Fairies and the Whitethorn

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Frequently when I speak with the locals in the land of County Clare about the fairies, or the good folk as they’re often referred to, I hear over and over again variations of the same story. The story goes something like this ~

“Some of the old folks still believe in the fairies but of course it’s all superstition and nonsense.” And then a moment or two later, the person speaking or the one beside them goes on to say “But you know, they were trying to build a roadway over a whitethorn and the locals came out and protested. They say if you cut down or otherwise harm one the them fairy trees, that there will be much bad luck and terrible accidents, especially for the one who cuts it down.  And don’t you know, there have been a lot of accidents right there in the spot on the road where the tree was felled.”

There are some variations on this theme, it may be a fairy fort or a fairy pathway where they have been known to gather or dwell. And the kind of harm or accidents that come to people in turn when such a dwelling of the fairies is harmed or destroyed varies as well. There are stories of death or serious injury to the one or ones who defaced such a dwelling. A development project may have been halted all together as the machinery broke or a person was terribly injured in the attempt.

There may be an unordinary number of car accidents in that location, or a building may have burned down shortly after it was erected. And in many of the stories, everybody in the area simply refuses to do the work. And from those same people who speak of the superstitions and nonsense of the old folks, they also say that they just wouldn’t mess with a whitethorn or a fort.

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One story I heard was from a man by the name of Eddie Lenihan, who has dedicated his life to collecting and telling the stories from the elders of County Clare. I had the honor of having a cup of tea with him in his home where there are hundreds of tape recordings of stories gathered from conversations with the old folks over the past thirty years. With his fine beard and wild eyes, it is easy to imagine he might have been from the other side himself.

And as one might expect, Eddie has an abundance of this sort of story. In fact, he had his own hand in keeping a whitethorn from being cut down in this same kind of way. One of the many hundreds of stories he collected from the old folks was about a whitethorn that was said to be the resting place of the Munster fairies when they gather to battle the fairies of Connaught. When  Eddie went to look for this tree it was indeed precisely where the elder told him it would be and like many fairy trees, it was alone in the vast expanse of green.

So when at some later date a developer wanted to cut it down and build a highway over the tree, Eddie, for the sake of everyone’s health and safety, shared the word that this whitethorn was a fairy dwelling, as evidenced by the the old man’s story, and so should not be harmed.  None of the local contractors would touch it, so the developers went to get some folks from out of the area.  They hired city folk from Dublin who scoffed at the locals for their superstitious nonsense. And when construction resumed, a Dubliner was driving a front-loading tractor towards the tree to uproot it, and wouldn’t you know the machine overturned.  From that point, none of the dubliners would touch the tree.  The country spent 1.5 million euro making a bend in the highway to save this tree.

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We can assume that the fairy folk still find their rest in this whitethorn from time to time, and that the fairy faith still has a home in the west hills of Erin.

* With deep gratitude to Eddie and all that he does. To learn more about Eddie’s work, order one of his books or listen to him tell a story – all really worth it – you can visit his website or find him on youtube.*

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