I went a walking and came across a fairy ring! The title of this post is from the first line of a poem written by William Allingham, which we had to learn in school.
On my way to work today, while passing through Deer Park, I came across a fairy ring. I have not seen one in a long time. I am aware of the fact that these rings occur as a result of a naturally occurring phenomenon, but there is still an aura of mysticism about them which makes me almost nostalgic for an era that is coming to an end in Ireland. Well, in the cities anyway. Nowadays, we cityfolk are all too busy to notice nature around us and are too easily distracted by work, deadlines, finances etc. However, in rural Ireland, fairy folklore is still rife.
When I was young, there was a field behind my house in which there was a fairy fort. Of course now, there is a housing estate built on top of it. The myth was that if one put a bottle of milk into the centre of the fort and left it there overnight, the milk would be rancid the next morning. We never played inside the fort for fear of being kidnapped by the fairies or ill-luck befalling us!
The belief was that fairy rings were created by fairies dancing at night. The ground within the ring was considered dangerous. It was not thought a wise decision to build upon this land. There are tales in Ireland of roads being re-routed to avoid building upon a fairy fort. Ireland is strewn with ancient structures such as these forts, megalithic tombs, hawthorn trees etc. and the common belief was that it was best not to destroy them as the fairies would curse those who disturbed them.
What always disturbed me were the folktales which related how fairies would kidnap children in the middle of the night and replace that child with a fairy look-alike. Irish literature is full of these incidents. William Butler Yeats writes in The Stolen Child:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
However, on a more uplifting note, I also came across snowdrops, which herald the true beginning of Spring. I love the way the drooping flower looks like a lamb bowing its head!