Disturbance of sacred fairy sites can have dire consequences for Irish infrastructure projects...
Bad luck caused by disturbed fairy forts has caused a dip in the N22, a major road between County Kerry and County Cork, according to an independent TD (Irish member of parliament). Danny Healy-Rae said the dip on the left-hand side of the road just before the Kerry Way had been repaired before – at a cost of 40,000 euros – but had mysteriously reappeared. “There are numerous fairy forts in that area,” he said. “I know that they are linked. Anyone that tampered with them back over the years paid a high price and had bad luck.” Asked if he believed in fairies, he said the local belief – which he shared – was that “there was something in these places you shouldn’t touch”. These were “sacred places” and fairies were believed to inhabit them. “I have a machine standing in the yard right now,” said the TD, who owns a plant hire company. “If someone told me to go out and knock a fairy fort or touch it, I would starve first.”
In Irish folklore, it is believed that disturbing areas said to have strong connections to fairies can bring bad luck or a curse. These areas include fairy forts, also known as raths or lios, which are the remains of hillforts or ancient circular dwellings, and fairy trees or thorn bushes. Some people believe that destroying or tampering with these forts,
Transport Infrastructure Ireland say they do not have a fairy policy
trees or bushes, could lead to them dying young or becoming seriously ill.
Mr Healy-Rae first raised the issue of fairies at a Kerry County Council meeting in February 2007 after the N22, then a relatively new national primary road, developed a dip near Curraglass. In a formal motion on the cause of the hollow, HealyRae, then a councillor, asked: “Is it fairies at work?” The council’s road department replied that it was due to “a deeper underlying subsoil/geotechnical problem”. The issue was again raised at a county council meeting in early August this year, where HealyRae’s daughter Maura, who is a councillor, said her father was convinced fairies were in the area. Mr Healy-Rae said the road network passes through an extensive area of standing stones, stone circles and ancient monuments rich in folklore and fairy stories. He warned that the dip in the road needed to be dealt with before a driver came across it suddenly and lost control. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, a state agency responsible for national road and public transport infrastructure, say they do not have a fairy policy, but a spokesperson said it is always wise to wish the ‘Little People’ the best.
This isn’t the first time that the fairies have had an impact on major road building projects in Ireland. In 1999, as part of the upgrading of the N18 between Limerick and Galway, a £100 million plan to build a bypass around Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, threatened a fairy thorn bush with destruction. Local folklorist Eddie Lenihan identified the sceach as a muster point on a fairy path and warned of “terrible consequences” should it be cut down, including higher than usual casualties from future road accidents. Luckily, the thorn was surveyed and work on the bypass continued around it, taking care to leave the sacred bush untouched ( FT128:24). In August 2003, the tree was attacked with a chainsaw by an unknown party who was never apprehended; perhaps he fell foul of the curse ( FT169:08). Thankfully, the tree survived the attack and soon showed fresh growth ( FT175:11). Recent online references to the thorn suggest that it continues to thrive.
A couple of years ago, a listener contacted BBC Radio Ulster to talk about a fairy thorn growing at Ormeau Golf Club. Denis McKnight, secretary of the club, said it has been there longer than anyone could remember. “The club was opened in 1893 so it’s at least 122 years old,” he said. “None of our green keepers will touch it or cut it down. They won’t even trim it.” He said that balls had been lost in the tree and never seen again. “If you hit the tree and don’t apologise you’re guaranteed to have a bad game,” he said. “When people visit the club we have to warn them about the fairy thorn. We tell them to nod to it as they go past and they have to apologise if they hit it.” He said the club used the thorn on their logo for a while and that they will never cut it down.
ABOVE: The N22, linking County Kerry and County Cork; are dips in the road caused by the disturbance of fairy forts? ABOVE RIGHT: The fairy thorn beside the N18 in County Clare, which delayed road building and was spared destruction. BELOW: Danny Healy-Rae, member of parliament and firm believer in the ‘Little People’.