Emerald Isle

Fairy Darts

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

When Fairies Attack!

Sometimes when out and about travelling the lesser known byways of Ireland, you might come across a little stone arrowhead or piece of flint shaped by hands long gone, and people would tell you not to touch it for fear it might carry the tinneas sióg, the sickness of the fairy mounds!

For it was that fairies, the sidhe, were known to hurl these darts, gae sí, at not only men, women and children but also at animals, so that they'd be unable to move their arms and legs, leaving never a mark behind! And one so fixed was taken away with them to their strange otherworld as often as not.

Many's the maid crossing a river or farmer out mowing his hay might hear a whizzing noise, and spy a fairy stone flying past them, although it might be the fairies firing them at one another, for it is rare for a fairy to miss! And if these stones could be found, they were seen to have little holes in them from the tracks of fairy fingers, where the sidhe put their venom.

Should someone suddenly be unable to move, have sore eyes, red and raw skin, become lame or unable to see or hear, started fainting or anything of the sort, they were thought to be fairy shot or hit with the fairy stroke, the poc sídhe, and in sore danger of being taken. Then it was time to call the fairy doctor!

Fairy doctors were men and women who knew the ways of the good folk and usually carried with them a bag of fairy stones, whether in the shape of arrowheads or strange pebbles or shards. They would pass a dart over an afflicted person or animal and say prayers or other mystical incantations. Putting fairy stones along with copper and nine of ten whitethorn sticks, the tenth being thrown away, into water which was then drunk was also meant to be a healing ritual for man and beast.

In Mayo and Sligo, chroniclers recorded that

fairy doctors usually possess elf-bags, containing in one recent case three or four ancient flint arrow heads, a piece of silver with a cross on it, and three pieces of copper. Some have seven or eight flints, though only one was used in the disenchanting acts. Cows were also treated with water from three boundary streams, ladies-mantle juice and salt; the coins and one arrow head being dipped in it. It was given in three draughts to the cow, the rest poured on her back or into her ears.

Old houses may still have hidden about them a small bag of these fairy stones, for it was considered an essential household item for the old Irish.

There were other opinions about how to deal with fairy shot, as Robert Kirk wrote

They also pierce Cows or other Animals, usually said to be Elf-shot, whose purest Substance (if they die) these Subterraneans take to live on, viz. the aereal and ætherial Parts, the most spirituous Matter for prolonging of Life, such as Aquavitæ (moderately taken) is among Liquors, leaving the terrestrial behind. The Cure of such Hurts is, only for a Man to find out the Hole with his Finger; as if the Spirits flowing from a Man’s warme Hand were Antidote sufficient against their poyson’d Dairts

You could tell if a cow or sheep was fairy-shot by measuring their length from nose to tail tip three times using your forearm and outstretched fingers – if it was fairies, the measurement would be different each time.

Should someone fall or have an accident, the first thing they'd do would be to turn three times to the right then dig a small hole in the ground with their knife, lifting out a sod of turf, for fear they'd find a fairy dart under it. But even this was no security, so if they fell sick shortly afterwards they'd call on a wise woman who would talk to the fairies and decide if they were to blame!

Of particular potency were  fairy stones made of glittering quartz, that was known to have been used in the last resting places of the old people, and not a house in the country was built using quartz for fear it might anger them.

Sacred holy water and fire were thought to be a good defence against arrows from malicious fairies, as were iron, salt, hazel, and the blackthorn stick.

A man was said to have been waylaid by fairies on the map below!

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

If you'd like to leave a tip, just click here!

Archaeological information is licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence from the National Monuments Service - Archaeological Survey of Ireland.

Note that this license DOES NOT EXTEND to folkloric, mythological and related information on the site. That data remains under full private copyright protection