Emerald Isle

The Gaoth Sidhe

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

It's an ill wind

We have a saying in Ireland, that it's the only place in the world where you can get all four seasons in the one day – well there's truth in that, but Irish weather can be even stranger than most people realise! So it is with the Gaoth Sidhe, which means “the fairy wind,” and is pronounced “gwee sheeha”.

Often a man might be working in his field or out travelling from place to place, and a strange wind would whip up out of nowhere, whirling him around and whispering forgotten secrets, and never was it more to be feared than after the sun had set.

It was said that if the Gaoth Sidhe blew on one side of the road when the sun was highest, there would be a death in the family on that side of the road before midnight. You could make the sign of the cross and say a quick prayer if you saw one, as they used to do in Glanderry long ago, and that might avert the ill fortune coming your way.

There was a woman who went out one winter's night to milk the goats and never came back in – so her husband searched high and low, he called the peelers and they couldn't find her either, until the next night when he returned to find his wife sitting nursing the baby in her usual place!

She told him that the good people had taken her in a gust of the fairy wind because he'd cut some trees in a nearby fairy fort, and he had to plant the same number and type of trees or she would never be seen again. The next morning he went out and planted again those trees he had cut, and his wife lived to be a grandmother of a ripe old age, although she never did tell what she had seen when she was gone.

In Ballintee there are two raths, or ancient fortresses, in two different fields, and every year on the same date a wind would rise on one and blow straight to the other, carrying with it anything left nearby, and anything standing in its way. If you turned your back on it and said “good luck to you” three times or took off your hat and cried “God bless you!” in a hurry however, you'd come to no harm.

Or if there was no time for that, you could lie face down and hope for the best, or if you happened to have a black handled knife you could throw it at the wind to drive it off. Anything with iron in it might do some good, and you may very well hear moaning when the metal passes into the gust, especially if you let out a shout “may my misfortune go with you!”

Not far from there a man was on his way home after a fair day, and it was a flat calm night, when all of a sudden he saw leaves going round in a swirl, and heard a voice calling to him, saying “come, come”! He fainted dead away and found himself awake in his bed the next morning with the full sure knowledge that if he had stepped into that twist of fairy wind he'd have been gone.

There was a man in Limerick by the name of Egan who he died about thirty years ago. Well, one time in harvest he had a lot of mowing to do, and this night there was a full moon so he said he would break into another field of hay before he went to bed. So he started off mowing away in a meadow that had a fort in it, and after a while he noticed that six other mowers were after falling in behind him. He never saw them coming, but only heard the cutting behind him, and when he looked to see what it was, he saw the six men behind him and they all keeping time with his stroke.

So he cut away and they were making short work of the meadow until they came to a stream that was running through the middle of it. One of the men said to him that they could not cross the running water, but that he should jump across it himself and leave his scythe behind him. So he did that and he went home to bed.

When he got up in the morning, the meadow was all cut, and he and his family saved it. They had all the hay stacked in the field and he thought that everything was all right, but the next day a fairy wind rose up suddenly and swept most of the hay away. The fairies played their part in cutting the hay, so they decided to take it away with them too!

Usually there would be a loud humming sound before the fairy wind made its appearance, like thousands of bees, which was said to have been the passing of a troop of fairies within. The effects of each wind could be unpredictable – if it was a hot day, you might freeze, as happened to a man in Inchicronan parish county Clare, or a woman whose water trough was emptied by a blast of the Gaoth Sidhe in the same place, as though, she said, “six cattle had leaped into it”.

Some thought the wind was the fairies were helping with the farmwork, while others believed the wind was the source of sudden illness. The wind could even tear the roof off a poor family’s house and let the sidh host in! It was also said to protect fairy treasure from thieves, and it would silence impudent mortal musicians playing fairy music, or carry off those who played better than the fairies, and cause injury to humans or animals, especially the eyes.

The winds of the fairy were used to predict the weather too, with a southwesterly gust “fetching rain” or foretelling a hard winter ahead.

There was a man who built his house on a fairy path against all the warnings of his neighbours, and sure enough a mighty blast of the fairy wind knocked him over one night while he was holding a lighted torch, and his thatch went up in a blaze of fire immediately, destroying the old house.

Now it was not always seen to be a malevolent power, for tales tell of a farmer who found a scairtín or fairy bush with paper money stuck to every thorn, and sure couldn't we all use a windfall like that! But for the most part it was dreaded, and with good reason.

If you were caught in it, you might become paralysed, or deformed, or your face might be fixed in a silly expression, or a child might stop growing. So avoid the fairy wind if you can, especially in Ballintee, which is not far from Windgap, marked on the map below.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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