What do you do when you come upon a Fairy ring, Fairy mound, or Fairy fort? If you put your clothes on inside-out, do you fix them or wear them? Have you ever placed a piece of clothing on a rag tree? Today’s talk by the National Library of Ireland shared the impact of Irish Folklore and Fairytales on Yeats and discussed superstitions that are alive and well today.
I took a trip to Ireland several years ago. Our home base was in Dublin. There are many wonderful reasons to visit Dublin, but our primary focus was exploring its fascinating history. From Vikings, monastic sites, to fairies, there was a lot of history to explore. We visited the National Museum of Ireland, the Clontarf 1014: Brian Boru and the Battle for Dublin exhibit was the highlight. The exhibition of Clontarf, the best-known battle in Irish History, explored the myths and evidence of what really happened in the battle of the pagan Vikings versus the Christian King, Brian Boru. The battle ended with the Vikings leaving Ireland. It was the most exhilarating exhibit; I am grateful we explored it while we were there.
When we entered the Albert Bender Irish Artistic Connections collection, there were correspondences with J.B. Yeats. This was the first time I understood the importance of W. B. Yeats to the historical preservation of Irish history, specifically folklore.
Having since read both Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry and Irish Fairytales by Yeats, the world of historical and modern Irish folklore and superstitions emerged. W. B. Yeats took Irish fairytales seriously and is most likely the reason people shared their personal stories of interactions with the Gentry with him.
The National Library of Ireland shared how their belief in fairies helped the peasants deal with the harsh realities of life. They shared fairytales to learn about morals and instructive for life’s challenges. How Irish fairytales different from many fairytales we are familiar with today, it that the Irish fairy or the Gentry should be respected and feared.
For as Yeats said:
While the hour-long talk included many of Yeats’s poems, the one I was most interested in was The Wicked Hawthorn Tree. A poem I was not overly familiar with. Hearing it with the Irish accent was beautiful. He wrote the poem originally for a play to be performed in a Japanese-style theatre, intended to be sung. Yeats believed he should write poetry like music, creating a trans-like atmosphere for those watching the play.
Irish believed the Hawthorn tree to be the meeting place of fairies and the portals into the fairy realm. Current superstitions believe they must protect solitary Hawthorns. Farmers build stone fences around the trees to keep the cattle from tearing at their leaves and bark. The trees are good luck when left alone, but plucking their flowers or cutting them will bring misfortune. The theory that stuck with me was the Hathorn tree, believed to guard the portals to the fairy realm, was discussing the passage of time with one of the Gentry. Mourning the brevity of life while the Hawthorn tree guarded what remained: The belief in fairies.
So, if you see a field filled with Hawthorns or a fairy mound, what would you do?
An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach
He who travels has stories to tellIrish Proverb