When first arriving at my host parents’ home, (sort of) fresh off the plane in late July, my pairs (as I like to refer to them) showed me many things around the house: where things are kept, their bedroom, the chicken coop, etc. They spent hours making sure I knew every nook and cranny of this house before I unpacked, lest I miss a single moment and they would have to start all over. During this tour, I was shown something so unique and magical that it immediately captivated my curiosity. I was so intrigued and mystified by all that these two little objects represented, as I was offered an Irish perspective of childhood that I myself had never experienced. All the wonder, all the cultural implications that they held, I had to learn more. They were Fairy doors.
A Fairy door is installed in a child’s bedroom and serves as a portal from our world to theirs. The Fairies come in and out during the night (as this is the time they prefer to do their work), play with toys and even exchange notes with the children.
For those of you who don’t know, Fairy folklore is extremely big in Ireland – HUGE, actually – and it is taken very seriously. The popular belief in Ireland is that Fairies are fallen angels who, being less guilty than the souls of Hell, were punished to dwell on earth with us mere mortals. Because of this, they are a bit resentful and malicious toward humans and will generally avoid contact with us altogether. However, they are extremely kind to those they have taken a liking to and will even grace these individuals with their presence and many blessings. So, for any of you venturing out in search of Fairies in Ireland, here is some Fairy 101 to help you escape any misfortune, and perhaps reap the rewards by showing kindness to these creatures.
There are seven types of Irish Fairies: the Dullahan, Pooka, Changeling, Grogoch, Banshee, Leprechaun and Merrow. Dullahans possess supernatural sight and wherever they stop in their travels, a human dies. Pookas can assume a variety of terrifying forms and are the most feared of the Fairies. Changelings are the stunted or deformed offspring of female Fairies that the adult fairies try to replace with a healthy child that they steal from the mortal world. A Changeling possesses the power to work evil in the household and drains away all good fortunes. The Grogoch are very social and will help certain individuals with their planting, harvesting or domestic chores. The Banshee females can forewarn members of the O’Neill, O’Brien, O’Connor, O’Grady and Kavanagh families when they are about to die. Leprechauns are self-appointed guardians of ancient treasures, and are usually found in an intoxicated state (big surprise). Merrows are the beautiful and promiscuous maidens of the sea, and are regarded as the messengers of doom and death. While Fairies share many similar characteristics, each acts in their own way based on their specific breed.
In general, fairies wear brightly-coloured and fitted clothes, although there is no definitive “look” of a fairy – they can take whatever form best suits them. A favourite gathering place for Irish Fairies is under a Hawthorne tree. Hawthornes are considered sacred in Ireland; so sacred, in fact, that a multimillion-pound highway was diverted so it would not uproot a lone Hawthorne tree, for fear that everyone who drove on this road would have bad luck (see full story here). All folklore about Fairies tell us that they love beauty and splendour, music and pleasure, and everything artistic.
What’s important to remember is that Fairies will always return whatever kindness they are given, as well as to those who show them the utmost respect. So, in order to appease the Fairies and to know exactly what you should be doing to gain their appreciation, here is a list of things you should remember when dealing with a Fairy:
1. They like being flattered and attended to. They prefer food and wine to be left for them at night (who doesn’t?) It is then good practice to leave them the last drops of your wine, a filling snack (raisins are their favourite), the last remaining embers of your fire, a drink of milk on your windowsill, and a glass of pure water for them to bathe in.
2. Fairies shed their wings twice a year. If you find teeny tiny feathers in your house, you know one is close by.
3. Animals can see Fairies. If you see your pet swatting or snipping at the nothingness in the air, you can be sure they have spotted a fairy.
4. Fairies love music. They dance, sing and celebrate on many Irish occasions, and are the main reason that Irish music has such a distinctive tune.
5. They fear members of the clergy, as well as iron. Both are like poison to a Fairy, and they will not go near them.
6. Every time a human sees a Fairy, they lose a small bit of their magic. This is why most stay hidden with their cloak of invisibility.
7. They love shiny things. If you find yourself missing your keys, leave out a piece of aluminum foil under a glass and tell them that if they return your keys, you will give them the foil in exchange. There is no doubt that you’ll find them soon after (however randomly).
8. Fairies collect baby teeth. Baby teeth hold all of your first childhood dreams, memories, and wishes, and having them close keeps Fairies happy and healthy.
When a Fairy is near, and you are trying to please them, make sure to never, EVER:
1. Say the word “Fairy” out loud. They absolutely hate this word, and will be highly offended if they hear you say it. Instead, they prefer to be called “the Good People,” “the Wee Folk,” basically ANYTHING but “Fairies.”
2. Disturb their homes. Fairies live all over Ireland in forts, raths, or mounds. Disturbing them is definitely not in your best interest, and will plague you with the most rotten of luck.
3. Build a house on a Fairy Path. Fairy Paths are the routes Fairies use to get places and are all over Ireland. The best way to avoid building on a path is to set four posts at the corners of the site overnight. If they are still standing in the morning, then it is safe to build. If not, and you decide to build anyway, sickness and death will enter your home.
4. Take what is not given. When entering Fairy territory (such as a Fairy fort), do not take anything within this place. Instead, it is best to leave an offering (like something shiny!).
When you stroll through the many trails of Ireland, and enter its woods with an open mind, eyes, ears, and heart, it is very likely that the Fairies will open their doors and welcome you into their magical kingdom. What is most important to remember about Fairies is that you must believe in them. Believing in them is the only way to have them grace your home with their many blessings. These tales and superstitions are highly regarded in Irish culture and, while visiting, it is only good manners to abide by their ways. Respect the fairies and they will ensure that you have a wonderful experience; offend them and you will surely understand what it means to have “the luck of the Irish!”
To get your own Irish Fairy Door or to learn more about the fairy world, click below.