Emerald Isle

The Fairy Folk

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

The Fairy Folk of Ireland, the good people - and not so good

Some might wonder, who or what are the fairy folk? There are stories upon stories of them and their doings in many places, but most of all in Ireland, where it was said they lived longest and if they still walk the earth, where they can yet be found! The country folk claim they are fallen angels lacking the merit to stay in heaven while being kindly enough to avoid hell. The Book of Armagh calls them earth gods, while scholars of Irish legend and lore call them the gods of ancient Ireland, the Tuatha de Dannan who lacking worship had shrunk so they'd hardly even reach a man's knee.

These wise scholars will present to you as evidence the way that the fairies in stories are the names of de Dannan princes of old, and that they used to be called the sluagh-sidhe, or the fairy host. Set against these opinions there's much to recommend the view that they're fallen angels, given as they are to caprice without conscience.

Treating the kind hearted well and giving to the wicked in kind, the fairies are so whimisical that you should only refer to them as the gentle people for fear of their ire, if you must refer to them at all! And perhaps it is the lack of malice in their evil that was their saving, although they do look after people who leave a little milk out in a dish for them of an evening. Those that incur their wrath my find themselves paralysed by a fairy dart!

Are they then perhaps old gods of Ireland, old gods of the earth? Mystics and occultists and poets and dreamers will tell you that the world we see is but the surface of the whole, barely even ripples atop a deep pool, and perhaps the fairies are better swimmers than us! We see more of this world when we dream, but it's always there, even when you cross the street and buy a loaf of bread.

But of course the only thing we can say with certainty about the fairies is that they're inconsistent, you never know what's going to happen next with them. They can adopt any size or form that takes their fancy, especially creatures of a black colour, and spend most of their time fighting and feasting and sharing embraces, except only one, the cobbler, who some call the leprechaun. Close to the village of Ballysadare lived a woman who went away with them, and danced for seven years! And when she came back her shoes were worn thin as paper.

They have three great feast days, the first is the day before May, when they go to the white plain and fight for the best ears of corn, struggling amongst one another. Any old man in the countryside seeing a whirling wind whipping at the trees, causing a stir will doff his cap and bow low, for he knows the fairies are close.

Their second feast is that of Midsummer's eve, that is their time for dancing and merriment, but don't get befuddled by their capering for that's also the day they steal away pretty mortals to be their mates for all eternity!

And the third then comes on November eve, that is when they are darkest, at the dying of the year, although it is said they themselves don't die. On that night they dance with the dead, and the dreaded pooka walks abroad, and witches make their spells.

They love nothing more than to sing, and it's rumoured that many of the great old songs of Ireland were overheard at their feasts, but ware should you sing them near to a fairy rath for they're none too fond of their wonderful songs being fumbled by clumsy mortals! And yet when they sing, they can charm and enchant maidens away with them. A perilous thing is a fairy's fun.

Especially on nights where the moon shines full and silver are the fairies out and about, for that is when the children of Manannan who live beneath the ocean waves come to visit their landbound cousins. As it was written,

“on moonlight nights they often come up on the land, riding their white horses, and they hold revels with their fairy kindred of the earth, who live in the clefts of the hills, and they dance together on the green sward under the ancient trees, and drink, nectar from the cups of the flowers, which is the fairy wine.”

In the more remote parts of Ireland, far from help, young girls were encouraged to stay indoors on nights of the full moon, for it was then that the risk of abduction was highest! And if you had done wrong by a fairy, they'd be abroad looking for you under the full moon too.

Ballysadare as mentioned is on the map below.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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