When Fairies Attack
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland
There's a common misconception some might have about fairies, which is the idea that fairies are nic
There's a common misconception some might have about fairies, which is the idea that fairies are nice friendly little spirits, trailing pixie dust and turning pumpkins into luxury vehicles. As any of the old folk of Ireland could tell you, nothing could be further from the truth, for a fairy in wrath is more dangerous than a hive of wasps or a cook with a grudge!
People in olden times would cut corners off their houses to avoid obstructing a fairy path, which should never be travelled by mortals, and cottages were built with the front and back doors in line, so that the fairies could troop through all night, if it took their fancy. Before building a house you should lay out four stacks of stones or four hazel twigs where the corners of the building were to be, then come back the next morning and if a stack has tumbled or a twig is out of place, you were building along a fairy path.
Places like fairy forts and old mounds were, and should be, left undisturbed, with not even a snip of the blackthorn bush around them or a twig from a fairy tree – the hawthorn – being cut, for fear of death following soon after!
An offended fairy might follow you for many years, putting nettles in your pillow and pinching you at inopportune moments, disturbing your sleep with strange visions and yowling outside your window. And that's to say nothing of their kidnapping young babies and replacing them with wizened looking elders of their own race! The fairy stroke was most feared of all, being shot by a fairy dart and suffering paralysis, madness, blindness or permanent lameness for the rest of your life.
A Púca could carry you away on wild rides to the Cailleach's court, and the Sluagh could make you one of them, a wretched undead, in their wild hunt between the worlds. The brood of old stoop of the many glooms come in forms innumerable, peering out from the shadows of their haunted glades and forests.
So what to do if you've made an enemy of such a fearsome foe, accidentally or on purpose?
Here are a few things that have been used in times gone by to foil the mischief of the fairy folk.
Before recounting these ancient ways, we should remember that they aren't always consistent – what works for one fairy might not work for another, as perhaps they have their own geases, or binding curses, of things they must avoid or do, just like the old people of Ireland had.
Four leaf clovers are said to turn away fairies, and not only that, but the ancient Gaels used to keep several in a pouch at their neck, for by carrying these leaves, they could see the invisible, including the fairies! You could only see one for each four leafed clover you carried, and see through their glamours, fogs, disguises and magical illusions as well.
Marsh marigolds and primroses were noted for their protective effect against the sidhe, being made into garlands and hung over barn doors to stop the horses being ridden to exhaustion at night, and laid along and above doorways and windowsills for safety.
Another plant known as St John's wort was know to be as good as a fierce dog for keeping off the fairies. Daisy chains kept children from being spirited away.
Red flowers and berries were avoided by the little folk, and the wood of the ash, rowan and blackthorn likewise, especially in the form of a stout walking stick. A length of mountain ash will help pull a person out of a fairy ring should they be cause like flies in a spider's web, since the fairies fear the tree like little else.
One strange means of self protection upon being assailed by the fairies is to turn your coat inside-out. How or why that works isn't related, but any part of the clothes will do, whether it be a glove or a sock.
This was used to good effect by one widow whose house was used as a meeting place and market by thieving fairies, who rewarded her tolerance by giving her a coin after each auction. One night, she decided to turn her coat inside out just as they had deposited their plunder on the floor, and so they fled, leaving her wealthier by far than before! But never again could she wear that coat, for the agonies of a thousand needles pierced her when she tried.
Bread was another thing that attracted or repelled fairies, being given as an offering with honey and milk it might prevent their attentions from turning malicious, or when put into a pocket before going to a fairy-haunted place it would keep them away. In County Wexford it was known that you shouldn't bring an infant outside after dark unless there was a piece of bread wrapped in its bib or dress.
Salt was put to use as a potent protection against fairies, although some say it had to be blessed in the same manner as holy water to have any effect, or that fairies would be forced to stop and count every grain before they could pass, and so it was sprinkled across thresholds and windows.
Knowing the true name of a fairy could grant a person power over it, binding it to service, or drive it off if applied with vigorous insults!
Stones with holes in them, especially flint, would serve as a defence, and were hung over barns and doorways, as would running water, although a still pond never scared a fairy. Often enough they liked to frequent the more stagnant and marshy places, dancing above them in the shape of little lights. Fairy wells were also their abodes, and they demanded offerings on threat of flooding and drownings.
The sound of church bells, hymns being sung and generally anything blessed by the Christian religion was as scorching fire to the fairy folk, running them off quicker than a wink. Holy water, prayers, consecrated ground and any pious exclamation all seemed to sever their link to whatever allowed them to walk the earth yet.
Other fairies have specific remedies to divert their attention – the headless horseman of the southern parts of the country could never pass a golden pin, or any gold at all, and holding on to grass still rooted in the ground would prevent kidnap by other fairies, since they were forbidden from harming a single blade. Something dirty and something red were also reputed to be effective defences, depending on the situation.
One other thing most fairies fear is the touch of cold iron. Keeping an iron nail in your pocket would pin you to the earth so they couldn't carry you off, and hammering an iron nail into the footprint of a fairy would cause it intense agony. An iron cross or a pair of iron shears hanging near a child's bed would stop the changeling, and old horseshoes nailed to a wall on their side like the letter C would likewise offer protection.
If a sharpened scythe was placed edge-up in a chimney it would repel fairies, and an iron bolt or lock on a door would guard a house, while an axe placed under the pillow would protect the sleeper and striking a fairy with iron will result in its instant disappearance. Should a person be lured into an open fairy mound by the sweet music and fragrances emanating from within, putting an iron knife at the entrance would prevent it from closing behind them. A knife with a black handle was especially useful in these situations!
Some say a wound from an iron weapon, dealt to a fairy, will never heal, and slowly poison them, which might in turn draw the wrath of their kin!
And remember, above all else, never eat or drink of fairy food, lest you be caught with them forever!
The fairies have been known to dance at the spot marked on the map below.
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Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland
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A fair witch crept to a young man's side, And he kissed her and took her for his bride. But a shape came in at the dead of night, And filled the room with snowy light. And he saw how in his arms there lay A thing more frightful than words may say. And he rose in haste, and followed the Shape Till morning crowned an eastern cape. ... [more]
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In the olden days there was a man who played the pipes, but he was not famous for it, or if he was it was for the wrong reasons, since he had but the one tune, a jaunty jig called The Black Rogue. Now it happened one dark night that he was on his way home after entertaining the gentlemen, and with a few pence in his pocket and a few drinks under hi ... [more]
Times were hard in Ireland back years ago, and while some might say they've had it tough today, it was not a patch on the hardships people endured in times gone by. And so it was with Michael McGovern, a poor farmer with hardly an acre of stony soil to rent, who looked upon his three young sons with love for the life of them and fear for their ... [more]
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A woman was out one day looking after her sheep in the valley, and coming by a little stream she sat down to rest, when suddenly she seemed to hear the sound of low music, and turning round, beheld at some distance a crowd of people dancing and making merry. And she grew afraid and turned her head away not to see them. Then close by her stood a you ... [more]
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Connla of the Fiery Hair was one of the sons of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and his favourite son, a swift and agile warrior with a voice that could make the mountains tremble. Himself and his father climbed the heights of Usna on Samhain, when he saw coming towards them a slender maiden of great beauty, clad in strange clothes. “Where do ... [more]
Strange are the ways of the Fairies of Ireland, and strange the look about them, but for all their wild and untamed manner they follow rules written in the ripples of willow-branches on still ponds, and laws murmured by the echo of birdsong in deep wells. Once there was a woman sitting in her cottage, a humble enough abode, and she was making wo ... [more]
There are many types of fairy in Ireland, some more risky than others, and some to be avoided due to their habits rather than out of any particular malevolence. Such a one is the Gan Ceanach, whose name means “Without Love”. Although you might think such a title would indicate a friendless creature of a lonely nature lacking in socia ... [more]
There are a great many raths or fairy forts of old scattered throughout Ireland today, numbering in the tens of thousands, and it is here, the wise say, that the good people or fairy folk gather to hold their revels. Nobody would dare to cross, let alone build on a fairy dwelling in the past, marking as they did the boundary between our civilise ... [more]
Near to the town of Fermoy in Ireland lies the great stack of Cairn Thierna, not as wide about nor as tall as some mountains perhaps but feared and respected by the local people nonetheless. For all around it and along its flanks are tall heaps of stones they say are the work of the fairy folk, or the old people who lived here long ago. And you ... [more]
On the road going down to Cork there's an old set of four walls that used to once be called Ronayne's Court. Although there's little enough to see of it nowadays still the stack of the chimneys stands proud, and on it can be seen the coat of arms of the family that built it and used to live there. They were a fine couple and had one ... [more]
It was known in times past in Ireland that there were men and women who could talk to the fairies, ask favours from them, and even live among them, and some used this acquaintance to work their will on the world, for good or for ill. Most famous, perhaps, among these people were the fairy healers of old. Biddy Early is the best known of their ki ... [more]
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Maurice Mulreaney was well known for travelling about the countryside without fear of anything living or otherwise, as quick to cross a graveyard or fairy mound as you or I would be to cross the street, for he didn't believe in that which he couldn't see with his own two eyes or touch with his own two hands, and he didn't bother with ol ... [more]
It wasn't a bad life for Fergus O'Hara in Owenmore, for all that himself and his wife Rose had little, the little they had was enough for them. Some goats, pigs and poultry ranged far and wide about their few acres, and a field of oats and potatoes kept them busy for the harvest and brought in a few pennies. It so happened that there lay ... [more]
The children of De Danann once ruled the island of Ireland, before they departed back to their own lands in the farthest west or went below the earth in their fairy mounds to dance and sing forevermore, but if you're lucky – or unlucky! – you might still come across them in the wild places and those deep forests yet untouched. An ... [more]
Some of the Sidhe in times of old would take a fondness for one particular family, protecting it and helping it rise in the world, and so it was with the O'Briens, who were known as the Dál gCais, or the Dalcassians. Their fairy guardian was called Aoibhell, whose name means burning ardour or beauty, depending on who you ask. She had ... [more]
Irish legends from time immemorial have a great deal to say about the land of the fairies, the home of the Tuatha De Danann, or the world of the Sidhe. There are those who claim it lies beneath fairy mounds or on the other side of deep caves where Druids once held tryst and shared magical secrets, while other tales tell of heroes and adventurers, e ... [more]
It's well known among those who know of such things that fairies love to dance more than anything else, and they take it ill should anything interfere with their merriment. And if someone wanted to spoil a dance, they could come up with few better ways of doing so than to send a herd of cattle wandering through! The hill atop Knockshegowna w ... [more]
The cheerful Leprechaun is about as well known an emblem of Ireland as you could want, but what truth lies behind the stories? Well the truth is nobody really knows the truth, for leprechauns are are a cagey bunch at the best of times, not prone to gossip or holding forth on the important events of the day or the local hurling results, even after a ... [more]
After the Tuatha De Dannan were defeated in battle by the great race of Milesians, who held sway in Ireland long after, some of the Tuatha decided to leave and go elsewhere while some chose to stay in Ireland. Those that stayed agreed that they must live beneath the earth, and they were led by a great King in the west, Finnbhear son of Dagda, who i ... [more]
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 kindl ... [more]