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

9 thoughts on “The Faeries, by William Allingham”

  1. Cool! I wish i had a dolmen or fairy mound or whatever so i could get closer to the fae. by the way, could you make a place on the site where people could put in their own poetry about fae in comments? that would be so nice!

  2. I don’t see the clues Willams left behind… Could you probably show and tell us? Plz?
    I love Fae and I Do believe everything about them here… :D

    1. Gloria,

      Allingham talks about the faeries trooping, so you’d look for trooping faeries, not solitaries, around Ballyshannon. You’d also look for their green jackets, red caps, and so on.

      In haste,
      Fiona Broome

  3. I love anything to do with the fairy folk. I create baby fairies which people adopt from me. I need to write a piece on fairy magick, but am having a hard time finding serious info on the subject. Any chance you can help me please! I am running out og time.

    Fairy blessings Pixie Fey

  4. This poem was read to me as adult by my Aunt in Lismore Ireland. It is near and dear to my heart. I have passed it along to my family and friends. Wonderful tale..

  5. What I like about that poem is the ambivalence of the fairies. Fairies are clearly not jolly and nice little creature, “they stole little Briget”, but there’re not completely evil. Reading the 4th stanza, it seems to me that the fairies don’t understand mortality (“watching till she wake”), yet they do get old, as their king does. Maybe they’re too busy with music and strolls, and being mischievous to think about such subjects which are human’s problems after all. Or even adults… which would make fairies… children! Neither evil nor good, michievous little creatures that fascinate adults! :)

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