Lots of folklore has been given relating to fields including stray sods, fairy lore and cures associated with Holy Wells. Fields have been identified with a lone whitethorn bush. It was believed to be unlucky to remove a lone whitethorn bush. Some farmers still have this belief and allow the bushes to stay despite the inconvenience caused to modern farming and machinery. Folklore snippets also mention ghosts, ladies on white horses, sovereigns, crocks of gold, Jack O’Lantern and Willo the Wisp. There is also frequent mention of folk history handed down about shebeens, Cromwell and ‘Collier the Robber’.
Old Castles, Churches and Tunnels
There are many fields where folklore indicates there once was an old castle or church even though no trace remains. There are also several stories about fields where the folklore handed down tells of a tunnel beneath the field. In Nevinstown beside Navan there is allegedly an ancient tunnel down to the river Blackwater. There is also supposed to be an underground tunnel from Donaghpatrick to the top of Faughan Hill of some two miles distance. In the Mullagha area (near Slane) oral information suggests that a tunnel runs underground, north-south from the top of Mullagha Hill to Ryan’s Lios.
Fairies feature greatly in the folklore details submitted. There are references to Fairy Forts, Fairy Rings, Fairy Paths and Fairy Trees among others. Fields have been identified with a lone whitethorn bush sometimes also known as a Fairy Bush or Tree. It was believed to be unlucky to remove a lone whitethorn bush. Many farmers still hold this belief and allow the bushes to stay despite the inconvenience caused to modern farming and machinery.
To give a few examples:
In Druminshin, near Drumconrath, there is a Fairy Fort.
In Roughgrange, Donore it was said to ‘be unlucky to cut the thorn trees on the Fairy Ring or to take the fallen timber’.
In Ballyclare, near Longwood, when a house was being built ‘a Travelling man said it was facing the wrong way, due to a Fairy Path and would be unlucky’.
In Rathcormick, Ballivor at the site of an old graveyard ‘Gortnakilly’, ‘the fairies were reputed to dance at night’.
In Cloghmacoo, Nobber, the Fort Field had a bare ring, a local mother told her children not to go there or the fairies would take them.
The Killeen townland surveyors tell us that “superstition prevailed at the time of laying out the Killeen Castle Golf Course and consequently a fairy tree situated close to the twelfth green was left in situ”. Sometimes fields with references to ‘Crocks of Gold’ also have fairy lore.
There are also numerous mentions of ghosts and the linked topics of the banshee, the ‘Jack O Lantern’ and the ‘Will O’ the Wisp’. The banshee is mentioned in Kingsmountain (Killallon). There was a ‘haunted gateway’ at Aclare House Demesne near Nobber, it has since been closed. Local lore tells us that ‘A man on a white horse used to ride across Greene’s Field in Colvinstown (Dunshaughlin)’. At Athgaine Great, near Cortown, on an old estate there is a Victorian cattle underpass. Legend says that a young riding mistress received a fatal injury when her horse dragged her through the tunnel. Since then there is a ghost story about a white lady. At Shancor, Kilmainhamwood a ghost was seen by a number of people at Magee’s haggard gate. At Whitewood, Nobber it was alleged that there were ‘several sightings of light in the lane at night – ghost light’
In a Vesingstown field (near Dunboyne) it was said that ‘children used to hear galloping horses if they were out here at night’.
A Will O’ the Wisp is a ghostly light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached, drawing travellers away from the safe paths. At Freagh near Longwood we are told that in the ‘High Field’ “many people went astray in this field owing to Will O’ the Wisp”.
Throughout Ireland there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip around Hallowe’en time. It was named after the phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called Jack O’Lantern. In a jack-o’-lantern, typically the top is cut off a turnip, and the inside flesh then scooped out; an image, usually a scary face, is carved onto the outside surface, and the lid replaced. Folklore at Carrickleck (Kilmainhamwood) tells us that ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ is seen near an old house and haggard at night. In more recent times the pumpkin is used as the flesh is easier to scoop out.
There are many traditions relating to ‘Stray Sods’ in Meath fields. Most traditions say that if you are unlucky enough to stand on the stray sod in a field you will be unable to find your way out of the field. You will become disorientated and lost even though you may know the field very well. Joe Gogarty tells us of the ‘Stray Sod Field’ at Boynagh townland –“when one stood on the stray sod they found it impossible to find their way out”. In Corstown the surveyor simply tells of a field with no known name, that there is a “Stray Sod in this field”. It was said of a field called ‘The Burrow Field’ at Blackditch near Longwood that “it was advised to stay out of this field at night as it was hard to get out of”. The field called ‘The Mud Bottoms’ at Cloghmacoo, Nobber is said to have a stray sod also. At Corballis, Duleek, a local man, since deceased, always maintained that there was a ‘stray sod’ in the three corner field.
Collier the Robber
Some folk memories relate to Collier the Robber. Michael Collier was born at Lisdornan, Julianstown in the mid 1780s and was the last of the great Irish highwaymen of the later 18th and early 19th century. He attained “unenviable celebrity as the most determined and successful highwayman produced for centuries in Ireland and the only one of his species who escaped the executioner of the law”.
This infamous man lives on in the lore of Meath fields. His name has come up several times in the data from the survey.
‘Collier the Robber used to lodge at Smith’s of Windtown’ near Navan. Beside ‘Tumbley’s Garden’ at Rossnaree near Slane we are told that “there was a public house here and folklore says that it was a safe house for Collier the Robber”. Not too far away Bellinagrigga Wood at Starinagh, near Collon was “said to be one of the hiding places of Collier the Robber”.
Shebeens in rural areas were once a common feature and they are alluded to in a few fields. In Macetown, Dunshaughlin there are ruins of an old stone building, legend has it that it was a shebeen. In nearby Scalestown the owner of a house told the surveyors that “the house where he now lives was once a shebeen. When they were extending it they found many old coins, relics he thinks of the pitch and toss era”. At Claristown, Julianstown “part of the stone walls of the walled garden were the site of an ancient Inn”.
There is a field called ‘The Shanty Field’ at Lougher, Rossnaree so called because there was an old shebeen nearby.
The mythical animal, the ‘Black Pig’
The mythical animal, the ‘Black Pig’ also features in field folklore. At Ballinrink, Oldcastle: “Older people living in the locality referred to the valley as ‘the valley of the black pig’. Black pig dyke is supposed to be further north.” In Carnacally townland: “In the long lane beside the ditch of this field is a very large stone with markings which are said to be the tracks of the ‘black pig’. This area had many stories of the said black pig, a mythical animal that is said to have carved out the Kilmainhamwood Glen in which the Kilmainhamwood river flows”. At Edengora, Tierworker it is said that: “the race of the black pig came across Breakey Fort and left tracks in the stones. The water that gathers in the tracks has the cure of warts”.
Cromwell is mentioned many times in Meath fields especially in the east of the county. There is ‘Cromwell’s Avenue’ going to Gormanston Castle. At the ‘Church Field’ in Irishtown, Julianstown it is said that: “Cromwell marched through this area with his soldiers before laying siege on Drogheda. According to local tradition Cromwell and his soldiers knocked down the church before going half a mile to Mosney Wood and murdering monks who lived in a monastery there”. The Camp Field at Ballygarth, Julianstown is said to be “where Cromwell camped before the siege of Drogheda in 1649”. The ‘Camp Field’ at Naul is named for the same reason. At Herbertstown, Stamullin the field known as ‘The Lousy Lea’ is said to be so named because “some of Cromwell’s troops camped here in 1649, when they woke in the morning they were covered with lice”. Legend also tells us that Cromwell spent a night at ‘Cusacks Castle’ at Trubley, Bective and also captured a castle that once stood in Feagh townland (Moynalty).
This is just a snapshot of some of the folklore and folk history references gathered about Meath fields. There are mentions of many other folklore and folk history traditions and stories. Much more information is available on some of this material in the Schools Folklore Collection from the 1930s and in many of the local history books published by Meath parish groups in recent years.