Evil fairies have
dominion over the Emerald Isle. I should know. I grew up in the Irish
countryside, amidst fairy forts, leprechauns and banshees, hearing the
myths and legends that define our folklore.
You haven't seen
darkness until you've been in the countryside in
Ireland. It's the kind of darkness that devours everything beyond an
inch from your nose and turns the forests and fields to shadow. It's
easy to imagine something drifting over the moors or mistake the hoot
of an owl for the lonely wail of a cursed fairy.
Irish fairies and their precious forts
‘Away with the fairies’ is a popular expression in Ireland, used to
describe someone whose mind is elsewhere. Its origins lie in the belief
that evil fairies steal people’s souls and carry them off to the
underworld, leaving changelings behind in their place. There’s even a
recorded case of an Irish man who tried to murder his wife, claiming
her soul had been kidnapped by bad fairies and her body was inhabited
As a child I was told never to play inside a fairy fort because the
fairies might get angry and put a curse on me. Fairy forts are actually
the remains of circular houses in which people lived from the Iron Age
up until early Christian times. You can see them dotted all over the
Irish countryside – circular markings in fields and gardens where
modern man fears to tread.
And if you think the belief in the power of fairies has waned over the
years, think again! When Ireland's once richest man, Sean Quinn, lost
his fortune in 2011, his neighbors didn't blame poor business decisions
and the waning economy but fairies, who they say put on a curse on him
for moving an ancient tomb.
The tomb had stood in the same place, in
countryside of Co. Cavan, for 4,000 years but Quinn moved it two miles
away to the town of Ballyconnell to make way for a new quarry, thus
enraging the fairies and bringing on himself financial ruin.
Banshees and leprechauns
Many Irish families claim to be haunted by dark fairies or spirits
Banshees. The Banshee hails from the Underworld and is said to be drawn
to certain families (particularly those whose surnames begin with O’
or Mac), who can hear her wails whenever one of their members is
about to die. More tragic than evil, she is often seen drifting through
the Irish countryside
at night, cloaked in white and drawing a comb through her long silvery
of course there are the mischievous leprechauns, the most
recognizable of all the Celtic fairies. They are commonly depicted as
small bearded men sitting on a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
According to common belief, if you catch a leprechaun, it is obliged to
grant you three wishes. But as Irishman Darby O’Gill learns in the 1959
movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, the little rascal will try to
into wishing a fourth wish, at which point all your previous wishes
become null and void.
We don’t really call our Irish fairies evil. In fact we often refer to
fairies as the good people but they’re certainly capable of doing
evil to those who interfere with their ways. Whether our mythology is
the result of an active imagination, a drop too much of the Irish ale
Puteen, or a special Irish sensitivity to the supernatural, well,
that's for you to decide!
Other types of fairies
Irish fairy tales often feature fairy folk who derive great pleasure of
getting up to no good. I love our mythology but I think I prefer the
fairy tale fairies with shimmering wings and musical voices. And I love
JM Barre’s account of the origin of fairies. In his 1911 book Peter Pan
and Wendy, Barre writes: "When the first baby laughed for the first
time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went
skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies." His creation
Tinkerbell is probably the most beloved fairy of all.
Throughout history, many people have claimed to have seen and even
photographed fairies. Read about alleged
photographs and check
out my review of the sad but beautiful fantasy
film Photographing Fairies.
Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.