Fachan (athach) To Fergus (Feargus) (Celtic mythology and folklore)

Fachan (athach)

Scottish folkloric figure. This one-legged, one-eyed monster haunted the wilder districts of Scotland. In its one hand, which grew from its chest, it held a flail covered with iron apples, with which it struck out at passersby while hopping about on its single leg. One form of the fachan was called the athach; another, called the direach, haunted the lonely Glen Eitive. As a DRUID cast curses by standing on one leg with an arm in the air (see glam dicenn), some believe the stories of the fachan derive from fear of that posture’s power.


Irish hero. Several heroes bear this name, but only one has any importance in Irish legend. The king of ULSTER, Fachtna Fathach, married the studious girl whose original name had been Assa ("gentle") but who turned into the warrior NESSA ("ungentle") after the evil DRUID CATHBAD had killed her beloved tutors in an attempt to ravish her. Whether Cathbad succeeded is difficult to know, because although Nessa did bear a son, he came forth carrying a WORM in his hand. Nessa explained that she had conceived after drinking from a glass in which two worms were swimming, thus becoming magically impregnated. Her son bore her name, becoming CONCOBAR MAC NESSA, but was reared by Fachtna and took over the throne of Ulster from him.

Faerie (Fairy, Feri)

Contemporary religion. The tradition in contemporary American neo-paganism that bears this name can be considered part of the CELTIC REVIVAL, although it is only marginally related to Celtic worldviews, deriving instead from folkloric images of the diminished gods of the FAIRY realm. (See NEO-PAGAN.)


Irish hero. In Irish place-lore, this poet was the brother of the "noble and skillful" maiden AIGE, who was transformed into a doe by evil FAIRIES. Fleeing from the hunters and their dogs who relentlessly pursued her, Aige finally lost her life when trapped by the minor king Meilge, apparently an enemy of her family. Fulfilling the duty of a BARD, her brother then cast a SATIRE so strong it raised blemishes upon the murderer, thus ending his kingship (see BLEMISHED king). Meilge’s warriors then turned upon the poet and killed him.

Fairy (faery)

Celtic folkloric figure. Celtic fairy lore is vast, with some form found in every Celtic land. While there are many regional variations,there are also similarities among the fairies found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany. Many scholars argue that the fairies are degraded versions of ancient gods, both Celtic and pre-Celtic, whose power remained active in the people’s minds even after they had been officially replaced by later religious beliefs. Other theories are that fairies were the faded memory of indigenous people replaced by later immigrants, or elemental spirits of nature. Finally, folklore sometimes fails to distinguish fairies from the dead, nor is it possible to determine if the Celts themselves originally blurred the distinction between the two or whether that is a later confusion. Fairies are described as stealing people from this world (see FAIRY KIDNAPPING), and the difference between death and this sort of kidnapping is difficult to discern.

Most fairies lived in great cities, where they danced and feasted constantly; when they traveled to another fairy court, they did so in a great throng that caused a huge wind (see FAIRY BLAST). When such TROOPING FAIRIES encountered people on these expeditions, they snatched up and took AWAY those they favored; for this reason rural people warned against walking near FAIRY MOUNDS and other liminal places at night, when the fairies were most likely to be about. Other fairies were SOLITARY FAIRIES, including the shoemaking LEPRECHAUN and the tippling cluricaune. They lived alone, often busying themselves about some craft or industry. Such farmyard familiars as the BROWNIE and the BUCCA were helpful to humans unless sent away by being showered with gifts. But some solitaries were more frightening, such as the BANSHEE and her sister, the FAIRY LOVER; encounters with either led to death or disappearance.

In appearance fairies were typically small, about 31/ feet tall, and red-haired; indeed, RED hair was not only construed as indicating fairy blood in humans but in animals as well. Short people with red hair would not be mistaken for fairies unless they wore the distinctive fairy colors of red and GREEN. Most fairies were exceedingly comely, with long hair like silk and glowing complexions that, even when green, were a delight to behold.

Fairies were immortal, or perhaps appear to have been so because of the difference between our world’s time and theirs (see FAIRY TIME). Tales describe wizened old fairies or a fairy funeral, but such stories are rare. More commonly fairyland is described as a place without death or pain, where even fairy battles have no mortal consequences.

The fairies were immoral as well as immortal, for they stole away married men and women from their spouses, drank hard liquor to excess and punished anyone who brewed his own and did not share it with them, and otherwise broke the bonds of normal society. But they had their own morality and code of behavior. They demanded respect for their privacy and punished anyone who spied upon them. Beyond that, the fairies demanded qualities that make social intercourse pleasant: no boasting or coarse language on the one hand, but no gloominess or lack of generosity on the other. They were fanatical about neatness and punished anyone who was slatternly enough to offend their sensibilities. Finally, although they thought nothing of stealing from our world, they would not endure anyone stealing from theirs, and they punished such theft ruthlessly.

They were both respected and feared. "Their backs towards us, their faces away from us, and may God and Mary save us from harm," was a prayer spoken whenever one ventured near their dwellings. The tendency to speak of them in euphemisms such as The Gentry and The Good Neighbors hid a fear that they might retaliate against anyone who did not flatter them in this fashion.

The word fairy itself is not in any way Celtic or from any of the Celtic lands. It is a derivation from the Roman fatae, the powers or goddesses of fate, through the French faerie. The word first became fays, and fay-erie meant being under the power of the fays (see GLAMOUR). It is a slippery term used by various writers to refer to different beings of the OTHERWORLD: diminished goddesses, elves, even ghosts.

Fairy (Irish)

Once they were divine: the TUATHA DE DANANN, the children or people of the goddess DANU. According to the mythological history of Ireland, the book of invasions, the Tuatha De were the penultimate invaders of the island, wresting control from the sturdy dark FIR BOLG and the fierce FOMORIANS. When the final invaders came, the Tuatha De went the way of their enemies, being defeated in the great battle of TAILTIU by the Sons of Mil or MILESIANS.

The Milesians did not evict the defeated race from Ireland; instead, a deal was made that the Tuatha De would take the underside of the world while the Milesians ruled the surface. Through this curious treaty the ancient race remained within the hills, under the bogs, and in other lim-inal areas of Ireland, where they were transformed into the fairy people. Sometimes the story of their fall from power was connected to the Christian story of the angels’ fall from heaven, and the fairies were thus described as fallen angels.

Some divinities of the Tuatha De Danann appear in Irish fairy lore, such as CKEDNA, MACHA, and MIDIR, while others do not. Thus the mythological description of their banishment to FAIRYLAND is at odds with actual fairy lore, which survived largely through the oral tradition until it was collected by folklorists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Whether there were ever tales describing such divinities as the DAGDA and BRIGIT living under the local hill is a matter of conjecture.

The people of the OTHERWORLD were rarely referred to by speakers either as fairies or as Tuatha De Danann; fearing their power, their human neighbors called them by such Irish phrases as the Daoine Maithe (the Good People), the Aes Sidhe (People of the Fairy Mounds), and the Daoine Uaisle (the Gentry). Other names used were similarly euphemistic, such as the Wee Folk, the Hill Crowd, the Red Caps, and the Host of the Air, a phrase used by William Butler Yeats as the title of one of his most memorable early poems.

Fairy (other Celtic)

Fairy traditions are found in other Celtic lands as well as Ireland, most notably in Scotland and on the Isle of Man. There is not, however, a single Celtic root-word that describes the fairies of different lands, leading some to question as to whether there was ever an overall Celtic fairy-faith or whether the fairies derive from pre-Celtic people’s beliefs. On the Isle of Man, the fairies were called fer-rish, a word that seems to derive from the English word fairy, which immigrated so long ago that it has become incorporated into place-names like Close ny Ferrishyn, "fairy hill." The ferrishyn (p1.) dressed in RED caps and GREEN coats, lived in the branches of nut trees, and traveled with packs of red-eared white hounds. They liked to disorient people who walked the hills in the evening, turning them around so that they do not know where they are headed (see PIXY-LED, stray sod). In Wales the fairies were called the twlwyth teg or "fair family"; in Cornwall the spyrys or "spirits"; in Brittany the korrigans or "sea-fairies."

Fairy animals

Folkloric motif. In their beautiful FAIRYLAND, the fairies kept magical CATTLE (see FAIRY COW) as well as DOGS (see BLACK DOG) and CATS (see CAT SITH). All of these looked rather like their kin in our world. But there were other, wilder fairy animals, creatures that existed neither entirely in our world nor entirely in the OTHERWORLD. There were fairy HORSES that lived in the ocean (see WATER HORSE) and SEALS that were really people (see SILKIE). There were monstrous beings (see afanc) as well as less terrifying but still unlikely beings (see KELPIE). Such beings were not necessarily under the command of the fairy folk themselves but were linked to the fairies by their Otherworldly natures.

Fairy battle

Folkloric motif. FAIRIES were generally considered to be immortal; thus battles to them were like sporting events to us, opportunities to engage in rough and sometimes risky play. The fairies of various PROVINCES of Ireland were believed to contest with each other in the way that hurling teams do today, traveling across the land to do night battle and then carrying their wounded home at dawn. Phlegm-like substances found on bushes in the early morning were believed to be the fairies’ blood, shed in the endless battles.

Fairy blast (fairy wind, elfin eddy)

Folkloric motif. When TROOPING FAIRIES traveled together, the speed of their passage created a blast of wind discernible even in this world. Sometimes in the summer the traveling fairies could be seen, swirling up dust and straw on even the stillest day. But that dust devil hid the results of FAIRY KIDNAPPING, for as the troop passed, things disappeared from our world. If one threw a left shoe at the whirlwind, anything the fairies were stealing dropped from their hands. Men, women, children, animals, all were known to appear from within a fairy blast subjected to this treatment. Bonnets, knives, and earth from molehills could work as a substitute for the shoe, especially if the words "that’s yours, this is mine" were spoken as the object was hurled into the whirlwind. But if the speaker attempted to trick the fairies out of something rightfully theirs, like one of their astonishing sets of bagpipes, the theft backfired when the human discovered the magical possession dissolved into dust or turned into woodland debris in his hands.

The fairy blast was strong enough to pick up adult humans and carry them long distances. Those who traveled at night were most subject to such kidnapping, as were those who wandered onto or who deliberately disturbed a FAIRY PATH. Tales are legion of people who found themselves far away from their starting point, dropped by the fairy blast in London or New York or an inaccessible region of ice. Occasionally these captives were returned to the place they left, but often they could not recognize the place because the wind had blown their wits away, or they returned so long after their disappearance that all was changed.

Fairy boat

Scottish folkloric motif. Off Scotland, a ghostly boat was sometimes seen by sailors whose boats were about to be struck by a storm. This warning permitted them, if they heeded it well, to haul into shore and survive the coming weather. Those who ignored the warning were likely to lose their lives at sea. This tradition is one of the many in which FAIRIES and the dead are hopelessly confused, for the fairy boat was often said to be crowded with familiar faces, the men of the area who had been lost at sea and were returning to warn their erstwhile friends of danger. In some regions of coastal Ireland, it was believed that no one ever really drowned; they were taken away to live with the undersea fairies. As bodies were often lost in the stormy sea, this comforting belief was rarely contradicted.

Fairy bride

Folkloric motif. Among humans prone to FAIRY KIDNAPPING, brides occupy one of the top categories. Many tales exist of women who, upon returning home in their bridal finery, fall into a swoon from which they cannot be awakened (see FAIRY SLEEP). Commonly, the groom had to locate the FAIRY MOUND into which the bride’s soul had been stolen; there he found her dancing and had to steal her back. Even upon returning home, though, he found his bride still unconscious, in which case her clothing was searched for any tiny remnant (a PIN, a thread) of FAIRYLAND. Removing that swiftly brought her back to consciousness. Occasional stories exist of young men en route to their weddings being snared by FAIRY LOVERS, but brides were much more at risk.

Fairy circle

Folkloric motif. When FAIRIES danced, they left their mark upon the dewy grass, which thereafter showed a perfect circle. These naturally occurring rings of green are in fact caused by biological agents such as fungus, but they were believed enchanted and even dangerous. Sleeping in a fairy circle was ill-advised, for the fairies might return and carry off the sleeping person (see FAIRY kidnapping). CATTLE were guided away from the circles, which were believed (without reason) to be poisonous.

Fairy colors

Folkloric motif. Two colors were most often connected with the FAIRY folk: RED and GREEN. Their men wore red caps and green (though occasionally blue) breeches, while women donned green dresses. Because of their fondness for these colors, fairies were believed to take umbrage when humans wore them and could cause trouble for such miscreants. A century ago, many women in the Scottish Highlands refused to wear green on the grounds that it was unlucky; Dundee’s defeat at Killiecrankie was explained by the rumor that he wore green on that fateful day. SOLITARY FAIRIES sometimes wore gray, as though to distinguish themselves from their TROOPING FAIRY kin.

Fairy cow (fairy cattle, cro sith)

Folkloric motif. FAIRIES were often openhanded to their human neighbors, and never more so than when they offered the use of their COWS. Fairy cows were almost invariably hornless RED cattle with white ears, or speckled red-and-tan. They gave prodigiously of milk and always had TWIN calves.

One story from Co. Donegal tells of a family with 10 children who were slowly starving in a lean winter. While the parents debated one night what they could do to scrabble together some food for their offspring, they heard the noise of lowing. Outside, in the dire storm, they found a red-speckled cow that they brought into the byre. The next day the cow gave birth to a female calf and began to give forth milk abundantly. Worrying over whose animal had wandered onto their land, the family asked around the region, but no cow was reported missing. The cow stayed with them for years, having a calf each year and filling the buckets with sweet milk. One day the man, exasperated at finding the cow munching in a field of new oats and forgetting to be grateful for his good fortune, raised his staff to her. Gathering all her little herd together, the cow disappeared and was never seen again.

Another form of fairy cattle was known under the name of CALAMITY MEAT. This was an animal that appeared to have died accidentally but that had actually been stolen by the fairies to swell their Otherworldly herds. In place of the cow in this world, the fairies left a piece of ALDER wood enchanted so that it appeared identical to the cow that had been "elf-smitten." Because of the belief that fairies kidnapped cattle, it was deemed important never to eat the flesh of an animal that died in an unusual fashion. Undersea fairies were believed to have their own cattle that grazed on the seaweed, appearing to us like SEALS or sea-lions.

Fairy crafts

Folkloric motif. Generally FAIRIES lived simple, irresponsible lives devoted to dancing and feasting, but some fairies had jobs. The most familiar Irish fairy, the LEPRECHAUN, was shoemaker to the fairy world; a SOLITARY FAIRY, he industriously kept the dancing troops shod. Fairy women were often described as brilliant spinners and weavers; they were also quite critical of the skills of human women in those areas.

Fairy dart (fairy arrow, saighead sithe)

Folk-loric motif. Miniscule arrows, perfectly shaped, were said to litter the ground around fairy haunts in Scotland and Ireland; it is likely the term originally described prehistoric flintheads. The fairy SMITH made these arrows specifically for use against humans, who could be greatly injured by the arrows despite their tiny size. A story from the Isle of Skye says that a couple reaping by moonlight found their tools falling from their bleeding hands, although they could find no reason for the wounds. They abandoned their work and, next day, found the tiny arrows the fairies had hurled at them when they got too close to the Good People’s secret places. And a good thing they retreated, for Scottish tradition says that being struck by the dart was a form of FAIRY KIDNAPPING; the outer shell of the person remained (or appeared to die), but his or her true self lived in the confines of FAIRYLAND. Cows struck by the dart ate like other animals but gave no milk.

Said to have been made with hellish help, the dart was crafted by the fairy smith but sharpened and polished by the DEVIL. Both people and animals were targets of the tiny weapon thrown by the fairy folk, sometimes for spite, sometimes as retribution for treading on fairy property, and sometimes just to make mischief. People would typically not feel the darts, but their hands would soon swell with painful arthritis. The dart passed through the skin without puncturing it, so it was not always possible to accurately diagnose the fairy wound. Without treatment, however, that wound was invariably fatal.

There were several ways to cure the ill effects of a wound from a fairy dart. The most effective was to find the wounding dart and to take a drink of water while holding the dart below the water.

If the dart was too small to locate, the next recourse was the Mary Candle: a candle drawn three times around an animal’s forelegs or a person’s torso, then three times around the belly, then three times around the hind legs or thighs. Performed on a beast, this ritual required two people, who made the sign of the cross with every completed pass around the cow, then passed the candle along the cow’s backbone and finished with the sign of the cross again, made between the horns. This ritual was only efficacious if the fairy dart had not pierced the animal’s heart; if it had, death was inevitable.

Fairy Flag

Scottish folkloric motif. One of the most famous relics of FAIRYLAND to be seen in our world is the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle, belonging to the MacLeod clan, on the Isle of Skye off Scotland. One fall night, it is told, a GREEN-clad woman was seen entering the nursery of the castle, where she found the infant heir sound asleep and his nurse napping. Such a caller would generally be suspected of planning a FAIRY KIDNAPPING, but the woman merely sat down and began to sing a beautiful air called "Taladh na Mna Sithe," or "Lullaby of the Fairy Woman." The nurse awakened but was immobilized by fright as she watched the fairy woman carefully wrap the child in a silken garment. Then the woman disappeared, leaving the child safe and sound.

When the nurse carried the child down to the great banqueting hall to tell the strange tale to his parents, all eyes were captured by the mysterious fairy blanket. It became the special banner of the MacLeods, and it was said to protect all members of that clan when they went to war. (Every nurse to the MacLeods had to learn the lullaby of the fairy woman, too, as it was believed to weave a magical protective spell around the children.)

Other versions of the genesis of the Fairy Flag are that it came into the MacLeods’ possession through a magical woman of the Holy Land, who claimed the unfurled flag would cast a GLAMOUR that made each soldier seem like an entire battalion. Finally, it is claimed that one of the chiefs of the MacLeods was wooed by a fairy woman who came to this world to be with him; she could not remain away from her home, however, and left the Fairy Flag behind when she abandoned him.

Fairy food

Folkloric motif. Fairy food was tastier than anything that one can find on earth, but FAIRIES preferred our grosser fare and snuck into our world to steal it. They especially desired our BUTTER, from which they stole the essence or foyson, for however tasty, fairy food offered little nourishment. Many charms to preserve butter are known, including putting mullein leaves or holy water in the churn. Fresh-baked bread was also a favorite of the fairies, who would steal it away if it were left unguarded.

By contrast, sometimes the fairies provided food from their own larders to help their human neighbors in time of need. Many stories of Ireland’s Great Hunger of the 1840s and other hard times tell of food such as marvelous sweets being found in abandoned fields, saving a family from starvation. Generally, food discovered in such peculiar circumstances was thought to be cursed and should be avoided, but severe hunger seemed to make such foods available to humanity. As the fairies were reputed to be gifted bakers, their fairy cakes made of oatmeal and barley were especially tasty.

Many stories claim that however delightful to the senses fairy food appears, it is really only twigs and pebbles with a GLAMOUR or spell cast upon them. It was especially important never to eat when visiting FAIRYLAND, whether by choice or because one was the victim of FAIRY KIDNAPPING, for once a human devoured fairy food there, it was virtually impossible to return to earthly life.

Fairy housekeeper (Toice bhrean bear tiqhe)

Irish folkloric figure. At the bottom of the enchanted LOUGH GUR in Co. Limerick, a strange figure resides. Once every seven years the lake’s water disappears, revealing the fairy housekeeper who walks over to a stone chair, sitting there for a few hours before disappearing with the reappearance of the lake.

Fairy islands

Folkloric motif. Enchanted ISLANDS in the western ocean are a typical location for the OTHERWORLD or FAIRYLAND. Often these islands were said to drift around, not being tied down to any one place (or time) but appearing at intervals and in different sites. One such fairy island appeared every seven years to the southwest of Rathlin O’Birne island, off the coast of Co. Donegal. It was possible to settle such a land, to bring it into this world, by landing live embers on it.

Fairy kidnapping

Folkloric motif. An important part of fairy lore is the idea that fairies regularly steal from humans. Of all the ways that FAIRIES could upset the human world, the most disturbing was the fairy kidnapping or snatching. This is to be distinguished from FAIRY THEFT, which does not involve the mysterious transportation of human beings; families could live more easily without their BUTTER than without their mother. Fairies would steal what is best in our world: the sweetest cream as well as the most brilliant musician. Thus many rituals and verbal formulae were designed to avert the attention of the fairy world. One of these was the bestowal of nicknames, under the belief that hearing the real name of a beloved person would alert the fairy kidnapper to a potential victim.

Anyone could be taken by the fairies, but certain categories of humans were most vulnerable. As fairy babies were both rare and, when born, exceedingly ugly, our own charming infants were greatly at risk. Sometimes they would be simply snatched away; at other times, a substitute would be placed in the cradle, either an enchanted rock or stick or, worse yet, an ugly fairy (see CHANGELING). For this reason, new mothers in the Isle of Man made certain that a pair of their husband’s trousers was always in their bed, for the pants would scare the fairies away. Beautiful young people were also highly desired; brides on their wedding day might be snatched away before the marriage could be consummated (see FAIRY BRIDE), and handsome young men could wander away on the arm of a RED-haired girl, never to be seen again (see FAIRY LOVER). Finally, musicians and poets of genius were sometimes stolen away for their talents, forced to entertain the fairy throng at one of their endless balls, and then discarded when the fickle Good Folk had had their fill.

Generally, one discarded by the fairies pined for the beautiful land left behind and died not long after returning to mortal life. Some sturdier sorts were condemned in a different fashion, if they accidentally or purposely stole the magical salve that let them see the fairies with their mortal eyes (see FAIRY OINTMENT).


Folkloric or mythological site. The land of the OTHERWORLD beings known as FAIRIES was not entirely of our world but not entirely separate. Sometimes just called fairy, it existed just beyond reach, on a floating ISLAND out in the western ocean or beneath a grassy mound (see FAIRY MOUND), on a bleak wet BOG or floating in the air. There were portals or gates between the worlds through which the fairy folk came forth and through which humans could pass to visit them. However, for most people, the passage was one way, for it was rare for humans to return from fairyland— although they might return so far distant in time or place (see FAIRY TIME) that they found nothing familiar to great them.

Fairyland was beautiful, in a static and unchanging sort of way. Trees there bore blossoms and fruit simultaneously, the sun always shone, and the weather was always mild and fine. There was no death in fairyland, nor disease, nor pain of any kind. Food there tasted better than any food on earth, and the wine brought a pleasant sensation without ever causing drunkenness. The fairies spent their time in merrymaking, dancing, and flirting and making love without ceasing.

Paradoxically, despite (or perhaps because of) the perfection of their world, fairies lusted for what our world holds. They made frequent raids on this side of the veil, stealing away people and BUTTER and shiny objects. Some stories claim that they always returned what they borrowed, but fairy borrowing, FAIRY KIDNAPPING, and FAIRY THEFT are generally indistinguishable to the human eye. There are many NAMES FOR FAIRYLAND, most of which stress its beauty and distance from the surface world of humanity.

Fairy lights

Folkloric motif. When TROOPING FAIRIES traveled from one of their OTHER-WORLD dance halls to the next, they went in great processions, carrying torches above their heads. As the fairy race is smaller than the human race, people saw such parades as twinkling lights, streaming along invisible but always-straight pathways.

Fairy lover (fairy mistress, lianan sidhe, la belle dame sans merci)

Irish, Scottish, and Breton folkloric figure. Many stories of FAIRYLAND centered on this ravishingly beautiful woman—for it was almost always a woman—who stole away the most brilliant poet or the most handsome man from this world and made him her lover. Not that it required much work on the fairy woman’s part, for these gorgeous beings made the most beautiful mortal woman seem coarse and unattractive. The fairy mistress called to her chosen mate through dreams that haunted him until he sought her out, living on her charmed ISLAND in the western sea or beneath some ancient mound. Once he tasted her charms, he rarely attempted to leave her, since she was not only magnificent to look upon but was utterly wanton. Because time passed differently in fairyland than in our world, a single night with the fairy mistress crept by pleasantly while centuries slipped away on this side of the veil. When, as occasionally happened, the human lover grew homesick, he returned to find his home dissolved in the mists of time and usually lost his fairy lover to boot. Such was the case with the great BARD, OISIN, who was stolen away from this world by the beautiful NIAMH of the Golden Hair. Despite his joy with Niamh; he became homesick and begged to be allowed a brief visit home; she warned him to remain upon his magical horse while he looked upon his beloved Ireland, but when he leaned down to touch the soil, he fell from astride his mount and instantly dissolved into dust.

Fairies were notoriously fickle, so sometimes a fairy woman discarded her human husband and send him unceremoniously back into this world.

Rarely could such a man recover to lead a normal life. More commonly, he pined away and died soon after his return, longing for the beauties he saw in fairyland. Occasionally, as with THOMAS THE RHYMER, he survived and finally returned to his fairy lover, to live happily in the Otherworld thereafter.

Some described the fairy lover as the sister of the BANSHEE, the spirit of life and beauty as distinguished from the foreteller of doom. But both took the human lover from this life, although in different ways. Several goddess figures appear in both guises, as does AINE of the magical lake LOUGH GUR, who became the bride of a human earl and bore his son before abandoning him; she is said to serve as banshee or death-warner for local families in Co. Limerick.

Occasionally fairy kings stole human maidens away, often on their wedding day (see FAIRY BRIDE); in addition, there are tales in Scotland and Ireland of male fairies who seduced young women (see ganconer). But it is much more common to find the fairy lover in female form. Her image has inspired many artists, including the English poet John Keats, who immortalized her as "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," the beautiful woman who has no mercy.

Fairy midwife

Folkloric motif. Like the bride, the baby, and and the musician, the midwife was a category of human almost irresistible to fairies. They were apparently unskilled in this medicinal art themselves, so when a difficult birth was occurring in FAIRYLAND, they had to send for help from their human neighbors. Rarely did they do as humans did, however, hiring a midwife or asking a friend to serve in that capacity. They simply took what they needed, kidnapping the best midwife they could find. Sometimes they left an enchanted stick or elderly fairy in her place, but often she just vanished. Once the child had been safely born, the midwife was returned to home and family, often with a fine reward for her help—unless she had unwittingly rubbed her eye with salve (see FAIRY OINTMENT), in which case she was blinded in punishment.

One of the most famous fairy midwives was the Irishwoman Biddy Mannion of the island of Inishshark, who was stolen away by no less than the king and queen of the fairies to care for their sickly child. Biddy served well, leaving a thriving fairy infant behind when she returned home, where she discovered that a GLAMOUR or spell had been cast upon a fairy substitute so that not even her own family had realized her absence.

Fairy mist

Irish folkloric motif. Like the DRUID’S FOG that hid people from sight, the fairy mist appeared suddenly and without warning. It was especially dangerous at night or on bogs and similar wild places. Some legends claim that being surrounded by the fairy mist was an OMEN of impending death.

Fairy mound (fairy fort, fairy hill)

Folkloric site. Throughout the Celtic lands we find traces of a race even more ancient than the Celts—the unknown people of the MEGALITHIC CIVILIZATION who lived approximately 5000 B.C.E. and built thousands of structures of stone. Some, like STONEHENGE and BRU NA BOINNE, are internationally renowned, but such monumental structures are less common than the PASSAGE GRAVE, the DOLMEN, and the other vestiges of a people who spoke an unknown language, worshiped unknown gods, and disappeared for an unknown reason. Their influence continued, however, for the incoming Celts recognized the sanctity of their monuments and reinforced it with tales of fairies who lived within the BARROWS and under the dolmen arches.

Small natural hills and drumlins might also, although rarely, be labeled as fairy mounds. More often ancient barrows were said to cover diminutive cities where the fairies danced the endless days away. Walking past such mounds at night or on the turning points of the year (BELTANE on May 1 and SAMHAIN on November 1) was considered very risky, for the otherwise invisible door might open and the passerby might be lured into an at-first pleasurable, but endless and inescapable dance. Such fairy mounds are called in Irish S^DHE; the fairies who lived within them thus became the DAOINE S^DHE, the people of the fairy mounds. Early texts say that they were originally the TUATHA DE DANANN, the ancient magical race condemned to live beneath the earth when the MILESIANS invaded Ireland.

Fairy music

Folkloric motif. Irish FAIRY folk, like Irish human folk, were renowned for their love of music. They could not get enough of a good tune and were known to kidnap a fine musician (pipers and harpers were especially at risk), keeping them overnight to play at their fairy dances, then returning them to earth. Usually the payment for a job well done was a haunting melody full of what the great harper Turlough O’Carolan called planxty, a hypnotizing irregularity of rhythm or tone that distinguishes fairy music from music composed by mortals. O’Carolan spoke from experience, for he was a harper of ordinary ability until he slept one night on a FAIRY RATH or within a FAIRY RING. When he awoke, he was filled with wild music that he played until he died.

Fairy music was sometimes heard at night; the period between midnight and dawn was the most common time for such events. Usually the music came from FAIRY MOUNDS, but sometimes the source was invisible, surrounding the night traveler, coming from all directions at once, with the sound of laughter echoing within it. A dark spot on a BOG might open suddenly into FAIRYLAND, or the side of a big boulder, or a bit of wild field, or the weedy patch beneath a FAIRY TREE. Peering into the opening, one saw a tiny world filled with celebrating fairies. Rare was the person who managed to escape without being overwhelmed with desire to join the dance, from which few humans ever returned.

Fairy music was never somber. Their tunes made the feet tap and the body sway in dance. Many tales are told of how fairy music so possessed a human that he or she was unable to stop dancing. If one were in FAIRYLAND, that presented no problem, for the years slipped away during these endless dances while everyone remained strong and young. Here on earth, someone cursed to dance endlessly died from the exertion.

There is some contention as to what the favorite musical instrument of the fairies was, some saying the bagpipe, some saying the HARP. Some legends speak of fairyland as a kind of music school where talented pipers and harpers learned their trade; others describe it as a kind of ancient musical award, for only the very best musicians disappeared without a trace and were understood to have been taken AWAY.

Those who built their homes on fairy-haunted places were often disturbed in their sleep by the music emanating from them (in other legends, their possessions were scattered by the FAIRY BLAST). In Scottish folklore we hear of a man who built his house on an ancient HILL-FORT and never got a wink of sleep until he moved—but he learned several tunes by heart before being forced to relocate.

Fairy ointment

Folkloric motif. A kind of salve made in FAIRYLAND, possibly from the oil of four-leafed clovers or SHAMROCKS, fairy ointment permitted the viewer to see things as they really are. The fairy ointment appears often in stories of midwives who were taken AWAY to attend to the birthing mothers (see FAIRY MIDWIFE); instructed to apply the ointment on the eyes of the newborn, the midwife unwittingly rubbed her own eye and deposited some of the ointment there, suddenly seeing a ruined shack where a palace had appeared the moment before, and a wizened old thing where a charming babe had been.

Such fairy ointment permanently bestowed a change in vision, permitting the viewer to see through any fairy GLAMOUR or spell set up to hide portals to fairyland. The fairies themselves were stripped of their invisibility and could be seen stealing about the land, taking the essence from food, kidnapping brides, and working other mischief. This power infuriated the fairies, who punished theft of the fairy ointment harshly; even if the ointment was taken unwittingly, the fairies blinded the thief.

Fairy path

Folkloric motif. In rural Ireland it was considered very important not to build a house so that it crossed the paths that FAIRIES took in moving from one region to another. Unlike humans, fairies followed straight paths wherever they went, even when that meant traveling over lakes or bogland or even the sea. Because their unbending paths went straight through obstacles, havoc was likely to be created by the continual passage of fairies through a house built in their way; anything built in the fairies’ path will be either destroyed or become uninhabitable because of trouble within the place. Frequently the fairies punished unwary builders by tossing things around inside an offending house with the FAIRY BLAST of wind, or by carrying off the culprit to another space or time. Because fairies were believed to live in the western regions, BUILDING TO THE WEST was discouraged where there was evidence of fairy haunting.

Fairy queen

Folkloric figure. FAIRYLAND was imagined as a monarchy, ruled by a beautiful queen. Some fairy kings are mentioned in literature and legend, but by far the most frequent royalty of the OTHERWORLD is a goddess figure like AINE, CLIDNA, or FAND. It was upon this tradition that two important authors drew: Edmund Spenser, who lived in Ireland while writing his allegorical poem The Faerie Queene, and William Shakespeare in his creation of TITANIA, mate to OBERON in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Fairy rath

Folkloric site. The Celts erected walls of earth, called raths or HILLFORTS, to protect their hilltop palaces, and these circular walls can be seen across the ancient Celtic lands even today. One reason so many raths are still extant—never having been leveled by farmers or built upon by householders—is the insistence of folklore that such places were openings to FAIRYLAND and were therefore off-limits to development. Fear of the punishment that came of meddling with anything belonging to the fairies also extended to FAIRY TREES and FAIRY MOUNDS. Many of Ireland’s most significant ancient monuments have remained to this day because of these beliefs, sometimes derided as superstitious but serving an admirable purpose in preserving the past.

Fairy ring

Folkloric motif. Sometimes one sees, on a grassy field, a circle of a darker green. Such a pattern has long been believed to mark the place where FAIRIES frolicked in their circle dances around their beautiful queen. These fairy rings were believed enchanted even when the fairies were not using them as dance floors; livestock were kept from grazing on them, and they were protected from the plow as well. Tales of plagues that struck cattle after a farmer unthinkingly or deliberately allowed his herds to graze on a fairy ring are legion. Other stories tell of people who unwittingly or arrogantly stepped into a fairy ring and found themselves dancing frenetically without the ability to stop; some even danced themselves to death. Someone outside the circle could save the unfortunate dancer only by grabbing some clothing that reached outside the circle, for anyone reaching within it would be struck by the same wild need to dance.

Fairy sleep

Folkloric motif. Someone who was the victim of FAIRY KIDNAPPING might not disappear entirely—although that often hap-pened—but might lapse into a coma-like sleep from which he or she could not be awakened. A woman of the Burren in west Co. Clare was once found in such a state, but when her rescuer overheard the fairies speaking among themselves about still possessing the tablecloth she had been wrapped in when kidnapped, he reclaimed the cloth and restored the woman to consciousness. Often, the clothing of a person who visited FAIRYLAND was pierced by a tiny PIN; until it was removed, the person slept without waking.

Fairy stroke

Folkloric motif. We still speak of someone who loses control over part or all of his body as having suffered a stroke. The full or partial paralysis that we now know to be caused by an interruption of blood to the brain or a clot therein was believed in the past to be a punishment for offending the FAIRIES. They could punish anyone who angered them—by cutting down a FAIRY TREE, for example, or allowing cattle to graze in a FAIRY RING, or stealing anything that belonged to them—simply by touching the offender. The stroke of a fairy hand, powerful enough to paralyze even the strongest man, was greatly feared. Many sites of legendary importance, such as FAIRY MOUNDS, were protected for generations by this belief.

Fairy theft

Folkloric motif. For all their sensitivity to humans stealing from them—a misdemeanor that they punished with all their might—the FAIRIES thought nothing of stealing from humans. Food was their favorite target, for their own FAIRY FOOD was not as nourishing as ours. They did not actually carry the food away; they drained its essence (called foyson or toradh), leaving it stale and dry and useless. They stole a lot of BUTTER, and they also stole MILK by making the drinker spill it, then lapping up its essence. Strong drink, too, was often taken AWAY. Anything, in fact, could draw their attention and be spirited away from our world, including human beings (see FAIRY kidnapping).

Fairy time

Folkloric motif. Time passed differently in FAIRYLAND than on earth. It sped by here, while there it was endless. An evening passed at a fairy dance might be the equivalent of centuries of human time. Many stories tell of people lured or kidnapped into fairyland who stayed what seemed to be a short time and who, returning, found everything changed. The most famous of these stories is the tale of the poet OISIN, a member of the heroic band called the FIANNA and lover of the beautiful NIAMH of the Golden Hair. His time with her was endlessly loving and beautiful, but he finally grew homesick for earth. Despite Niamh’s discomfort with the idea, he traveled back to visit his old friends, but found everything changed. Pagan Ireland was gone; church steeples rose everywhere. Confused, he forgot Niamh’s warning not to touch the soil of earth. Leaning off his horse, he fell from the saddle. Immediately all the years he had lived came upon him, and he withered, died, and turned to dust all in an instant.

Fairy tree

Folkloric motif. The TREE was one of the most important religious symbols to the Celts; virtually all species of trees were deemed magical in some ways. None was more tightly linked to the FAIRY world than the THORN or hawthorn, whose spiky thorns, white blossoms, and distinctive RED haws or berries were said to have been favored by the Good People. All individual hawthorns shared in the fairies’ general beneficence toward their species, but certain thorns marked fairy lands: those that grew from the top of ancient mounds or raths (see FAIRY MOUNDS); those that grew alone in a stony field; those that grew in a group of THREE; and those that grew together with an OAK and an ASH to make the most magical of all groves.

Stories of the misfortune that befell those who dared cut down a fairy tree are legion, including one from the 20th century regarding a planned hospital in Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo. The only available field had two fairy trees in it, but no one in the area would agree to cut either down. When a man was found willing to risk the deed, no one was surprised when he suffered a stroke (see FAIRY STROKE) the next day. The hospital, however, went up without difficulty. The same is not true of an American-owned factory built in Ulster some 20 years ago; perhaps the most popular current tale about fairy thorns is that of the ruin of the DeLorean car company, whose factory was built over the sacrificed roots of a fairy tree.

Belief in fairy trees has not entirely died out in Ireland. In 1999 a famous fairy thorn tree in Co. Clare gained worldwide attention when a local schoolmaster, Eddie Lenihan, waged a campaign to have a road redirected that would otherwise have been built over the grave of the tree. The fairy thorn of Newmarket-on-Fergus still stands on the main road from Shannon Airport, testimony to the ongoing strength of reverence for the fairy folk in Ireland.


Irish mythological site. The magical race called the TUATHA DE DANANN or tribe of the goddess DANU came from four sites, of which Falias was one. Ireland’s INAUGURATION STONE, the LIA FAIL, came from Falias, whose ruler was named MORFESSA.

Fand (Fann)

Irish folkloric or mythological character. The most famous of Ireland’s FAIRY queens was Fand, "tear," beautiful wife of the sea god MANANNAN MAC LIR who, like other FAIRY LOVERS, stole away the heart of a mortal. And it was no mere man she captivated but the greatest of Irish heroes, CUCHULAINN. She came to him in a vision in which she whipped him senseless; he fell into a lovesick stupor in which he lingered for a year. When the year had passed and the great feast of SAMHAIN came, at which time passage to the OTHERWORLD is possible for mortals, he went to Fand, leaving behind his loyal wife EMER, the paragon of Irish womanhood. Although Emer had endured his other affairs, she could not bear to lose him to FAIRYLAND, so she followed him. When she saw how deeply Fand loved him, and he her, Emer offered to step aside. Fand, not to be outdone, offered the same and returned to her own husband, who wrapped her in his magical cloak to make her forget the human hero. On earth, Cuchulainn and Emer drank a potion of forgetfulness and returned to their earlier state.

Far Darrig (Fear Darrig; pl., Fir Darrig)

Irish folkloric figure. RED is the color of FAIRYLAND, and thus the Far Darrig ("red man") is one of the mysterious beings who inhabited that world. Dressing characteristically in red, he was a mischievous and rather ugly, short, and annoying Irish FAIRY who believed his practical jokes were entertaining, when in fact they were appalling and cruel. It was considered unlucky at any time to refuse a request from the Far Darrig, who could be quite imaginative in his punishments. The Far Darrig sat by the fire, smoking a pipe and thinking; he would eat a repast left by a friendly family but did not like to be spied upon. His presence in a house brought good fortune.

Far Gorta (Fear Gorta; pl., Fir Gorta)

Irish folkloric figure. The "hungry man" of Irish legend may be the GHOST of someone who died of famine or a wraith from the OTHERWORLD; he stood by the roadside begging and rewarded those who gave him alms with good fortune.

Fasting (in Irish, troscad; in Welsh, ymprydio)

Celtic ritual. To "fast against one’s enemy" was a traditional form of protest in ancient Ireland and Wales. When a wrong had been done, the victim would sit upon the doorstep of the oppressor, taking no food and telling passersby of the crime committed. Those who were of elevated rank (kings and BARDS, for instance) could avoid paying the eric or honor price for someone they had injured; in such cases fasting was the injured person’s only form of reprisal. An effective form of protest that often resulted in the situation being rectified, the hunger strike is described in several ancient mythological texts. The tradition never entirely died out, being revived at intervals as a form of nonviolent protest.


Irish mythological site. The small town of Faughart in Co. Louth is renowned as the birthplace of St. BRIGIT, a Christianized version of the Celtic goddess of the same name. A holy WELL there is reputed to have special healing powers over eye diseases.


Irish goddess. The sister of BADB, Fea was an Irish war goddess of whom little is known.

Feast (feis)

Celtic ritual. The great feasts of the ancient Celtic world were often literally so, with much food and drink being shared among the participants. But the word has a deeper meaning than simply a party, for the feasts were held on seasonally significant dates: SAMHAIN (November 1), the beginning of winter; IMBOLC (February 1), spring’s awakening; BELTANE (May 1), the start of summer; and LUGHNASA (August 1), the harvest feast. Little is actually known about how the Celts celebrated these festivals, although analysis of folklore and tradition offers some suggestions about ancient beliefs.

Fedelm (Fidelma, Feidhelm, Feithline)

Irish heroine or goddess. Several heroic Irish women bear this name, including:

• Fedelm, seer of CRUACHAN, a poet and DRUID who met queen MEDB as she was about to launch the CATTLE RAID that forms the basis of the great Irish epic, the TAIN BO CUAILNGE. Fedelm cut a dashing figure, armed and mounted in a chariot, her golden hair falling past her waist and her eyes bright with three irises each. Asked by Medb if she had the imbas forosnai, the prophetic light of foresight, Fedelm said that indeed she did. But when Medb, hoping for victory, asked what the future of her enterprise would be, Fedelm predicted, "I see crimson, I see red." Her words proved true, for the raid had a bloody conclusion, and many of Medb’s best warriors were killed.

• Fedelm, princess of CONNACHT, who with her sister EITHNE was met one morning while bathing in the sacred SPRING of OGALLA by white-clad men they mistook for DRUIDS; the men were, in fact, ST. PATRICK and his followers. Fedelm and Eithne asked a series of questions of Patrick that tell much about the pantheism of ancient Celtic religion, including asking if their god resided in NATURE or not. The story ends with the girls accepting baptism from Patrick and dying instantly, in order to ascend to heaven in perfect purity. Given that Eithne and Fedelm are powerful goddess names of the region, it is difficult not to see this legend as propaganda.

• Fedelm the Nine-Times Beautiful (Fedelm Nofchrotach, Fedelm Nofchride or Fresh-Heart), a WARRIOR WOMAN of great beauty (as her name emphasizes) who chose the heroic CONALL Cernach over her husband, CAIRBRE Nia Fer, and may have accepted the even greater hero CUCHULAINN as her lover as well.

• Fedelm of Munster, FAIRY caretaker of the future king of Cashel, CORC MAC LUIGTHIC, who was marked by fire during a ritual celebrated by Fedelm and her sisters.

The name Fedelm may have been a generic term for a woman prophet, for a related name (Gaulish Uidula) can be seen in an early Celtic inscription, found in a woman’s grave, that describes a college of sorceresses or seers. The text is difficult to interpret but appears to refer to a magical sisterhood.

Feith na flwchta

Irish folkloric motif. The "vein of poetry" was believed to be located in the rear scalp of BARDS who, when they began composing, felt blood surge through the vein in exactly the meter necessary for the poem.

Fenian Cycle

Cycle of Irish myths. Enduringly popular, the cycle of tales about the hero FIONN MAC CUMHAILL and his merry band of heroes, the FIANNA, include some of the most famous characters of Irish myth: DEIRDRE of the Sorrows, the fated lovers DIARMAIT and GRAINNE, OISIN the poet, and the heroic Fionn himself. The divinities of Celtic times are cloaked in human form in these quasi-historical tales centered on the southern lands of Ireland, LEINSTER and MUNSTER, as another great heroic cycle centers on the PROVINCE that provides its name, ULSTER. The cycle exists in written form, both in ancient and more modern texts, as well as in the form of innumerable oral tales that exaggerate the warrior antics of the Fianna.


Scottish folkloric figure. A dangerous and elusive FAIRY that was said to plague sheep-herders, especially on the islands of the Hebrides—and most especially those pastured around Kebock Head on the Isle of Lewis. Larger than the usual fairy, the feolagan paralyzed sheep by walking across their backs. Immobilized, unable to either eat or drink, the animals soon died. There was only one way to break the spell of the feolagan, which was to capture him and force him to walk across the sheep’s back again, in the opposite direction. It was important that the feo-lagan be the very one that originally bewitched the sheep, or the attempted cure only brought more paralysis to the animal. When a great number of sheep were affected, one could imprison the guilty feolagan in a jar of salt, grains of which could then be used to cure the sheep.

Ferchertne (Fercetrniu)

Irish hero. This BARD served the heroic king CU RO^ who abducted the woman BLATHNAT from the OTHER-WORLD; she conspired with his enemies to cause his death, whereupon the loyal Ferchertne leapt from a cliff in MUNSTER, pulling Blathnat over the side with him and causing both their deaths.

Ferdiad (Ferdia, Fear Diadh)

Irish hero. One of the most famous single combats in Irish epic literature is that between Ferdiad and his beloved foster brother, the hero CUCHULAINN, with whom he trained on the Isle of Skye with the warrior woman SCATHACH. When the DEBILITY OF THE ULSTERMEN—the result of a curse that the goddess MACHA laid on the warriors of that province after its boastful and competitive men had caused her death—struck, just as the massed armies of queen MEDB were marching toward the border between ULSTER and her province of CONNACHT, Cuchulainn was left to single-handedly hold the line until the crisis passed; because he was not Ulster-born, Cuchulainn was not subject to the curse. One after another he challenged and beat the heroes of the Connacht army. Perhaps the last best chance of Medb in her campaign was Ferdiad, whose tough skin (for which he was sometimes called Conganchness, "horn-skinned") might have offered protection against

Cuchulainn’s weapons. But Ferdiad refused to fight his foster brother, for such a fight would have to be to the death.

Cuchulainn stood at the ford that ultimately bore Ferdiad’s name (now Ardee, Co. Louth), gaining glory and wreaking havoc, killing one warrior after another in single combat. Finally Medb promised her fair daughter FINNABAIR to Ferdiad if he would fight, and he reluctantly agreed. For three days the well-matched pair fought, neither gaining the upper hand. But at last, Cuchulainn used his magical spear, GAE BULGA, to kill his foster brother, although to win in such circumstances caused him great sorrow.

There is some evidence that the figure of Ferdiad derives from an earlier, possibly divine, original, perhaps an ancestral god of the people around the river ford where Ferdiad was said to have been killed. Such minor ancestor figures were frequently swept into larger narratives, being both preserved and altered by such action.

Fergus (Feargus)

Irish hero. There is no more virile a name than this in Irish tradition, for it means "male potency" or "manhood" (sometimes translated simply as "semen"). Dozens of figures bear the name, including 10 members of the heroic band of warriors, the FIANNA; because there are so many it has been suggested that Fergus was not an individual name but was derived from a title of kingship. Most of the characters are minor; most are related to the northern province of ULSTER; all may descend from the same original. The most important mythological figures with this name are:

• Fergus Fmbel, the Fianna’s poet, who although not as skilled nor as important as the beloved OMN, was an advisor to FIONN MAC CUMHAILL, who in some sources is Fergus’s father.

• Fergus Foga, an early king of Ulster who invented the spear.

• Fergus Lethderg, one of three sons of the mythological settler NEMED and ancestral father to the British people.

• Fergus Mor (Fergus mac Eirc), an ancestral figure of Scotland who asked to be crowned in his own kingdom while seated on the famous INAUGURATION STONE from the hill of TARA, the LIA FAIL. Ireland’s great stone was sent across the water for the occasion, but then Fergus Mor refused to send it back.

• Fergus mac Leti (mac Leide, mac Leda), an Ulster king whose fantastic adventures are thought to have been the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels. Once when he was out sailing, Fergus was set upon by small water sprites who intended to steal his possessions and drown him. He turned the tables and snatched them up, holding them until they agreed to grant his three wishes. Fergus made only one wish in three parts: He wanted to be able to swim underwater in ponds, lakes, and the ocean. The fairies agreed, but restricted his powers by saying he could not submerge himself in Lough Rudraige in Ulster—where, of course, he was soon tempted to swim. There he encountered a water monster called a muirdris, which frightened him so much that his head turned around to face his back. He survived, but his DRUIDS faced the difficult question of whether this change made him a BLEMISHED KING and therefore unfit to reign. Through some loophole of interpretation, they determined that having one’s head on backward was not a blemish, but to keep Fergus from knowing what had happened, they covered all the mirrors in EMAIN MACHA, the great royal residence of Ulster. And so Fergus lived happily enough for seven years, until a woman he had mistreated revealed the truth. Fergus returned to Loch Rudraige and killed the muirdris, but fell dead of exhaustion afterward, his head still facing backward.

• Fergus mac Roich (mac Roech, mac Roth, MacRoy), the greatest of heroes by this renowned name. He was king of Ulster—the province most associated with the regal name of Fergus—when he married NESSA, the WARRIOR WOMAN whose son bore her name: CON-COBAR MAC NESSA. She agreed to wed Fergus on the terms that her son ascend to the throne for a year, so that thereafter his progeny would be royal. Fergus willingly agreed, but when the year was over he discovered that Nessa had plotted with his nobles to keep him from returning. Fergus went south from Ulster and gathered allies at TARA, but Concobar resisted the army and maintained control of Fergus’s former kingdom.

Fergus made peace with his usurper, but Concobar’s continual treachery finally turned him into an enemy. When the fated beauty DEIRDRE was born and a prophecy revealed that desire for her would destroy the land, Concobar refused his druids’ advice that the infant be killed to spare the land bloodshed. Instead he sent her away to be raised to womanhood, with the intention of having her beauty for himself. She found her own lover, however, and escaped with him to Scotland. From there Deirdre, her lover NO^SIU, and his brothers, the SONS OF UIS-NEACH, were lured back with a promise of safety, which Fergus guaranteed with his honor. But no sooner had Fergus departed the court than Concobar had No^siu killed and took Deirdre for himself—although she outwitted him by choosing death over life without her love. Fergus, infuriated that his honor had been besmirched by Concobar’s devious plan, raided the royal court at EMAIN MACHA and burned it to the ground. (Archaeological excavations have, indeed, found evidence of a huge conflagration at Emain Macha in the dim prehistorical past.)

Fergus took his warriors and headed west, to the court of queen MEDB at CRUACHAN, the western equivalent of Emain Macha. There, according to many texts, he became her lover. They were well matched, for both were sexually voracious. His manhood was so impressive that the seven-foot-tall stone pillar on Tara called the LIA FAIL is also called Bod Fhearghais, "Fergus’s phallus." His surname may imply his father was a stallion, appropriate to such a well-endowed hero.

As Medb’s lover, he may have fathered a child called Ciar, who gave his name to Co. Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. Fergus served Medb well in the cattle raid related in the Irish epic TAIN BO CUAILNGE, dispatching hundreds of his former countrymen with his enormous sword caladbolg. He would even have killed his enemy Concobar had not the king’s son successfully opposed him. The great epic telling of these deeds might well have been lost, for Ireland’s poets fell on hard times with the loss of sovereignty of the Celtic kings. But several bards went to Fergus’s grave and, using an ancient formula for invoking the dead, brought back his ghost. Fergus recited the entire ancient tale, retrieving it for new ages to enjoy.

Fergus got into that grave because of his affair with Medb. Although Medb praised her husband, ailill mac Mata, for his lack of jealousy, even the patient Ailill could not help but make a bitter comment when he saw his wife frolicking nude with Fergus in a lake (either one near Carrickfergus in Co. Antrim or Lough Carrowmore in Co. Mayo). Ailill’s faithful friend, the warrior-poet lugaidh, killed Fergus, pretending he had mistaken him for a stag. This confusion may indicate that Fergus was originally a god, perhaps a horned god like the continental cernunnos, which his love affair or marriage with the woodland goddess flidais also suggests.

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