as portals to strange new worlds and Fairyland is no different. A rare text called The True Annals of Fairyland: The Reign of King Herla, by William Canton and Charles Robinson, wrote about how King Herla entered Fairyland via a cave on a high cliff.
After spending some time in a remarkable palace, he returned home only to discover that centuries had passed. Furthermore, the dwarf he met placed a curse on the king and his men. They were doomed to roam the land for eternity and were unable to dismount from their horses.
Life in Fairyland
If you’re ever fortunate to visit the sacred realm of Fairyland, please remember that all bets are off because you are living on their terms!
Fairyland & The Passage of Time
First and foremost, time flows very differently in Fairyland; what seems like an hour there could be months or even years back home. There are multiple tales about people who spent what felt like a short time in the realm that returned and found that their entire homeland had changed.
One of the most famous tales of this nature of all time involves Oisin, the son of Fionn mac Cumhaill and a fairy woman. One day, the fairy princess, Niamh of the Golden Locks, invited Oisin to Tir Nan Og and after settling there for a few months, Oisin decided to return home to tell the Fianna Finn that he was doing well. Niamh gave him a gift of a white horse and warned him not to touch the earth or else he would never return to Tir Nan Og.
Oisin was shocked and saddened to learn that everything had changed back home. The Great Fort of Tara was nothing but a hill, and the magnificent woodlands and forests were much smaller than before. It turned out that hundreds of years had passed. Oisin then encountered a group of men who struggled to move a stone. Oisin tried to help but his saddle slipped, and he fell to the ground. The proud, young and strong Oisin transformed into a weak and withered old man but lived long enough to tell others about his remarkable time in Fairyland.
Don’t Eat the Food!
While you may be enamoured by your welcome in Fairyland, it is best to decline their offer of food politely. In reality, the ‘food’ they provide is not for human consumption because it is of a completely different substance, even if it looks delicious. It is said that if you try to eat the food of the fairies, you will be trapped in Fairyland forever.
However, the opposite scenario happened to a young labourer in Lady Wilde’s Legend of Innis Sark which was published in 1887. One night, soon after Halloween, the exhausted young man fell asleep in a haystack. When he woke up, he saw fairies chopping up an old hag in the kitchen; then they boiled her and got the meat prepared for the guests!
At the banquet table, the man politely refused to eat even though the table was laden with gorgeous food such as turkey, chicken, cakes, and butter. The prince of the fairies finally persuaded the young man to drink some red wine and when he did, an enormous clap of thunder rocked the table, and the lights went off. The young man woke up and found himself back in the haystack. Given the macabre nature of the experience, perhaps he was better off!
Beware Fairy Treasure
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from life in Fairyland is that nothing is as it seems. Time flows differently, food isn’t real and glittering treasure is often a trap to snare the capricious. In 1870, William Bottrell published a collection of fairy stories entitled Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall.
In one tale, a man named Lutey is enchanted by a mermaid named Morwenna who tried to lure him into the water kingdom with promises of incredible treasures. She handed him a pearl comb and spoke of diamond covered roofs and gems so bright that they shone through the dark waters into ocean hillsides.
However, she also spoke of “thousands of handsome bodies so embalmed” (the fate of many victims before him), and while this should have been a warning to Lutey, he was so entranced by the mermaid’s beauty that he was set to follow her and meet his doom. Fortunately, the barking of his dog broke the trance and Lutey realised the danger. As the mermaid tried to drag him down, he produced his knife, and the mermaid returned to the sea.
Alas, the mermaid vowed revenge and promised to return in nine years. She had given Lutey the power of healing, and he managed to help scores of people who came to his village for miles around. Nine years later, he went fishing with a friend and Morwenna appeared once again. Instead of resisting, Lutey said “my time has come” and jumped into the sea with the mermaid; he was never seen again. From then on, one of Lutey’s descendants died in the sea every ninth year.
Final Thoughts on Fairyland
If you wish to find an entrance to Fairyland, there are a few locations worth considering. In Welsh fairy tales, the Vale of Neath in Glamorganshire is one of the most likely passages in the realm of the fairies. More specifically, a crag named Craig u Ddinas is said to have been the location of the last fairy court.
The Hill of the Goblins (Bryn Yr Ellyllon) also in Wales, is haunted by a ghost in golden armour. Incredibly, a skeleton and a golden corselet were found by archaeologists in the 19th century.
In Scotland, Tomnahurich Hill near Inverness is one of the best-known fairy locations while in England, your best bet is arguably Glastonbury Tor in Somerset. Of course, the Hollow Hill is Ireland’s #1 location.
If you ever have the opportunity to enter Fairyland, think twice about the consequences. Perhaps you will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience but is it worth the prospect of never coming home or worse still, returning home after several centuries when all your loved ones are long gone?