Whether you believe in fairies or not you cannot ignore them and here for the first time is a history of fairy life in Ireland. A large part of this book is concerned with relations between mortals and fairies.
Stories of magical groups of fairies such as the Far Darrig, Merrows, Silkies, Banshees, the Lianhan Shee, Pookas, Dullahans and Ghosts, their characteristics and their activites abound. A History of Irish Fairies takes fairies as seriously as they deserve.
What is a Fairy?
'Fairy?' is the generic term for all creatures, mistakenly called 'supernatural', who are neither in God?'s nor the devil?'s service. Fairies inhabit most countries of the world, but each nation has its particular cultural group. Irish leprechauns, Scottish brownies and German kobolds are all fairies, all independent of religion and quite natural in movement, taste and manners.
In Ireland two distinct fairy types exist ?- the trooping fairies and the solitary fairies. The trooping fairies are to be found in merry bands about the hawthorn tree or at feasts in gilded fairy palaces. They delight in company, while the solitary fairies avoid large gatherings, preferring to be left by themselves and separate from one another. The trooping fairies (the chief concern of Part I of this book) are the major and presiding residents of fairyland; but the solitary ones have greater interest in mortal affairs and hence are generally more familiar to us.
Irish fairyland exists now. It has always existed alongside mortal borders. And there has always been considerable intercourse between the two realms, although the traffic has diminished in modern times. But although few mortals have the ability any more to see those of fairyland, fairies still live in immortal good health and will yet manifest themselves to those sincere of belief and simple and passionate in nature.
Faery or fairyland is the world in which fairies reside. Some say that the word ?'faery' means magic, but that is because, to most moral eyes, the world seems unreal and lawless. By fairy standards the land of faery and its ways are natural and orderly. ?'Faery?' is merely a descriptive term with which mortals acknowledge the living land and extension of immortal beings called fairies.
Fairies exist all over the world. In Persia they are called Peri, in Greece Fata or Destines. In Provençal they are Fada, in Spanish Hada. The names all imply fate. In Ireland they are the sidhe (pronounced shee), a name they have retained from ancient days when they were recognised as gods. In a group they are the daione sidhe or fairy people; singly each one is siog (sheogue). Some say they get their name Aes Sidhe (folk of the sidhe hillock or mound) from the large sidhe or mound in which they inhabit; but others claim that the hillocks got their name from the fairies' habitation of them. The point is still disputed.
Most often the Irish fairies are called the good people or the gentry. In Greece mortals called the blood-thirsting Furies the Eumenides or the kindly ones in the hope that they would not destroy their lands or people. In Ireland the title 'the good people' serves the same function, because the fairies, quick to be offended, must be placated or they might, in a moment of anger, devastate the crops or cause mortal children to sicken and die. What is good for a fairy might be fatal for a mortal; so we hope that by flattering them, they might keep us favourably in mind.
Fairies prefer, above all else to be left alone. They are at home in their world of intense emotion and delicate sensibilities. Their emotions are unmixed, so that they love and hate with a good heart, their love never palling, their vengeance never anything but deadly and sure. They are beautiful; they own all the treasures of the earth and hence can afford the luxury of generosity. Although they delight in fine wines and feasting, they are never intemperate and hence never suffer from drunkenness or obesity. However, they do not by any means uphold Aristotelian principle of moderation; rather they have a strong sense of good form and despise vulgarization. They therefore loathe uncleanliness and any niggardly or petty behaviour. They are aristocrats who take their refinements as the world?'s norm.
Fairies are passionate creatures who give themselves totally to whatever they do and cannot understand those who do not maintain the same intensity. The present alone exists for the sidhe ?- past and future being no more than pleasurable blurs; therefore their intense moments are never dulled by hopes or regrets or memories of former attachments. What they love or hate intensely today, they may forget tomorrow. They will not wear an old sentiment for nostalgia's sake.
If all the world were faery, the world would be an intense and lively place. But since fairyland and the mortal realms overlap, there will always be a conflict of interests. Fairies, no matter how much they desire it, can never be alone, because mortals have the habit of frequently wandering into their world as they do into ours. Fairies, therefore, have learned to take us for granted. They are not subtle reasoners and therefore cannot comprehend that our manners of living might be alien to theirs. They pick us up and use us as instruments of their own pleasure, because they are careless to consult our wants and needs in such matters. For them the world is a mirror of their desire. Whatever they want, they appropriate; and if the desired object is a mortal and hence protests, they look at him as some curio, which may be turned into an amusement or cast as easily away. Fairies are not evil; they are merely careless. Some might call them self-centred but this is not at all the case. In truth, they do not think of themselves at all, and can never have genuine possessions because they do not divide the world into mine and yours. What the moment brings they embrace; and being immortal they are fearless of consequences.
Since mortals are about and fairies have gotten used to us, the good people do ask certain small courtesies, such as never draining the wine glass at a feast or a poteen flask or a milk pail. If you keep the fire going throughout the night and never throw a pail of dirty water away until you make sure that it will not land on a fairy going invisibly about his or her errands, the fairies will show their gratitude. When well-treated they are generous folk; but they are deadly to those who wrong them.
If one is a mortal it is hard to have anything to do with the good people without getting some kind of mark from them. Their ways are not ours; and they have never been ones for learning foreign customs. Therefore it is wisest for mortals, whose minds are ore malleable and bodies more vulnerable, to learn the ways and the doings of the sidhe.
Fairies as Gods
The Tuatha Dé Danann, the divine folk descended from the mother goddess Dana or Danu, were gods from Greece (some say, of the Golden race) who came into Ireland enshrouded by a magical mist which hid the sun and their appearance for three days and three night. Through necromantic arts and superior martial skills, they soon wrested the island from its former inhabitants. But they had not reigned long when the sons of Mil (known as the high Milesian race, from which present-day Irish men and women are descended) attacked. At first they were repulsed by the magic about the island's shores, but the mortal race finally prevailed and an agreement was struck between gods and men. The mortal conquerors would inhabit the earth?'s surface, while the defeated gods would enter the sea caves and the earth?'s bowels and make their homes there. Some say that St. Patrick himself made a pact with the Tuatha Dé Danann so as to retain the sun-known land for Christian use, but he was obviously centuries too late; upon his arrival the Tuatha Dé Danann were already well adapted to their underworld, although they still had an inclination for visiting their former lands.
When the sons of Mil, that is to say, humankind, came to share the island, they referred to the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the gods as the sidhe of Ireland. And to this day, the Tuatha Dé Danann have retained the name. Although now underground and generally invisible to mortals, the sidhe or fairies, have retained their godly powers. When they were known as the Tuatha Dé Danann, they controlled the elements; at their will crops prospered or withered. In fact, although men conquered the gods, they did not enjoy their victory for long. Neither their crops would grow nor their cows give milk until humankind made peace with the gods and appeased them. If fairs were held in the gods' honour, then the immortal ones would protect the corn and milk and land from invaders, at the same time insuring that there would be royal-blooded heroes to lead and tender women to love, merriment in every home and nets full of fish. But if the fairs were not held, humans would have decay, early greyness and young, inexperienced kings. In those early days, mortal were godlike and hence the gods cared for and respected them. But since then gods and mortals have parted ways, the gods becoming indifferent, mortals sceptical. Yet the sidhe have always governed the elements, even though they no longer serve mortals well with their power. The sidhe still encourage and destroy the seed; as always, they raise and quell storms.
The fairies are known no longer by the name Tuatha Dé Dannan and therefore many have claimed that the Tuatha Dé Dannan (despite their immortality and divine abilities) died at the hands of the invading mortals. Hence, they argue, the fairies must be of a different race altogether. Yet every quality and power the Tuatha Dé Dannan wre known to possess can be attributed to the fairies. Not only their name ?- the sidhe - unites them. The Tuatha Dé Dannan knew no limits of time, were pre-eminent in magical arts and capable of changing their shapes at will. They not only were guardians of a land of sumptuous plenty in which every manner of sensual non-cloying pleasure could be enjoyed, but they had individual palaces in which every fairy was indulged. The timelessness, the magic, the shape-changing, the land of plenty and the wondrous palaces are all now in fairy possession.
The sidhe (be they recognized as gods or fairies) have been and still are master builders, poets and musicians. In the ancient days, only the Daghda, king of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, could perform on the harp the three masterful strains ?ÛÒ the first lulling his listeners to sleep, the second provoking them to ceaseless laughter, and the third wringing tears and lamentations. The fairies today possess the Daghda's art. And why should they not; is not the Daghda (although unseen for centuries by mortals) still among them, playing the harp? Are not the sidhe as accomplished, as wise and as life-rich as they have been for thousands of years? Humankind may not recall the name of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, but the fairies have never forgotten that they are the gods descended from Danu.
Fairies as Fallen Angels
When the Christians came to Ireland in the fifth century they endeavoured to discredit mortal belief in the gods called the Tuatha Dé Dannan. Since they could not dismiss these potent entities, they declared them to be heroes and thus gave them a historical instead of a divine aura. It being easier to kill a hero than a god, the Christians soon declared, not without some regret (for it is well known that St. Patrick himself was fond of the tales of the sidhe), that the Tuatha Dé Dannan, though mighty and long-lived, were, at last, defunct.
Carolyn White has a PhD in Comparative Literature. She has studied in France and travelled extensively in Europe.