~ Rememberin’ The Days of Eire ~

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With the approach of St Patrick’s Day, ’tis fitting to reflect back on some of the old myths, legends, and history of the Emerald Isle that we call Ireland.

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 A lot of the stories told dealt in the currency of magic – curses and charms.  Others are heroic tales.  Many feature fairies and other supernatural beings such as leprechauns, banshees, sheeries and the Pooka – the most feared of all, a vindictive fairy, sometimes appearing in the guise of the bogeyman himself.

Tales also exist of pipers being led away, condemned forever to entertain the fairies, and of ‘changelings’ – unwanted fairy children, left to replace a kidnapped human child.  A more benevolent fairy, the small and hairy but very friendly Grogoch, features in many folk stories particularly from the northern glens and Rathlin Island.

Who knows if all or any are based on actual events, but many are connected to actual places such as The Giant’s Causeway, and its legend of Finn MacCool, still maintains a strong presence in our culture to this very day.

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The Legend of Finn MacCool

The story goes that one day the fifty foot tall Ulster giant Finn MacCool, grew angry when he heard that a Scottish giant Benandonner was mocking his fighting ability. He threw a rock across the Irish Sea to Scotland, attaching to it a challenge to the rival giant. The Scottish giant quickly threw a message tied to a rock back to Finn, stating that he would not take up the challenge because he couldn’t swim to reach Ireland. Finn swore not to let the Scottish giant off so easily and responded by tearing down the great pieces of volcanic rock that lay near the coast and stood the pieces upright, making them into pillars that formed a Causeway stretching from Ireland to Scotland.

The Scottish giant now had no excuse but to come to Finn’s house. MacCool, masquerading as an 18-foot baby, bit the Scottish giant’s hand and chased him back to Scotland, flinging huge lumps of earth after him. One of the large holes he created filled with water and became Lough Neagh. One large lump of earth missed the Scottish giant, fell into the Irish Sea, and is now known as the Isle of Man.

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Folklore of the Trees

There has always been a strong association in the glens between the hawthorn tree and the fairies. Small, gnarled hawthorns, often of great age, survive on slopes and in the fields where other obstructions to the plough have long since been removed. Stories abound of the misfortunes that have befallen those foolish enough to cut down a ‘skeoch’, as they are known, e.g. someone struck dumb or even a man’s head turned back to front! Twigs of hazel are favoured by water diviners and noted for providing protection against mischievous fairies. Tying a hazel branch to a horse, for example, discourages fairies from taking the animal. Alder, on the other hand is feared for harbouring water spirits and the ash is said to be the first tree that lightening will strike, and should be avoided in a storm.

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Ah, just for tonight…., let me sleep in Ireland… 

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6 thoughts on “~ Rememberin’ The Days of Eire ~

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