“Do you believe in fairies, sir”
“The little people, sir. You know what I mean.”
“If they are so little, why do people fear them so much? Why do you see trees left standing in the middle of cornfields because a farmers who may have hundreds of acres of land and the latest and most expensive machinery are afraid to cut down what they have been told is a fairy thorn?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Nor do I.”
It was encouraging that even in this corner of Dublin, the old stories still continued. In 2022, in a deeply secular, urban community, the Aos Sí are still spoken of with a hesitancy.
Starting training for the Church of Ireland in 1983, an Englishman barely off the Sealink ferry, the old Celtic mythology was fascinating, but no-one else seemed interested. Many of my co-religionists from the North disavowed anything Celtic. It seemed a matter of pride amongst some of them to denigrate all things “Irish.” It seemed sad that there was no interest in a heritage that predated every religious and political division.
The Setanta mural on Dublin’s Nassau Street, close to the arts block of Trinity College where we attended lectures, was a regular object for negative comment. Years passed when the Setanta mural was something to look at only out of the corner of an eye. What was the point in digging up memories of animosity and open dislike?
Then one day years later, sitting in the coffee shop of the Kilkenny Design Centre, looking out at the mural, the time finally came to bury the old memories. “Come on, let’s go and look at the mural!”
My daughter, then sixteen, who had been taught the tales in school and who had learned the Irish language, explained the scenes. As we walked down Nassau Street that morning, the stories continued, there was a tale of Oisín in Tír na nÓg.
“But if Oisín went to Tír na nÓg, why is there an alleged grave in Co Antrim?”
“Because he came back, of course.”
There was obviously great deal of catching up to do, a great backlog of stories to learn.
Of course, my good intentions of taking out and reading the battered Penguin copy of Irish Myths and Legends, bought when it was a new publication and which had sat on the bookshelves for thirty years, came to nought. Back in Dublin, I am no more knowledgeable today regarding the stories than I was when I walked down Nassau Street forty years ago.
Perhaps I shall ask the students to tell me the tales.