Madam President, Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and very welcome guests.
By a show of hands, please let me know if you believe any of these superstitions?
- Do you salute magpies?
- Does the number 13 worry you?
- Do you believe in fairies?
Superstition, noun – excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural.
Do I consider myself superstitious? No, I don’t. I spent a lot of time when I was growing up dismissing my Great Grandfathers incredible levels of superstitious belief’s, which, according to my Grandmother included one where it was unlucky if the first person you saw on New Years Day was a redhead. This was awkward for my great-grandfather as 50% of his eight children were redheads, including my Grandmother. I always thought he should have been a bit more pragmatic about this particular superstition.
When I was researching this speech, I discovered that not putting shoes on a table was a superstition, previously I had thought it was just good manners or a thing that my Grandmother didn’t like to either do or to see people do, and I thought that it may have had something to do with mud. As a child I asked her once and I think she said “we just don’t”. It is however a habit that I have adopted from her.
Recently, I saw a tweet that spoke directly to me and it got me thinking. It said: “The modern Irish dichotomy of not believing in fairies but being damn sure not to f around and find out”.
Fairy trees are usually solitary hawthorn or ash trees that stand alone in a field, on the side of a hill, by a stream, or on a fairy ring or fort. People try to avoid damaging or interfering with fairy trees out of respect for and fear of the wrath of the fairies protecting the trees. This is because fairies will furiously protect their dwellings and woe betide anyone stupid enough to mess with them, because death and destruction awaits them. There are a lot of stories that back up this belief.
Fairies are a secretive, supernatural people with pagan roots, who are blamed for many things that human people cannot explain. They are said to be our ancestors, spirits of nature, or gods and goddesses, but, it seems they may have been driven by us to withdraw from our world to the otherworld to live in fairy forts.
There was a fairy fort on land that my uncle owned and I remember him bringing my Grandmother and I to see it, Gran stood beside her son, my uncle, and me, at the perimeter of the field pointing at the fort and instructing us “Do not go near that fairy fort!”. My uncle and I looked at each other with an expression that said “we’re not stupid, why would we do that?”
The idea of not believing in fairies but being damn sure not to f around and find out goes as far as the highest Courts in the land, as there are a number of cases of motorways having to be moved so that they do not interfere with a fairy tree or fort. One of the cases delayed the motorway being built for years. Fairies also appear in a number of Court cases involving fraud and kidnapping going back through the years. There are presently 34 results for the search term fairy forts on the Oireachtas website.
WB Yeats seems to have spent some time thinking about Fairies because he said:
“Fairies in Ireland are sometimes as big as we are, sometimes bigger, and sometimes, as I have been told, about three feet high”.
What Yeats didn’t mention is that an Irish fairy does not look like a Disney fairy. Irish fairies look just like us, don’t have wings, but, they do have the ability to conceal themselves. Fairies have lives like ours, but, sometimes need human help with certain tasks and they can be belligerent but are placatable.
There used to be a tradition of building a house for the fairies when you built a house for humans. I was on Inis Mor earlier this year and you can still see some lovely examples of this sweet habit. This tradition comes from the idea that fairies can make great neighbours if you are nice to them. Thankfully you don’t need to furnish fairy houses, they look after that end of things themselves.
My mischievous side would like to buy a plot of land and stage a fairy fort complete with a tree and then just wait to see how many knots people would tie themselves in, to not disturb my non existent fairies, in the future. Unless of course fairies do exist and move into my fort? Hm, trying to explain my ‘joke’ to the fairies could be troublesome. Best not go there.
In conclusion, the tweet I read crystallised my thoughts that even though I don’t believe in fairies, I quite like the idea of them, even if they are three feet high or taller than us, or whether or not they are flower fairies or a more mischievous and malevolent creature.
Yeats said it best when he wrote “Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame”.
It is possible that the reason fairies appeal to me is the sense of adventure and anarchy that surrounds them, and no, I would not intentionally interfere with either a fairy tree or a fairy fort. Just in case. You never know. Would you?
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This reminds me of the opening of Trinity, by Leon Uris, where they talked about dealing with death and being wary of offending the fairies. Thanks for sharing.