The Time I Met The King of the Faeries
“One day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again!” – CS Lewis
All my life I’ve been fascinated by faeries, as I grew up with European fairy tales, Walt Disney’s Tinker Bell and movies like Darby O’Gill and the little people. Often times when playing outdoors as a child, I would see flickering lights from the corner of my eyes or have the feeling I was being watched when no one else was around. Was this perhaps an encounter with the faerie realm?
A Great Curiosity in Faeries
My curiosity was piqued further when I learned of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s obsession with the Cottingley fairy case at the turn of the 20th century, a series of alleged photographs taken of tiny winged creatures by cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths – two young girls from the English countryside.
As a teenager, I read every book I could find on faeries, with some of my favorites being the works of Ted Andrews, William Butler Yeats and Rev. Kirk. I eventually apprenticed under an Irish shaman who taught me about faerie traditions in Celtic countries, explaining the difference between the modern spelling of ‘fairy’, which refers to fable stories; and the archaic spelling of ‘faerie’ or ‘faery’, which more accurately describes the mythical creatures. We’re told they followed North American settlers from the old country and are nature intelligences that exist in every forest, near bubbling brooks and even in our homes.
Depiction of faeries looking through a passageway. (John Anster Fitzgerald (1823-1906) / Public domain)
According to her, the best way to encounter them was to tell stories and sing often at “tween places and in tween times.” These are times like dusk or dawn, and places that act like a glitch in the matrix, such as an opening between two tree branches, or a bridge over water, since it is neither up nor down. She would often tell me that the faeries preferred working in stone over metal and that every tree has an anthropomorphic being known as a dryad or tree spirit.
The latter is further substantiated by the 15 th century alchemist Paracelsus, who categorized faeries into various elemental kingdoms of the sylphs (those of the air), the salamanders (those of the fire), the mermaids and undines (those of the water) and the gnomes and dwarves (those of the earth).
And just like the legendary stories we find in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings about the subterranean civilizations known as the Middle Earth, we very much have an ancient mythology of this in Ireland with the Tuatha Dé Danann, a mythical race who brought with them the faerie folk from an ethereal plane, which some have called Tir Nan Nog, Avalon, or the Otherworld.
The Tuatha Dé Danann as depicted in ‘Riders of the Sidhe’ (1911). (John Duncan / Public domain)
Some say these shinning folks were Atlantean visitors, or even the fallen angels from The Book of Enoch, who could make themselves invisible and may have possessed interdimensional capabilities and advanced knowledge. They fled underground after a battle with the Fir Bolg or “the men with bags” and didn’t want to interact with humanity directly from that point on.
They are assumed to be tricksters and known to make the odd appearance, much like in UFO encounters with crop circles, humans have been known to go missing after stepping into a faerie ring. We learn the reason for the Jack O’Lantern at Halloween is to scare off the trooping faeries during Samhaim, or the fall equinox when the veils are thinner.
Do Folks in Ireland Still Believe in Faeries?
Naturally, I wanted to know if folks in Ireland still believed in faeries, so I hopped on a plane and headed for the Emerald Isle. My goal was to visit every small town and pub to ask the locals if they still encountered “the good people.”
Ireland is a pulchritudinous country full of rolling green hills and gorgeous countryside. It has a fascinating history that can be traced back to at least to 8000 BC and many say far older than that. It seems like the seasons change multiple times a day here, as it can go from warm and sunny and then back to cold and rainy in a period of an hour. The people are jovial, friendly and have a great sense of humor. Everywhere you go there is fiddling, dancing and lively music. I like how many of the place names are in traditional Gaelic and English.
When I first landed, I caught a taxi on my way to the rental car place in Dublin, the driver was boisterous and obscenely funny. He said the Irish people love Canadians like myself, especially the former mayor of Toronto, the late Rob Ford, for his substance-induced rants that were heard around the world.
“Do the Irish still believe in the little people?”, I asked. He blurted out, “If you want to see leprechauns, all you have to do is drink nine pints of Guinness and three shots of whiskey, and then you’ll see them!” We had a good laugh about it and that was the end of that.
Depiction of an Irish Leprechaun. (Free Art License)
While in Dublin, I relentlessly hounded people on the streets near the famous Temple Bar and outside of the Guinness factory to survey them if they still believed in faeries. They either laughed at me or told me colorful stories about how they had relatives that encountered bad luck or became ill after disturbing a faerie mound or cutting down a tree associated with them. I would later discover that more people in the countryside had these experiences rather than in the city.
The Temple Bar in Dublin. (jon_chica / Adobe stock)
The James Joyce Encounter
Being a fan of Irish writers like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and Bram Stoker, naturally I thought the next place to look for proof of the faerie folk was in Irish literature, where we find many mentions of them. What happened next was very strange but wonderful, as I often carry around a copy of Finnegan’s Wake with me to read for its multilingual tongue-twisters to warm up before giving a presentation.
I just happened to stroll by James Joyce’s old place adjacent to the River Liffey by a set of bridges that connected both sides of town. I walked up the steps to snap a picture in front of it and the new owner burst outside like an angry tyrant, swearing and protesting at me for trespassing. When I told him I was a Joyce fan, his demeaner changed quickly and his scowling facial expressions shifted to ones of happiness and excitement.
He invited me in for a drink and gave me a tour of the place, and told me he was just taking the mickey out of me, or joking around. We then read passageways of Ulysses out loud and shared a few laughs over a glass of whiskey. “This is where all the magic happened, and I have big plans to renovate this place and open it up to the world!”
A bottle of James Joyce whiskey shared that day. (Provided by the author)
While not a believer in faeries himself, he did tell me of the Irish tradition of the hearth fire, which he had plans for the fireplace in the basement, which was situated next to an old wooden spindle like the one in the story of Rapunzel. “The fireplace must be lit from an ancient fire that’s been going for hundreds of years,” he remarked. This is similar to the fire of the Olympic torch or the flame of Zoroaster and is important to faerie traditions.
Could the History of Irish Hardship be the Answer?
Shortly after departing the Joyce house, still feeling the warmth of the spirits, I thanked him for his hospitality and set out to Trinity college and the old libraries and museums searching for historical records about faeries. I did in fact find such records in gigantic old books from the 17 th century, not only here but in other places such as the bookstore around the Hill of Tara.
Trinity College old library. (Provided by the author)
Ireland has survived a lot of poverty and great tragedies, including a potato famine that happened during the Industrial Revolution, where over a million people died of hunger. As you can imagine, such misfortunes can strengthen people and give birth to new traditions.
While listening to the pragmatic storytellers in Dublin, they believe that might be where the idea of faeries came from in the first place, as perhaps they are nothing more than the personifications of overcoming great hardships. But not everyone agrees with this assessment, as faeries are found in legends and stories all over the world.
- Loftus Hall: Most Haunted House in Ireland Has Not Revealed All Its Dark Secrets
- Fantasies from Evil Spirits? Faeries in the Medieval Imagination
- Secret Lives of Elves and Faeries: The True Story of Rev Robert Kirk
The author reading through some faerie tales in an old bookstore found at Hill of Tara. (Provided by the author)
Meeting the King of the Faeries
What happened next was pure magic, however, and exceeded all my expectations. Based on a tip I got from a guy living in Wexford, he told me about a traditional Shanachie or Irish story teller named Sean Ryan who likes to play a tin whistle and lives by himself in a 700-year-old haunted castle.
So I drove an hour out of the way on the left side of the road in a comfortable yet sporty grey BMW, surrounded by emerald green rolling hills, heading north from Kilkenny with no phone number or contact information. When I arrived at the castle, I had to cruise down a long-deserted driveway with large, intimidating metal gates out front, surrounded by archaic stone walls.
When I reached the front steps, I banged on the giant wooden doors of the castle with its strange metal knocker, three times. Finally, a jolly old man with a thick accent opened the door and stared at me with mesmerizing blue eyes. He was wearing a brown sweater and had white shoulder length hair and a matching beard.
The author Jonny Enoch and the Irish storyteller Sean Ryan during their encounter. (Provided by the author)
He then began to interrogate me, “What can I do for you?” I asked if I could see the castle and if he could tell me all about the “little people in Ireland.” He proceeded to invite me in and led me into a large open space by a warm crackling fire. The room had very tall stone ceilings and the walls were covered in old relics, paintings and, well, the typical kind of things you would find in a castle.
It was very comforting to sit by the fire with candles flickering and the sound of rain pitter pattering around outside on a cold Irish day. After offering me tea, wine or whiskey, he then began to tell me that soon he was about to leave for some travel, and I was lucky to catch him.
He handed me a flashlight and said I could go upstairs and look around, as he could no longer climb to the top of the stairs due to a bad knee. There were various chambers and rooms all around in this fantastic place. The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking and the whole experience was like something out of a fairy tale.
We then had one of the most enchanting conversations I’ve ever had. His eyes began to light up with intensity, as he told me of his faerie encounters in the woods and how his grandfather met a leprechaun. He claimed that leprechauns are unique to Ireland and are mostly shoemakers, but there are other types of faerie folk in Wales and Scotland. At that point, he began to tell me how he met the King of the Faeries and learned a song from him. He went on to play it for me while tapping his foot.
It was absolutely hypnotic and seemed to invite these magical beings in, as it felt like a thousand eyes were observing us. I quickly noticed small indentations appearing on the table cloth fabric and the dancing of tiny shadows. You can watch a video about this encounter here:
He mentioned other strange things that happened around this property, which were not permitted to be captured on video. Sean pointed to an area behind the castle covered in trees sacred to the druids, where he told me there existed a hidden entrance to the faerie kingdom. I was told that if you stand near this place and ask – either out loud or silently in your mind – and if you are deemed worthy, you just might meet the King of the Faeries in your sleep. And sure enough, later that night in my dreams, I was introduced to a lively little man dressed in all green that smoked a tiny pipe, who gave me a cheeky smile, as if to acknowledge he exists.
So, if you’ve ever dreamt of visiting megalithic sites in Ireland, exploring haunted castles and experiencing faeries and storytelling, why not experience it for yourself? Join myself, Brien Foerster, Anthony Murphy and David Halpin on the Mythical and Mysterious Ireland Tour from September 15 th through the 28 th at: https://www.authenticvacations.com/mythical-ireland/
Top image: Faerie silhouette at night with a boy. Source: fona / Adobe stock
By Jonny Enoch