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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.
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.
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.
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
The people of Ireland before the time of Saint Patrick had many strange customs, and some of these survive even to this very day, often mixed and combined with Christian rites and beliefs! One of those traditions was the sunwise walk. What this meant was, in order for good luck to attend an event, you had to walk around it sunwise or deiseal, pr ... [more]
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”. Oft ... [more]
One upon a time in Ireland, in the farthest west of County Clare, there lived a brave young chieftain whose name was O'Quinn. A kindly enough man was he, and fair to behold, of ruddy locks and clean limbs, and he made his Dún on a flat plain near to a clearwater spring, the purest in all of Ireland and perhaps all the world. He was co ... [more]
Cursing of various sorts has a history as long and rich as Ireland's own, stretching from the very earliest tales of the first settlers in Ireland all the way to the modern day. Whether a quick muttered malediction on someone who had crossed you or an elaborate, lengthy poem intended to satirise and ruin the legacy of a king, the mallacht, or c ... [more]
Much has been said but little written of the old Irish piseóg, the word of the curse. Now the same term is often used to refer to general traditions and superstitions in Ireland, things like if you're ever lost, turn your socks inside out to find your way home, or opening the back door if you hear a knock at the front door, to let the fa ... [more]
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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 ... [more]
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 ... [more]
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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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They do say that once upon a time, long ago, there lived a lady of great beauty in a castle on a lake, and her hair was fair as gold, shining in the summer sun. She had been promised to a king's son, the lord of a nearby kingdom, but as he was coming to see her one dark November evening, who should come upon him but the warriors of a jealous lo ... [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]
There was a prince in Ireland a long, long time ago, back when Ireland still had princes, and O'Donall was his name. A brave fellow he was, and powerful, but given to risk and heedless thrills in his hunting and leaping and running and swimming, all the better to impress his friends. He was lord of a wide land, and he wasn't hard on the poo ... [more]
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]
They say that in Ireland you will enjoy all four seasons in a day, but on this day the four seasons were high and glorious summer, or so it seemed to Tom Fitzpatrick as he walked along a narrow road between two tall hedges in harvest time. As he walked, he chanced to hear a strange ringing like a tiny bell, and he paused, puzzled as to what it migh ... [more]