Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Away With the Fairies

“In a shady nook one moonlit night a leprechaun I spied . . .”

Thanks to my family’s love of music, I learned the poem/song, The Leprechaun, when I was knee-high to a fairy. ‘Twas on an Irish record, of course, one of many recorded by the great Irish tenor, John McCormack. (Enjoy The Leprechaun in its entirety at the end of this post.)

I knew about the teensy Tinker Bell types of fairies from stories like Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty, but the fairies of Irish folklore were always leprechauns to me. Not so, I learned while delving into the wealth of literature depicting these elusive beings. Leprechauns belong to the class of “Solitary Fairies,” which includes cluricauns, dullahans, pookas, merrows, silkies, and banshees.

Then we have the “Trooping Fairies” who party in crystal palaces beneath the Knock Ma (See Knock Moo), the hill in County Galway said to house the palace of Finvarra, the King of the Connaught Fairies. Finvarra costars in my Young Adult novel, Glancing Through the Glimmer. We didn't meet him the day we visited Knock Ma, but the local postman assured us that he and his troop were there.

It’s no surprise that these beings and the lore surrounding them have inspired many tales over the years. Glancing Through the Glimmer incorporates alternate Irish history with the magic of the Other Crowd, and it has been a joy to research.

More than once, I’ve felt inexplicable tugs toward wonderfully inspiring articles and books. I've learned that Irish lakes provide homes for water fairies, who live in underwater palaces, such as the one featured in Autumn Glimmer, the sequel to Glancing Through the Glimmer. And the leprechauns star in A Pot of Glimmer, the third book in the Glimmer series, currently in the works.

I’ve found countless web sites devoted to fairies, faeries, fae, fay, etc. During my latest visit to Ireland, I added several volumes on the Good Folk to my personal library. The public library helped my research too, but my most successful foray was into the incredible collection of Irish books my aunts have compiled over the years (See Seeking Irish Heroines.)

Every culture has fairies, whole hierarchies of them. In Ireland they aren’t the cute little Walt Disney squeakers we all know and love. Many are human-size, and all can be downright mean if one crosses them. Hair, eyes, teeth, and toenails can all fall out if we mortals distress them. (I'm in high hopes they’ve willingly joined the cast of the Glimmer Books.)

My grandmother once said that when she was a child in County Sligo (circa 1910), her father would set out a line of stones before he erected an outbuilding on their farm. If in the morning the stones were still where he’d placed them, he knew he was good to go. If not, then the fairies had disapproved of his choice, and he had to try again. Superstitious nonsense?

I’ve visited Ireland too many times to be sure, to be sure. What do you think?

The Leprechaun
(Attributed to Robert Dwyer Joyce)

In a shady nook one moonlit night,
A leprechaun I spied
In a scarlet cap and a coat of green,
cruiskeen* by his side.
'Twas tick, tack, tick, his hammer went
Upon a tiny shoe,
And I laughed to think of a purse of gold,
But the fairy was laughing too.

With tiptoe step and beating heart,
Quite softly I drew nigh.
There was mischief in his merry face,
A twinkle in his eye.
He hammered and sang with tiny voice
And drank his mountain dew.
And I laughed to think he was caught at last,
But the fairy was laughing too.

As quick as thought I seized the elf.
"You're fairy purse!" I cried.
"The purse," he said, "is in her hand,
The lady by your side."
I turned to look, the elf was off,
And what was I to do?
Oh, I laughed to think what a fool I'd been,
And the fairy was laughing too.

* jug

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