Saturday, 17 October 2015

Otherworld shenanigans: The Fairy Wife.

It was around this time of year when Jim and I were chatting that I asked if he'd ever seen the
Good People himself.
" No, but my mother told me about the Fairy Wife " he replied.

Back then in the summer months many families spent their days outdoors on the land, taking their
meals in the open air and only going inside to sleep.

Jim's mother would have a fire in the yard where she cooked and when she was alone there one evening she heard a commotion.

Harvesting by hand.

Looking across into the field, she saw the neighbours had stopped working and were shouting.
A women, her hair loose, was running across the field making for Lough Duff below.

The lough was still there in those days, deep and dark, with the island in the centre.

The 1829 Ordanance Survey Map of the area showing Lough Dubh, the island and the fairy thorn.

"Everyone knew the fairies lived there and no one would set foot on it." Jim explained.

Jim's mother hurried over and recognised the woman as the wife of a local man.
It was clear that she was going to throw herself into the lake so the men left their work and went
to save her.

Lough Doire Bhile, Glengoole. The island on Lough Duff  may have looked like this.

As she reached the water's edge the woman stopped and a strange thing happened.
Voices rose from the lough saying:

" Welcome home milé mór, so long as you 
didn't tell the verge about the egg water. " *

It was the Good People greeting her.
A moment later she had disappeared into the depths never to be seen again.


I asked Jim what the fairies'  words meant, he didn't know, so we puzzled over them for a while.
Maybe they were originally as Gaeilge or had been misremembered in the telling?
Or perhaps they were words that are no longer used?

Jim shook his head, we drank some more tea and sat in silence.
" All those years and that man never knew he was married to a fairy " Jim finally said.

The Lough Field today where Lough Duff once lay. 

As the year turns towards Samhain and the Good People will leave their home in the Lough Field,
I look out and imagine that the Fairy Wife travels with them, reunited with her kin.

* I'm still baffled by the phrase spoken by the Good People and have searched for possible meanings:
- Míle Mór refers to a 'thousand, great' welcomes.
- The 'verge' could be a verger, a church official who acted as a caretaker.
-  'Egg water' may allude to isinglass, a type of gelatine made from fish, used to preserve eggs
before we had refrigeration.

- Or perhaps it was the practice of drinking the water in which eggs were boiled to provide
Vitamin D3? We will never know.

You can read more of Jim's tales by clicking on the titles below:
 Digging for Gold / Ballygillaheen / The Fairy Path

The 'Otherworld Shenanigans' posts are based upon the tales and reminiscences of my elderly neighbour, Jim, 
who lived his life in the same house he was born in. 
Jim died several years ago and is remembered as a great character by those who knew him.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Rag Trees

Rag trees beguile us.
They speak of our pagan heritage albeit thinly disguised by Christianity. 

The original rag tree at Fore, Co. Westmeath which appears to emerge from the Otherworld.

They can offer a moments' stillness, a glimpse into the lives of others 
and a connection to nature and the Otherworld.

Many of these trees, often whitethorns, stand beside holy wells dedicated to specific saints.

The present tree at the well, Tobernacogany, Fore.
The tree & well were visited by pilgrims on St. Feichin's Day, 2nd January, Imbolc 
& on St. John's & St. Peter's Days, around Midsummer.

Folklore tells of specific coloured cloths hung on trees at certain wells, some favoured white,
others red, whilst a few were offered multi-coloured cloths.

Traditionally a rag was tied to a special tree in times of ill health in the belief that as 
the cloth disintegrated the complaint would disappear. 

Some Rag Trees stand in woodland...

St Brendan's tree at Clonfert, Co. Galway.

Along with rags there are statues, holy medals, coins and symbols of afflictions, 
each telling a story.

Although there are predominately Christian icons as well as the Virgin Mary
this tree also shelters Ganesh and Buddha.

... others remain in fields though their wells are long dry.

This thorn tree stands in a field next to St. Manman's church, Co. Laois. 
The well is disused and the tree no longer visited.

Where once only natural fibre rags were left to decay, nowadays all sorts of items are deposited.
Many trees are cared for and cleared regularly by locals, whilst others sadly are ignored,
their limbs damaged by too many offerings or poisoned by copper coins hammered into the bark.

Along with Rag Trees near to holy wells there are also trees which hold cures within water,
these are the Well Trees.
One such, an old ash, stands in a ditch at the edge of a field near to my home.

The trunk divides into two, forming a cleft in which water gathers. 
It is this water which holds the cure for warts. 

My neighbour, Jim, was taken to the Well Tree by his mother as a young lad to rid him of warts
on his fingers. The ritual to obtain the cure involved visiting the well and dabbing the water on the warts on three separate occasions.
The cure, he assured me, had worked for the warts left him and never returned.