There was a certain hierarchy and aristocracy among the fairies.
The gentry resided in underground palaces approached by way of the larger forths and especially through their souterrains. One such forth in South Down remains almost intact on McGreevy’s Hill in the townland of Ballywinny [town of the ancient tree] in the Cabra district. Still higher ranking fairies lived in splendid castles of uncertain location beyond the hills or over the seas.
In addition to their own folk, the fairy world consisted of those humans who had been captured and carried off permanently. But fairy abduction tactics could be frustrated by the guile of knowing humans.
‘There was a certain man who lived on the edge of Kilbroney and the fairies took his wife away. It happened this way. His wife one time was about to give birth to a baby and he went away to Rostrevor to find a midwife. On his way home he heard his wife’s cry for help coming from he knew not where. He guessed at once that the fairies were making off with her. But it chanced that he had a penknife in his pocket. He took it out and whatever it was he did with the steel blade he managed to cut the spell and took her off them and brought her home safe and sound.
When he reached his own door all the neighbouring women were gathered in the house crying and lamenting as they used to do at a wake.
‘We have bad news for you,’ said one of the women. ‘She’s dead!’
‘Not at all’, says he, ‘for I have her here with me.’
But one woman led him into the room and pointed to the bed. And sure enough, there lay the figure of a dead woman having the same features and figure as his wife, stretched out between the sheets and the blanket.
Away the man ran to the byre and brought in the shovel. Then he cleared the floor and made all the preparations for shovelling her [the pretended wife] out of the bed and into the fire.
But at the first touch of the shovel she flew up the chimley with a roar and melted away into the air just like smoke.