While most folks in Ireland today will tell you they’ve left the fairy faith in the past, there is some evidence that it still exists. What’s fairy faith? Belief in fairies, of course.
The History of Fairy Faith
When the Milesians, that mythical race described by an 11th century scholar in Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions), came to Ireland they banished the natives to the underground and they became the Sidhe, the fairy folk who live underground and sometimes reside in certain trees or bushes, usually of the hawthorn variety. You don’t want to disturb the fairy folk or you might bring some kind of misfortunate on yourself.
The Trees Today
Cutting down one of those fairy trees would certainly disturb them. The Irish would go out of their way not to do that. That’s why you might see a lone tree in the middle of a farmer’s field, the base piled up with stones just to be sure one did not accidentally bump into it.
You also might see a road or even a highway routed around such a tree. You can read one story here.
I took the picture below of a fairy tree in the rooftop garden of the Saint Patrick Centre, Downpatrick. How did it get there? I’m sworn to secrecy!
Tips for Visitors
It’s probably best not to mention the trees to the people who plow around them. And I’ve also heard that the fairies themselves do not appreciate being called by that name. Refer to them as the wee folk, please, if you must bring up the topic at all.
Hawthorns sport pretty blossoms in the spring. Don’t be tempted to bring a branch inside a house, however. Some people believe it’s good luck to hang one outside over a doorway, but not inside the house. Bring your host something else if you’re trying to make a good impression.
More About Hawthorns
These trees are among Ireland’s most ancient. They can live to be 400 years old. The Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland is working to find these trees and record them. In fact, they are asking for the public’s help. Hmm, wonder why folks aren’t more forthcoming in identifying them. Bad luck, maybe?
The ancient Greeks used to carry Hawthorn branches in wedding ceremonies, but somehow during medieval times the tree took on a lore that might help, in part, to explain why people avoid them. The crown of thorns that Christ wore during his crucifixion is said to have been made from a Hawthorn tree.
Trees in Ireland have always held significance. Some clans had their own speccies of tree and the ancient druids held some trees, like the yew and oak, in great esteem. I wrote about that in a previous post.
If you have anything to add about fairy trees or tree lore, I’d love to hear!
Cindy Thomson is the author of Celtic Wisdom and Brigid of Ireland. She enjoys exploring Irish history, especially the Early Christian period. She has written numerous articles on Irish genealogy. Visit her blog Celtic Voices and her web site where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter.