THE first book I ever read was called “Miss Pennyfeather and the Pooka”. It was written by Eileen O Faolain and published around 1944. I was very sick and very young and my great-aunt Frances – from The Concrete as it used be known – a very correctly-spoken, very straight-backed and very English lady cycled back to Fossa with the red clothbound book for me. I still have it. I still read it. My first attempts to write my address – a lios in Fossa- are on its pages.
It is a story about a fairy horse called Mikey Joe set in Blarney. And it is wonderful.
The point about all this? The raising of the fairies by Danny Healy-Rae has got the nation talking about fairies. In 2007 I covered the meeting when he first hinted that what was happening on that section of the N22 then a new road might not be all it seemed.
His further comments this week that he would “starve” rather than interfere with a fairy fort or a lios excited much reaction – a lot of it a grudging understanding from people who would prefer to forget their rural origins.
Does the TD “believe” in fairies, the news editor in the Irish Times asked me? Fairy lore is no theology, I thought to myself, and Danny is no theologian. But when I asked him he hit the nail on the head without ever having to consult Thomas Aquinas: it is what the people think and it is a shared view and he shares the view. These are sacred places.
There is much that we don’t know and they were linked to the people who were there before us.
This is an ancient land. It has been Christianised and an additional sacral landscape created that until very recently co-existed quite happily with the older one – churchyards and graveyards, and places called seantóirs lived alongside lioses. Ground that shouldn’t be disturbed and until recently was not. Trees that should not be cut.
The shared view of the sacred has helped preserve the country’s archaeology and has helped define us as a people, until recently at least when Mammon has flattened all before it, building walls in our minds.
Ultimately, Danny is right about the luck thing – whether it is the fairies coming after you or if it is a sign of arrogance – but disturbing the old places brings nothing good.
The Irish fairy is a peculiar creature. The “good people” is only to plamás them, I suspect, and being little makes them no less powerful. In fact, they seem more malevolent for being small. If you disturb them, they’ll be turning butter and changing children and maybe even the steering wheel on certain places on the N22. Let them be and they are fine, but rattle them and you will never hear the end of it!
Every nation has its ideas about sprites and fairies, from the ancient Greeks to the Vikings. Shakespeare not only delighted in them in Midsummer Night’s Dream, but retained the idea in his more serious work. “There are more things in Heaven and on Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” as Hamlet puts it. What else is Star Wars only a fairy story with machines?
It is not a lack of sophistication or backwardness, or lack of education that we retain a notion about our fairies – only that we have preserved it longer. It should be a mark of pride in this age that believes in colour therapy, touching healing stones, remedies in sniffing and in chanting eastern mantras!
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