Sliabh na mBan is on Fire!

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  • Teideal (Title): Sliabh na mBan is on Fire!.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 841421.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): story.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Joan Rabinowitz.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): probably 19/10/1984.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): radio programme (KRAB).
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

A woman is spinning, or knitting, one night beside the fire. A knock comes to the door. When the woman opens it, she sees a witch standing there with two horns – and she immediately shuts the door on her.

Shortly afterwards she hears a little voice from outside. ‘Are you in there, Feet-Water?’ A tiny voice answers ‘Yes.’ ‘Open the door and let me in.’ A little serpent creeps out of the pan of water in which people have washed their feet before going to bed, lifts the latch, and lets the woman with the horns inside.

The witch sits down next to the woman of the house, and starts knitting herself. Another dozen fairies then follow her in, and they too start knitting. Presently one of them asks the woman of the house for something to eat. When she says she has no water in the house to make tea for them, they send her out to the well.

While she is at the well, she hears the voice of a neighbour who has died, warning her that the ones she has let into the house mean to kill her before morning. ‘Go back and tell them,’ she advises, ‘that the Mountain of the Women1 is on fire.’ After telling them that, she should get a cinder from the fire, put it into the feet-water, and throw the feet-water out under the door, throw the wool that they were using into the fire, and see what happens then.

So she goes back inside and shouts to the fairies, ‘Sliabh na mBan is on fire!’ The women all run out; and the minute they are out, she puts a cinder into the feet-water, throws it under the door, and throws the wool into the fire as instructed. Shortly there comes a voice from outside, ‘Let us in, Feet-Water!’ The serpent replies, ‘I can’t! I’m burnt! I’m under your feet here!’ Then, ‘Let us in, Wool!’ ‘No, I can’t, I’m burnt in the fire!’ She never sees them again.


1. As Joe explains, Sliabh na mBan (in Co. Tipperary) – which in English means ‘the Mountain of the Women’ – is where the fairies were supposed to gather. Cnoc Meadha (near Tuam, Co. Galway) is another such site.

Versions of this well-known tale are discussed by T. F. O’Rahilly in a short article, ‘Sliabh na mBan bhFionn trí theine!’ in Gadelica: A Journal of Modern Irish Studies, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1913), 277-9.

Elements of this story relate to a number of other items in Joe’s repertoire. See The woman who found a bucket of blood in her kitchen, The Fairy and the Wool, Sliabh na mBan is on Fire!, traditions about the Púca and other spirits, and the Foot-Water Rhyme.

Date given is 19 October 1984, which is probably the broadcast date; Joe Heaney died in May of that year.