Shee or Fairies and their Dwellings.--The
pagan Irish worshipped the side [shee], i.e. the earth-gods, or
fairies, or elves. These side are closely mixed up with the mythical
race called Dedannans, to whom the great majority of the fairy gods
According to our bardic chroniclers the Dedannans were the fourth
of the prehistoric colonies that arrived in Ireland many centuries
before the Christian era. They were great magicians, and were highly
skilled in science and metal-working. After inhabiting Ireland for
about two hundred years, they were conquered by the people of the
fifth and last colony--the Milesians. They then arranged that the
several chiefs, with their followers, were to take up their residence
in the pleasant hills all over the country--the side [shee] or elf-mounds
--where they could live free from observation or molestation; and
Bodb Derg [Bove Derg] was chosen as their king. Deep under ground
in these abodes they built themselves glorious palaces, all ablaze
with light, and glittering with gems and gold. Sometimes their fairy
palaces were situated under wells or lakes, or under the sea.
From what has been said it will be observed that the word side
is applied to the fairies themselves as well as to their abodes.
And shee, as meaning a fairy, is perfectly understood still. When
you see a little whirl of dust moving along the road on a fine calm
day, that is called shee-geeha, 'wind-fairies,' travelling from
one lis or elf-mound to another.
The ideas prevalent in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries,
as to what the people's beliefs were, regarding the fairies before
the time of St. Patrick, are well set forth in the concluding paragraph
of the tale of "The Sick Bed of Cuculainn" in the Book
of the Dun Cow:--"For the demoniac power was great before the
faith: and such was its greatness that the demons used to tempt
the people, and they used to show them delights and secrets, and
how they might become immortal. And it was to these phantoms the
ignorant used to apply the name side."
Numbers of fairy hills and sepulchral carns are scattered over
the country, each with a bright palace deep underneath, ruled by
its own chief, the tutelary deity. They are still regarded as fairy
haunts, and are held in much superstitious awe by the peasantry.
The fairies possessed great preternatural powers. They could make
themselves invisible to some persons standing by, while visible
to others: as Pallas showed herself to Achilles, while remaining
invisible to the other Greeks (Iliad, 1.). But their powers were
exercised much oftener for evil than for good. They were consequently
dreaded rather than loved; and whatever worship or respect was paid
to them was mainly intended to avert mischief. It is in this sense
that they are now often called 'Good people.'