Knockfierna and its Legends - 22nd June 1946


Knockfierna and its Legends: Text Version

June 22 1946


I'm sure that most of my readers would like to read something about Knockfierna, since, I assume, every one of them has heard of it, and many of them can see it from their doors. Now if I were to write about Granagh, or Bruree, or Glenagragra, or Ballyeagogue some people might say: 'What's the good of reading about that place anyway? –- sure we never heard of it before.' Not so with Knockfierna! It is visible from almost every part of Limerick, and from parts of Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and Clare as well; and, therefore, needs no introduction.

When we were growing up it was the farthest place westward we would see. It stood on the border of our known world. It was the Ultima Thule of our imagination. Between it and us lay the places and people of our acquaintance. Beyond it stretched the unknown and the unknowable. It stood there as solitary as Etna, as majestic as Olympus, as awe-inspiring as Everest.


When we went to school all our painfully built up ideas concerning Knockfierna were shattered. It didn't mark the end of the world. It didn't even fully merit the title of mountain, as it was only 949 feet high. In fact we were assured that a man from Kerry had described it as a hardly appreciable protuberance on the face of Limerick. When it had sunk very low in our estimation we came across its name in a poem in one of our schoolbooks.

'Thou rising sun, how richly gleams,

Thy smile from far Knockfierna's mountain,

O'er waving woods and bounding streams,

And many a grove and glancing fountain.'

Then we read how one day the Fianna stood watching the chase from its summit, and Midheach came along up the plains from the Shannon to lure them away to the Fairy Palace of the Quicken Trees. And gradually Knockfierna became an interesting place once more.


Ever after we were anxious to learn more about this mysterious hill. Why was it called Knockfierna -– the Hill of Truth? We found the reason set forth at some length in the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, written about 100 years ago. Here is what the Gazetteer has to say:-

'Knockfierna, or Knockfeerin, a hill in the barony of Upper Connello, 2 miles east of Ballingarry, and 4 south-west by west of Croom, County Limerick, Munster. It has an altitude of 951 feet (Thom's Directory says 949 Perhaps some reader with a bit of time on hands might measure it and tell us which is right. M.S.); and is peopled by popular superstition with a community of fairies, presided over by a chieftain of the name of Donn. Mr. E. O'Reilly says: 'It is called by the people of the country, Knock Dhoinn Ferinne –- the mountain of Donn of Truth. This mountain is very high, and may be seen for several miles around; and when people are desirous to know whether or not any day will rain, they look at the top of Knockfierna, and if they see a vapour or mist there, they know immediately that rain will follow, believing that Donn, the lord or chief of the mountain, and his aerial assistants, are collecting the clouds, and that he holds them for some short time to warn the people of the approaching rain. As the appearance of mist on that mountain in the morning is considered an infallible sign that the day will be raining Donn is called Donn Ferinne –- 'Donn of Truth'.


In Lewis' Topographical Dictionary, written in 1837, we meet the following note: 'On Knockfierna is a conical pile raised on the spot where stood the ancient temple of Stuadhraicin.' This work also mentions that one of the three Catholic churches in Ballingarry parish stood near the hill. The conical pile referred to above is a great cairn, visible for miles around. We are told that in some old documents of the 16th and earlier centuries this cairn is called Donn de Leis, after the great De Lacys who once held all the surrounding lands. The De Lacys were dispossessed and took wing with the Wild Geese, coming to rest in the far off fields of Eastern Europe. In 1868, there was a law suit over some property belonging to one of them who died in Grodno. When an Irish claimant failed to get sufficient documentary proof of her connection with the family, a Mr. Bourke, of Knockfierna, came along to give the history of the family, and to trace the relationship back through the centuries. This remarkable man, who had the story of the illustrious De Lacy clan by heart, was then aged 108 years.


No account of Knockfierna would be complete without a reference to the public appearance there of a pair of leprechauns in the never to be forgotten autumn of 1938. Most of you remember the newspaper headings that announced the news to the world:- 'Fairies appear in county Limerick'. What a sensation their appearance caused! Even yet the ground over which sightseers massed in their thousands looks beaten and trampled. There are no reliable statistics available to show how many did succeed in meeting and interviewing the fairies, but from ours current at the time quite a few must have been so privileged. Only once did I climb Knockfierna, and it was a stiff climb too. There was a merry party on top of it, members of local Irish classes who had come together for a picnic. On one side of the rough-piled cairn a fire blazed; on the other side was a platform where dancing feet beat time to a melodeon.

So there's Knockfierna for you, mystery crowned, legend wreathed, the public weather glass of Limerick, old as Ireland itself, as reliable as your best friend. Yes, there it stands, solitary as Etna, majestic as Olympus, awe-inspiring as Everest, last retreat of the Daoine Maithe, where if you're worthy you may see:

'The fairy palace that glances bright,

On the peak of blue Knockfeerin.'

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