Fairies of the Irish Mythology

Unknown author
The Irish Fireside
December 10, 1883
Volume 1, Number 24

These little Hibernian relatives of Arial and Puck have a weird attractiveness for the student of Irish folk lore, for many reasons and especially because the traditions connected with them explain almost all those superstitious peculiarities which are observable among the Irish peasants.

It is the duty of the poet to express in rhythmical periods the aerial origin of what are sometimes called ‘those grovelling superstitions of the Irish,’ but for us it is only left to place before our readers in round quotidianal prose some few of the countless happy and poetic traits peculiar to our Irish elves.

The Irish word of ‘sighe,’ pronounced ‘shee,’ is the usual generic title applied to this class of preternatural beings. The feas-shee and the ban-shee belong to this category, meaning respectively man and woman fairy.

The terror with which the name of the banshee is still received by peasants throughout the length and breadth of the land, show us clearly how widely-spread and how deeply-rooted was once the belief in the ‘good people.’

Thousands of lovely, sensible Irish maidens tremble nightly at their ruddy hearths when the whining of some ‘moon-baying’ mongrel re-echoes in the night air; and stalwarth bouchils, whose brawny frame and supple limb bespeak Sampsonian prowess, grow pale at the mention of the Banshee—the wailing prophetess of anticipated death.

So widespread a feeling as this would justify us in writing a volume, if by doing so, while retaining the antique and the poetic portion of the tradition, we succeeded in eradicating the foolish superstition.

Our senses, as several able metaphysicians argue, give no evidence directly of the existence of the outer world, but only of our own material organism as extended in plain words, we often seem to see and to hear when there is neither sight nor sound presented to us.

This we are especially prone to when in an excited state of mind.

The poor, dreadful banshee, then, to the philosophical mind, is a fraud, but yet no philosopher would be justified in annihilating what by a little skill may be metamorphosed into a very beautiful and harmless myth.

How poetically have our fathers called the whirlwind the sheegavithe, as if it were raised by the wings of the passing fairy host. 

To our mind, Aeolus in his Liparian caverns is an unpoetic personification, compared with this Hibernian conception. What a delightful fairy colony are not the sheogues of East Ulster, immortalised by Francis Davis in his ‘Fairy Serenade’

‘Oh, broad are the lawns of your airy fairy king:

And we’ll o’er them glide on the watery wing

Of a lovesick maiden’s sigh.

And thy crown I’ll plume

With the golden bloom

Of the blue-robed violet’s eye;

And we’ll fill our glass

From a blade of grass,

And we’ll drink to its emerald dye;

While we dance those springs

The young daisy sings,

When she’s kissed by the twilight fly.’