I’m convinced I was once led astray on the Bog of Allen.
The immense, flatness of the largest raised, peat bog in Ireland meant that all roads appeared the
same and although the map showed me the way home, I just couldn’t find it.
It was uncanny, my sense of direction deserted me and I began to lose my sense of reality.
I found no road signs other than dead ends and as the hours passed
I felt I’d been led on a merry dance.
By and by I came to a humpbacked bridge and from that vantage point saw a main road, just visible in the distance.
I was driving towards it when I spotted a Garda (police) car parked by the roadside.
Here was something familiar at last, I was saved from being lost in some otherworld and eternally travelling the bog roads!
The Garda wound down her window and smiled as I explained my predicament.
She really wanted to help but as it happened she was also a bit disorientated and had only stopped to try and get her bearings. We wished each other good luck and on I went.
As twilight descended I finally found the road home, grateful that I wasn’t
fated to travel the boggy limbo between Kildare and Offaly forever.
Later I recounted my tale to a neighbour, he nodded in understanding then told me about the night
he went out with a group of friends to do some fishing in a local lough.
All was well until they decided they’d had enough and left the shore to walk back through the field
to the road.
The men could see their parked cars in the distance but they just couldn’t reach them.
They grew increasingly afraid, unable to recollect where the entrance gate was.
Of course they got out after a few hours and agreed later that the gate was not at all where it had been when they entered.
It was my turn to nod, our experiences had been similar, we had drifted away from the familiar world into a wilderness where nothing made sense.
But the tale of the night fishermen was different in one respect, the lads were sure they had stepped upon a Stray Sod.
The Stray Sod, Fód Seachrán.
The Stray Sod appears in Irish folk belief and is explained as a clump of grass, slightly greener than its’ neighbours, which has strayed from the Otherworld into this world.
Stepping upon the Sod brings a sudden feeling of inexplicable disorientation.
Others have described it as a fog coming down over the eyes,
feeling an inability to move or being certain that home is near but after walking
for hours never reaching it.
In the past people avoided taking short cuts for fear of stepping on an enchanted sod,
especially if the way led them near a fairy fort or thorn.
It was believed that a Stray Sod would be chanced upon when walking at night near a cillín,
a pagan burial place or the grave of an unbaptised child.
Read more about these graveyards HERE
Protection against this supernatural confusion was to turn your coat inside out but this was by
no means certain to work.
It was Bealtaine when I went looking for the sacred well near to the ruins of St. Manman’s church,
in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom.
I parked outside the church walls, climbed into the graveyard and immediately spotted the tree nearby which had stood over the well.
As can be seen from these recent photographs, the well and tree are located at the centre of
a small field, near to several houses.
Returning to the road I entered the field by a gate next to the wall and walked across to the site of the well. After standing for a while I sensed it was fine to take my photographs.
The well has long been dry but the stones which once surrounded it remain.
In hindsight I probably lingered too long.
It was Bealtaine after all and I was intoxicated by the scent and delicacy of the blossoms.
When I turned to leave the field had grown in size, it seemed unfamiliar and I felt too weary to move.
I knew I had to get out and find the road as soon as I could.
It took a long time to reach the corner of the field and when I arrived the gate was no longer there.
Confused, I started walking again in a new direction but arriving at a different corner there was no gate to be seen there either.
Somehow on a sunny May evening, in a small field with houses near by, I had become lost.
Alarmed I set out in yet another direction, only to be met again with impenetrable hedge.
I felt my only chance of escape was to walk back to the whitethorn at the centre and start again.
I circled the tree, stood beneath the branches, closed my eyes and took a deep, calming breath.
When I opened them the field had returned to its’ usual size and I immediately knew where to find the gate. Whatever entrancement had been upon me had gone.
Looking back it is hard to understand how I became so confused.
Leaving the thorn I must have walked downhill towards the mountains rather than uphill with my back to them, then circled the field bewildered for quite some time.
How could this have happened? Surely I must have stepped upon the Stray Sod.