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Fairy trees serve as the gateway for fairies to travel between worlds.

How Credible Are the Superstitions Surrounding the Mystical Irish Fairy Trees?

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A fairy tree is a type of plant found in Irish folklore. Such trees are believed to be sacred to the fairies, and some believe that they serve as gateways between this realm and that of the fairies , who live in the otherworld. Many superstitions are attached to fairy trees and they are treated with utmost respect, lest the fairies take revenge on those who offend them. Such superstitions are held even in modern times, as is evident in the delay it caused to the upgrading of a motorway on the green island.

What Is a Fairy Tree and What Is It Used For?

According to Irish folklore, the island was invaded six times by six different peoples. The penultimate group was the Tuatha de Danann who are believed to be the pagan gods of Ireland. When they were defeated by the Milesians, the last group of invaders, they went underground and became the fairies. The fairies made many gateways that allowed them to travel between their own world and the human world, some of which take on the form of trees. It is also believed that fairy trees served as a meeting place for these supernatural beings . As these trees are important to the fairies, they are protected by strong magic.

Fairy trees are protected by strong magic. (Atelier Sommerland / Adobe)

Fairy trees are protected by strong magic. ( Atelier Sommerland / Adobe)

A fairy tree appears just like any tree. Many fairy trees are believed to take the form of the hawthorn, which is native to Ireland and a common sight around the island. This plant is easily identified by its sharp, woody thorns and serrated leaves. Although the hawthorn is the common choice for fairy trees, other types of trees, such as ash, may serve the same purpose. In any case, it is not so much the type of tree, but rather, the location where it is growing that allows people to identify fairy trees. Irish folklore states that a lone hawthorn tree growing in the middle of a field is a fairy tree.

What Are the Superstitions Surrounding Fairy Trees?

Many superstitions are attached to these fairy trees. One of the most common is that if a person damages or cuts down a fairy tree they will suffer misfortune for the rest of their lives. Even taking a bough of the plant when its flowers are blooming in the spring is considered to be bad luck. Thus, fairy trees have been highly revered and treated with great respect. In some cases, people tie strips of fabrics and beads around the branches of fairy trees, in the hopes that they would be blessed with good luck. This can be seen, for instance, on two hawthorn trees , which are believed to be fairy trees, on the Hill of Tara in County Meath.

For good luck people tie strips of fabrics and beads around the branches of fairy trees. (Stephen / Adobe)

For good luck people tie strips of fabrics and beads around the branches of fairy trees. ( Stephen / Adobe)

It is clear that fairy trees are still treated with great respect even today. One example may be seen in the fairy tree growing at Ormeau Golf Club in Belfast. According to Denis McKnight, the secretary of the club, the tree has been there longer than anyone can remember. The tree was already on the grounds when the club opened in 1893 and was probably planted long before that. In fact, hawthorn trees can live up to 400 years. The club’s gardeners do not even trim or touch the tree and those who visit the club are told to nod to the tree when they past it and to apologize to it if they hit it with their golf balls.

Fairy Tree at Ormeau Golf Club in Belfast, Ormeau, Northern Ireland. (Albert Bridge / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Fairy Tree at Ormeau Golf Club in Belfast, Ormeau, Northern Ireland. (Albert Bridge / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Fairy Trees In Modern Times

The most dramatic case involving a fairy tree, however, occurred in 1999, when the motorway from Galway to Limerick was being upgraded. When the works were presented to commence, objection was raised by Eddie Lenihan, a local folklorist and story teller, as the planned route would require a fairy tree to be cut down. According to Lenihan, this fairy tree is the place where the fairies of Munster would meet before going into battle with the fairies of Connaught. In the end, the motorway was rerouted so as to safeguard the tree and was opened 10 years later than planned.

Top image: Fairy trees serve as the gateway for fairies to travel between worlds. Source: Elena Schweitzer / Adobe .

By Wu Mingren

References

Chavis, L., 2019. Fairy Trees in Ireland. [Online] Available at: https://whatboundariestravel.com/fairy-trees-ireland/
Cindy, 2012. Ireland's Fairy Trees. [Online] Available at: http://irishfireside.com/2012/02/25/fairy-trees/
ConnollyCove, 2019. The Superstitious Fairy Trees in Ireland. [Online] Available at: https://www.connollycove.com/fairy-trees-ireland/
Coulter, P., 2015. Fairy tales: Finding fairy bushes across Northern Ireland. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-31459851
Hedderman, Z., 2018. Double Take: The fairy trees dotted with rags, beads and dodies. [Online] Available at: https://www.thejournal.ie/double-take-fairy-tree-tara-4235841-Sep2018/
Ireland Calling, 2019. Hawthorn - The Fairy Tree. [Online] Available at: https://ireland-calling.com/celtic-mythology-hawthorn-tree/
McNeice, S., 2018. Folklore of Fairy Trees in Ireland. [Online] Available at: https://www.yourirish.com/folklore/irish-fairy-trees
Paz, 2010. The Fairy tree that delayed a motorway. Ennis Co Clare. [Online] Available at: http://www.irelandinpicture.net/2010/04/fairy-tree-that-delayed-motorway-ennis.html

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