Irish Fairies: Fact or Fiction?

Allison Dunn is a student at Seattle University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Dublin, Ireland.

Fairy tree at Hill of Tara, Co. Leinster, Ireland, Dunn-- Photo 1
“The ghosts and goblins do still live and rule in the imaginations of the innumerable Irish men and women, and not merely in remote places, but close even to big cities…” W.B. Yeats, “Irish Fairies” 1890

If you had asked me if I believed in fairies a month a go, I would have answered, “no,” and given you a seriously strange look. It’s 2015. No one fosters a strong belief in fairies anymore, unless they’ve recently watched the live action Peter Pan movie from 2003 and felt very guilty during the “I do believe in fairies” scene. So, needless to say, it was a very strange and surreal moment for me when I was told— on my third day in the city, “The fairies will guide ya,” after receiving some very vague directions to Merrion Square.

But this wasn’t the only time that talk of fairies has come up in conversation. Just the other week I was speaking with professors and TAs of mine at a mixer that marked the end of the Semester Start-Up Program at Trinity College Dublin. After initial lamentations about the program ending all too quickly, the subject of the supernatural arose and we soon began swapping ghost stories, theorizing what animal could emit the sound generally attributed to a banshee (we decided an owl was the best bet), and other strange stories about bats swimming up toilet pipes and terrorizing poor souls who just wanted to relieve themselves in the middle of the night. Granted, that last one wasn’t totally supernatural, but we did get a good laugh out of it.

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, Dunn-- Photo 2

But a story that really stuck out during this conversation was one that concerned fairy forts. Fairy forts are raised hills that generally have a circle of gnarled trees or bushes surrounding its perimeter, and often believed to be the burial place of non-christened babies, their souls now in the care of these fay creatures. Regardless of who or what is buried there, these fairy forts are considered to be sacrosanct by many Irish citizens and people are often paid for interfering, destroying, or removing them—whether in euros or sudden misfortune. In the story I was told, both came into play. My professor said that a few years ago a road was being built to more directly connect two Irish counties. The process had gone smoothly for the most part, until the workers found that a fairy fort existed on the proposed route of the new road. Initially, not being terribly superstitious, it was decided that the fort would be removed and the road built in its place. However, when the first excavator was brought in to dig up the fort, it got stuck in the mud and was rendered useless. After fighting with it for half a day, a tow truck had to be called to pull it out and another excavator was brought in to finish the demolition. As the second excavator approached the site of the fairy fort, its huge shovel ready to cut deep into the ground, it mysteriously broke down— despite the fact that nothing seemed to be wrong with it upon multiple inspections of its engine. Now— for good reason— the crew was more than a little apprehensive to touch the site at all, in fear of further (and possibly more intense) misfortune or additional costs. It was then unanimously decided that the road would be built around the site, giving it a considerably wide berth.

Hill of Tara, Co. Leinster, Ireland, Dunn Photo 3

So now? After a month of settling into the city of Dublin, hearing numerous stories from locals about strange supernatural happenings, and tying a twine wish to the infamous Fairy tree on the Hill of Tara — Do I believe in fairies? In a word, yes. Perhaps not in the explicit existence of colorful sprites, toothy trolls, or screaming banshees, but more so in the power of the belief itself to exert an influence over nearly all aspects of Irish life.

Want to learn more about the Emerald Isle? Check out “5 Ways to Get Out and Explore Ireland”

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