The Fairies

Justin McCarthy
Chapter I | Start of Chapter

The most cherished legends of the Irish people also suggest this theory of Eastern or Southern origin. For the Irish people the kingdom of the ghosts is easily ripped open,—to adopt the phrase Schiller applies to a different people, also claiming a far foreign origin. All the ballads and stories popular in Ireland seem to tell of a land where the supernatural and the magical make part of everyday life. The fairies are still a reality in Irish imaginings; the soil is peopled by goblins and wizards and fantastic creatures of all kinds who have nothing to do with the common laws of existence. Every stream, well, and cavern, every indentation of the seashore, every valley and mountain peak, has its own stories and memories of beings who do not belong to this earth. A distinguished Englishman once said that whereas in the inland counties of England he had found many a peasant who neither knew the name of the river within sight of his cottage, nor troubled himself about its early history, he never met with an Irish peasant who was not ready to give him a whole string of legends and stories about the stream which flowed under his eyes every day. Most of these legends tell of early struggles and calamities which do not belong to the domain of history. They form pictures of a race in perpetual contest not only with the fierce troubles of human life, but with the wizardries of magic and the actual interpositions of embodied fatalities. Many of them are very beautiful and poetic, like those cherished in Wales and among the Bretons, and most of them are set to a melancholy and musical tune.