Fairies - Fuel for Fantasy!
When one thinks of Fairies, the first thing that comes to mind is a tiny, tinkerbell like creature flying around and waving her magic wand, sprinkling the good fortune of her magical dust on deserving mortals.
Much like there are many different types of humans, a fairy can take many forms and come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and disposition. Let's take a look at some of Ireland's favorite and most famous, you'll soon see that they're not all as pleasant, or as tiny as Tinkerbell!
Ireland's legends are full of mythical, magical creatures, and none is more famous than the shoemaking, heavy drinking guardian of the rainbows pot o' gold and other treasure left in Ireland by the Danes. Many people don't realize that he's one of the fairies, but he is, and one in good standing!
The Leprechaun takes his name from the gaelic leath bhrogan meaning shoemaker. Another accepted theory is that his name comes from the Irish Gaelic word leipreachán, meaning pygmy or sprite.
And how did a lowly shoemaker become guardian of all of the treasures belonging to his Fairy kin? Well, he had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time when he saw the Danes burying their loot in pots and urns.
The Leprechaun protects the treasures from humans lest they squander it, as he considers them greedy, wasteful and fickle creatures. Whatever gave him that impression of us, heaven knows!
In most tales and stories leprechauns are depicted as generally harmless creatures who enjoy solitude and live in remote locations, and although rarely seen in social situations, leprechauns are supposedly very well spoken and, if ever spoken to, could make good conversation. They are obviously quite intelligent, as they are constantly outsmarting humans, though argument can be made that duping a human blinded by greed is no mean feet!
It is said that a Leprechaun carries two pouches with him, in one there is a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to the purse each time it is paid out. In the other he carries a gold coin which he uses in his attempts to bribe his way out of difficult situations. Once the Leprechaun has bought his freedom, the gold coin will turn to ashes!
Many Irish people find the popularized image of a leprechaun to be little more than a series of offensive Irish stereotypes and a trivialization of ancient Irish culture, or perhaps they resent being depicted as mischievous, heavy drinking, shoemakers. Well, understood. The Irish are mischievous, however, most of them buy their shoes at a shoe store just like the rest of us!
The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy) is considered to be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their impending time of death. Traditionally, when a citizen of an Irish village died, a woman would sing a lament at their funeral. For five great families; the O'Gradys, the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, and the Kavanaghs, the lament would be sung by these fairies.
They would appear before their death and sing their sorrowful, wailing song as only fairies can.
Banshees appear in the form of either a beautiful maiden, a stately matron, or an old hag, wearing a hooded cloak or a grave robe similar to that of the Grim Reaper, which in fact she is akin to. Understandably, banshees are not the most popular fairies in Ireland, though they are amongst the most infamous.
These fairies are the Irish equivalent of the beautiful maiden of the sea we all know as the Mermaid. The name Merrow is applied only to the female of the species, the males, as in western culture, are known as Mermen. The males are supposedly very hideous looking creatures, ugly and vile, while the Merrows are beautiful. 'Tis no wonder then that Merrows have the reputation of being promiscuous with humans and there are reports of them inter-marrying and living among humans for many years. However, like all fairies, they miss their mystical lives and most times eventually return to their former homes beneath the sea.
It should not, however be assumed that Merrows are kindly and well-disposed towards mortals. An old tract found in the Book of Lecain states that a king of the Fomorians, when sailing over the Ictean sea, had been enchanted by the music of mermaids until he came within reach of these fairies, then they "tore his limbs asunder and scattered them on the sea". In some parts of Ireland, they are regarded as messengers of doom & death.
Then why do these fairies marry humans you may ask? Well remember what the Mermen look like! Legend also has it that Merrows wear special clothing that allows them to swim beneath the sea. In order to come ashore she must remove them, and a human who finds them can hold her ransom as she needs the special clothes to return to the sea. Women and their wardrobes huh?
These Merrows are often extremely wealthy, with fortunes of gold looted from shipwrecks, hence the desire of the human to entrap her. Eventually however the Merrow will outfox her male companion, recover her clothes, and with it, her desire to return to the sea and her life beneath the waves.
Some famous Irish families claim their descent from such unions, though I know not why, notably the O'Flaherty and O'Sullivan families of Kerry and the MacNamaras of Clare. I always knew there was something fishy about that lot! Sorry, couldn't resist!
The Dullahan is a "Headless Horseman" type fairy, an unseelie or one of the damned or dark fairies and is believed accounts of them told by Irish immigrants may have inspired Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".
Mounted on a black steed, he gallops through the night using a human spine to whip his fire breathing horse into a frenzied run. His eyes are massive and constantly dart about like flies, while the mouth is constantly in a hideous grin that touches both sides of the head much like the Jack 'O Lantern of the Headless Horseman.
In some areas of Ireland he is said to drive a coach drawn by six black horses, setting fire to the road behind it because of its frenetic pace. When the dullahan stops riding, a mortal dies. There is no way to bar the road against a dullahan--all locks and gates open on their own when it approaches. Also, they do not appreciate being watched while on their errands, throwing a basin of blood on those who dare to do so. Nonetheless, they are frightened of gold, and even a single gold pin can drive a dullahan away.
The Dullahan doesn't speak unless it is to shout out the name of the unfortunate person who is about to die. Stopping his horse at the door of the doomed, he cries out the name, drawing the soul into the netherworld.
Of all the fairies in Ireland, none is more ghastly than the Pooka! Taking the form of a dark horse with venomous eyes and a flowing, untamed mane, it wanders the countryside at night destroying property and terrorizing livestock and other animals.
Depending on the area it inhabits, the Pooka can also undertake other forms. For instance, in remote areas of County Down, the pooka becomes a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest.
In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a terrifying hobgoblin; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a giant wingspan, swooping travelers up onto its back and dumping them in ditches, and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns.
The Pooka can speak and it has been known to stop in front of certain houses and call out the names of those it wants to take upon its midnight jaunts. If a person refuses, because of its vindictive nature the pooka will vandalise their property. Reminds me of some of my friends
A changeling is the offspring of a fairy, troll, elf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child. Fairy females can find birth a difficult experience, and many of their offspring die before birth or are born deformed. The adult fairies, who are aesthetic beings, are repelled by these infants and have no wish to keep them.
The fairies swap them with healthy children who they steal from the mortal world. The wizened, ill tempered creature left in place of the human child is generally known as a changeling and possesses the power to work evil in a household.
According to some legends, it is possible to detect changelings, as they are much wiser than human children. When changelings are detected in time, their parents have to take them back. In one tale of the Brothers Grimm, there's an account of how a woman, who suspected that her child had been exchanged by the fairies, started to brew beer in the hull of an acorn. The changeling uttered: "now I am as old as an oak in the woods but I have never seen beer being brewed in an acorn", then disappeared.
No luck will come to a family in which there is a changeling because the creature drains away all the good fortune which would normally attend the household. Thus, those who are cursed with it tend to be very poor and struggle desperately to maintain the ravenous monster in their midst.
Changelings have prodigious appetites and will eat all that is set before them. The changeling has teeth and claws and does not take the breast like a human infant, but eats food from the larder. When the creature is finished each meal, it will demand more. Changelings have been known to eat the cupboard bare and still not be satisfied. Yet no matter how much it devours, the changeling remains as scrawny as ever.
Changelings do not live long in the mortal world. They usually shrivel up and die within the first two or three years of their human existence. The changeling is mourned and buried, but if its grave is ever disturbed all that will be found is a blackened twig or a piece of bog oak where the body of the infant should be. Some live longer but rarely into their teens.
One positive feature which these fairies may demonstrate if they do survive in the mortal world is an aptitude for music. As it begins to grow, the changeling may take up an instrument, often the fiddle or the Irish pipes, and plays with such skill that all who hear it will be entranced.
THE LEGEND OF THE SHAMROCK
Long ago, when Ireland was the land of Druids, there was a great Bishop, Patrick by name, who came to teach the word of God throughout the country. This saint, for he was indeed a saint, was well loved everywhere he went. One day, however, a group of his followers came to him and admitted that it was difficult for them to believe in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Saint Patrick reflected a moment and then, stooping down, he plucked a leaf from the shamrock and held it before them, bidding them to behold the living example of the "Three-in-One." The simple beauty of this explanation convinced these skeptics, and from that day, the shamrock has been revered throughout Ireland.
It has been said that St. Patrick also used the shamrock to demonstrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) to the Ancient High Kings of Ireland. The word shamrock is derived from the Irish "seamrog," meaning "summer plant." The symbol of the shamrock is found on Irish medieval tombs and on old copper coins, know as St. Patrick's money. The plant was reputed to have mystic powers --- the leaves standing upright to warn of an approaching storm.
Green is associated with St. Patrick's Day because it is the color of the shamrock, the color of Spring and new life, and the color of Ireland. The Irish landscape is green all year round. The shamrock is worn by millions of people all over the world on St. Patrick's Day, not only by the Irish and those of Irish descent, but by all who relate to the indominable spirit of Ireland.
THE LEGEND OF THE BLARNEY STONE
For many centuries, as everyone knows, English monarchs tried to impose their will on Ireland. Queen Elizabeth I, eager to extend the influence of her government, sent a deputy to Cormac MacDermot MacCarthy, who was Lord of Blarney, and demanded that he take the tenure of his lands from the Crown. Cormac set out to visit the Queen and plead for his traditional right to his land, but he despaired for success for he was not fluent of speech.
Shortly after starting his journey, he met an old woman who asked him why he looked so forlorn. He told her his story and she said, "Cormac, when Blarney Castle was built, one stone was put into place by a man who predicted no one would ever be able to touch it again. If you can kiss that stone, the gift of eloquence will be conferred upon you."
Cormac traveled back to his castle and succeeded in kissing the stone. He then was able to go and address the Queen with speech so soft and words so fair that as long as he lived, he never had to renounce his right to his land. From that time forward, people have traveled from many lands to try to kiss the Blarney stone and receive the "gift of gab" and eloquence of speech.
THE LEGEND OF IRELAND'S MAGIC HARP
In the misty hills of Ireland
A long, long time ago,
There lived a lovely Irish lass
Who loved her father so.
One day he went to fetch some wood,
But he did not soon return,
And so his loving daughter's heart
Was filled with great concern.
She searched for him throughout the day,
And when a fog came in
She wept, for she was fearful
They would never meet again.
Then suddenly, a little band
Of leprechauns came by.
They all were very saddened
To hear the lovely maiden cry.
They asked if they might have a lock
Of her long and golden hair,
Then tied the silken strands across
A crooked limb with care.
'Twas a magic harp they'd made,
And when the maiden touched each strand,
The music led her father home
Across the misty land.
And to this day the harp remains
A cherished symbol of
The blessings of the hearth and home
The Irish dearly love.
Read some Irish Fairytales online in our Orange section
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