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Celtic Mysticism and Mountains
MW | ET Student

“The Hosting of the Sidhe” — W.B. Yeats

The host is riding from Knocknarea / And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;

In front of us loomed Knocknarea, the mythological burial place of Queen Maeve and the gathering of the fairy warriors in Celtic Mysticism. As we climbed upward the slippery riverbed rocks gave way to steep, natural steps, and then Queen Maeve’s cairn came into view. She was buried upright facing her enemies in Ulster. I squinted into the mist on the Irish horizon, looking for the deepest possible lake which fairy Clooth-na-Bare also sought in order to drown herself and end her tiresome life. Instead I see the rolling hills and cliffs along the Atlantic coast

Caoilte tossing his burning hair, / And Niamh calling Away, come away: / Empty your heart of its mortal dreams.

I think on the same mythical creatures Yeats once envisioned on this mountain, wild and free. The Irish mythical fairy, Niamh, embodies eternal youth and draws the reader to escape the realm of sadness and enter a state of complete bliss. Peaks have this effect on me, and I feel drawn to the land of Sligo and the green, whimsical panoramic view atop Knocknarea.

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Knocknarea in Sligo, Ireland. | Photo by MW

The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round, / Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound, / Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are a gleam, / Our lips are apart;

Yeats’ poem is easy to envision as I hike up Knocknarea. The wind picks up as our altitude increases and my hair whips across my face. The breeze is chilled by the Atlantic air. Our faces our pale; our noses and ears bright red. The climb is strenuous (not a simple walk, by any means), and my lungs heave as the terrain plateaus and I reach the summit. It is there that I smile.

And if any gaze on our rushing and, / We come between him and the deed of his hand, / We come between him and the hope of his heart.

In Irish mysticism, the Sidhe fairy warriors prevent any violent acts toward the people of the countryside. The battle they face is one of mystery, and a promise to remain hidden, even in plain sight. This landscape is magical and I feel like a child, swept away by the possibility of Irish fairies dancing at my feet.

The host is rushing ‘twist night and day, / And where is there hope or deed as fair? Caoilte tossing his burning hair, / And Niamh calling Away, come away.

Yeats depicts a world where the real and surreal collide. A host of fairies gather to defend their lore. Pixie dust aside, Yeats’ poem invites one to get lost, or, rather, to come away, come away.