Chapter 7 Una, Fairy Queen of Tipperary

Jun 23rd, 2018 | By | Category: Book News, Books, Fairy Queens, Morgan Daimler

The last of the named Irish fairy Queens that we are going to look at in detail is Una, although there are of course more than the few I have presented here. I would encourage people to explore more of the folklore on your own if you feel like you still haven’t found a particular Queen that really connects to you but you would like to. Of course it’s also fine if you aren’t looking for that and have just been curious about meeting them or learning more about them.

I am choosing to spell her name her as Una, but you will find variations in the spelling including Eabhna, Oona, and Oonagh. I am going with Una for two main reasons: it’s one of the more common spellings you will find in the older material and the pronunciation is fairly obvious, I think. All of the various spellings are pronounced more or less the same way, roughly as EW-nuh

Una is described as a peerless beauty, with shining golden hair that sweeps the ground and a silver dress that sparkles as if it were covered in crystal (Briggs, 1976). She is usually viewed as the wife of Fionnbheara, whose place is at Cnocmeadha, although she has her own abode elsewhere. She is said to have seventeen children, all sons (MacKillop, 1998). She is also known in stories to be a shapeshifter and to appear in various forms including a black cat and a white cow.

Undine by John Waterhouse, public domain

The main site associated with her is in Tipperary and is called Knockshigowna today. 19th century sources suggest the name in Irish would be Cnoc-sidhe-una, or ‘hill of the fairy mound of Una’ (Joyce, 1869). However the name today is more commonly given as Cnocsíghabhna which may mean ‘hill of the fairy cattle pen’ or alternately as cnocsigamhna, ‘hill of the fairy calf’ (logainm.ie, 2018; Ryan, 2016). This confusion may be due in part to sighe being an older variant spelling of sidhe and Eabhna being one spelling of Una’s name. This could give us, potentially, Cnoc sighe Eabhna which losing the doubled ‘e’ becomes Cnoc sigh abhna and then misunderstood as Cnoc si gabhna. What isn’t disputed is that the word ‘sí’ or fairy hill is part of the name and that local folklore strongly associates it with Una.

Joyce describes Una’s fairy hill as “a noted haunt of fairies” and says “the whole neighbourhood teems with fairy names and fairy legends about Una” (Joyce, 1869). There are a wide array of stories about the hill and the surrounding area, from the consequences to people who try to violate fairy privacy by spying on their revels to those who are punished for trying to cultivate lands claimed by fairies (Duchais.ie, 2018). These stories are in line with wider folklore about the Good People found throughout Ireland but do reinforce that Una’s sidhe was known to be quite active even into the last hundred years. Despite the normal prohibitions against trespassing on the hill, especially after dark, there was a tradition of going there on Lughnasa to gather berries (McNeill, 1962).
Like some of the other Queens we’ve previously discussed Una was associated with specific mortal families, particularly the O’Carrolls (Joyce, 1869). She is sometimes considered a bean sidhe, but in this context it would be in the most traditional sense of a fairy woman who would appear and keen for members of the family she watched over. It is likely that she was an ancestor of the O’Carrolls and still feels connected to the descendants of that family line.
There’s one particular story about Una that I heard a long time ago that I really enjoyed so I wanted to share it here with you all. It can be found in various slightly different version online and in books although I’m paraphrasing this version from Croker’s 1834 work ‘Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland’. I think it sums up her personality fairly well.

Once there was a farmer and he had a pasture near the top of Knockshigowna, where he would send his cows and a herdsman to watch them. But this place belonged to the Good People, and their Queen Una was angry that their dancing ground was trampled by hooves and full of the sad sound of cows lowing. So Una set about to drive the cows and herdsman away, and this was how she did it – she would appear at night to the herdsman, when they sky was full dark and he was relaxing back, and she would take on a series of hideous forms. She would seem to be a blend of different animals and like no animal on earth, and she would shriek and hiss and cry so that the cows ran about terrified and the herdsman prayed to the saints for help. But no help would come and the herdsman was held by her power so that he could neither flee nor hide. Because of this the cows were in a bad state, and often injured or killed besides, and the farmer could not keep a herdsman in his employ for they would all quit rather than go back to the pasture. The fairies rejoiced at this success and to have their pasture back but the farmer feared he’d lose everything if he couldn’t pay his rent when it came due. He offered triple wages but still no one would take the work. Finally one day the farmer came across a piper who was renowned for his skill with music and his love of whiskey, and it was widely known that this piper when drinking would face the devil himself. The farmer shared his troubles and the piper bragged that even if there were as many fairies on the hill as there were flowers in a blooming field he would face them. The farmer promised a rich reward if the piper would watch the herd for a full week and a bargain was struck. The first night came and the piper set down and began playing, and he kept playing even as Una tried all of her terrifying shapes and noises on him. Finally, frustrated she changed into a beautiful white calf, thinking to trick him with a fair form. When she approached the piper quickly dropped his instrument and leaped on her back and she just as swiftly leaped in the air ten miles away to a different hill then kicked her heels up and threw him off. Landing on the ground the piper laughed and then turned to the Queen and said ‘well done! That was quite a leap for a calf!’ The Queen resumed her true shape and asked him if he would return as he’d arrived to which he replied yes, so she turned back into a calf and the two leaped back to Knockshigowna. When they arrived Una turned to herself again and she told the piper that for his great courage he would be rewarded, that he could keep cows in that field as long as he lived and none of Una’s people would bother him. And so he did, piping and drinking at the farmer’s expense and keeping an eye on the cows.

Connecting to Una
An altar for Una could be decorated with a green cloth and with imagery from nature. I have found that she seems fond of beautiful things, particularly bright and shiny ones, but I’d caution against using imitation or plastic jewellery. As with all the Queens quality often comes into play and a single genuine item is better than a dozen low quality ones. That’s not to say bankrupt yourself making an altar for her, just to consider what exactly you are putting on her space. I’ve found checking out antique stores and flea markets can work well on a budget. Also keep in mind less is often more in this cases.
Offerings to Una I would recommend milk or cream, fresh water, or small, sweet cakes. Feel free to experiment a bit here however as she does admire courage and as long as you don’t try anything totally inappropriate I’m sure you’d get a sense of whether she approves or not.

Journeying to the Queen of Elfland
I organized the named Queens alphabetically simply for convenience, but I am glad that it works out so that you are Journeying to meet Una last. In my experience Una is one of the gentler Queens and has a good sense of humour, making her a fitting personage to round out our visits with. Although she can be fierce when she’s annoyed she is also generous and willing to engage with humans in my experience.

“Relax and breathe deeply…in and out…in…and out…
Feel the solid earth beneath you. Let your spirit move down, out, into the earth. Fill yourself with the energy that rests deep in the soil…When you feel empowered by this energy pull your spirit back up, out of the earth.
You find yourself sitting on the ground at twilight. Next to you is a staff of Rowan carved with symbols. The ground is warm beneath you, but the air is starting to chill as darkness falls. There is a light wind and you can smell the scent of a fire somewhere in the distance and of fallen leaves close by. You hear the sounds of birds calling to each other as they settle in to roost for the night and the murmuring of water over rocks. Although it is deep twilight and the world around you is dark you can see clearly. You are sitting in a field between an old forest and a river. At the other end of the field the shape of a hill rises up, a gentle curve in the earth.
As you look at the hill something catches your eye, flickering like firelight. You stand up, pick up the staff, and move towards the light…as you walk across the field towards the hill the light grows. As you get closer you can see that the light is coming from a door that opens up into the hill midway up the incline. Using the staff to help, you climb up the hill to the door.
At the entrance to the fairy hill you meet your guide, the same one that you encountered in your last meditation. Your guide greets you and welcomes you back into the hill again, leading you through the doorway and into the hill. You step through into the familiar hall you have visited before but this time your guide leads you through and out into the wider world of Fairy.
You cross an open expanse of grass and enter into a greenwood following a wide path. Your guide leads you on and on, the path wending upwards. You realize that you are walking up a hill. You continue through the trees, moving slowly upwards until you reach the crest of the hill and a small clearing.
Your guide gestures you forward and as you cross into eth open space a figure emerges from the far side. She is beautiful, her blond hair falling like a curtain to the hem of her dress, which is a shimmering silver. She watches you with an amused expression to see what you will do next. Behind her you hear a the sound of low voices talking in the trees, and know that she has come accompanied by her people.
(take time here to experience whatever occurs and let the experience unfold organically)

When you have done what you need to do your Guide gently tells you it is time to leave. You bow to the Queen and then step back carefully into the trees, turning to make your way back down the hill. The path leads you down and down, the trees close on each side. Finally the greenwood path opens up into the wild field you first crossed and you cross it again to return back to the hill you started from. Your Guide leads you back through the hill and hall to the entrance you arrived at.
At the entrance you put your token somewhere safe and say farewell to your Guide before stepping out the door. You pick the staff back up and as you do the door closes and the doorway vanishes into the hill. You are standing alone on the fairy hill in the dark night. Carefully climb down the hill and walk back across the field. The night is silent now, and dark, and the wind is cold. Put down the staff and sit down, resting on the earth.
Feel the solid earth beneath you. Let your spirit move down, out, into the earth. Fill yourself with the energy that rests deep in the soil…When you feel empowered by this energy pull your spirit back up, out of the earth.
Return to your body; feel yourself solidly back in mortal earth.
Relax and breathe deeply… in…and out…in and out…
Move slowly, reconnecting to your body, until you are ready to open your eyes.
Write down everything you saw or experienced in your journal.

References
Joyce, P., (1869) Irish Names of Places
Croker, T. (1834). Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland
Logainm.ie (2018) Knockshigowna https://www.logainm.ie/ga/45803
Ryan, D., (2016) Kncoksheegowna http://thetipperaryantiquarian.blogspot.com/2016/07/knocksheegowna.html
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
MacKillip, J., (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
McNeill, F., (1962) Festival of Lughnasa
Duchais.ie (2018) Knockshegowna

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