Since we have been in Ireland, I have learned more about fairy trees than I knew before. On the first day we were here, I was taking photos on the grounds of the B & B, Ashley Park House, and took this one of some beautiful blooms I couldn’t identify. So many of the plants and birds I was seeing were unfamiliar to me. I wondered if it might be a hawthorn, because of the small thorns on the branches. But it had been a long time since I had been around a hawthorn. Years ago, when I was at the Seneca Women’s Peace Camp, my friend Estelle and I pitched our tents in a little opening of the hedgerow, under a hawthorn tree. And that was a magical place and time, though I didn’t know about fairy trees then.
When we came over to Ashford in County Wicklow the owner of our B & B had some of these blossoms on our dining table. I asked her what they were, and she said they were hawthorn. She herself is not Irish, though she has lived in Ireland for many years. The next day she told us that her Irish friend had sternly scolded her that it was bad luck to bring these flowers into the house. We later met that very friend, and she repeated her consternation. She told us that the hawthorn trees are where the “wee folk” live, and they are not to be disturbed. According to Irish lore, “If you cut one down, you will die.” You will often see a whole cleared farm field, with a solitary tree remaining–a hawthorn.
I do apologize to the wee folk on behalf of our host–I was glad that her misstep offered me an opportunity to confirm my hunch about the blossoms and gain more understanding about these beautiful trees. Because of so-called “superstitions” like this about the realm of fairy, many ancient sites have been preserved without disturbance for generations. Fairy mounds and fairy forts and burial sites. We visited a fairy fort at Ashley Park, a neolithic ring fort made of stones and earth, and covered now with beech trees, and yes, some hawthorn too. I left a gift of a coin before taking anything from that place. A strange thing happened. I was deciding where to leave the coin, and was finally drawn to the largest beech tree, somewhat near the entrance to the fort. I tossed the little coin into a deep crevice near the root of the tree.
Then, looking in more closely, I realized there was a tiny toad or frog at the very back of the crevice. I never saw any other toads in that area. How did it happen that one lived right where I was pulled to leave the offering? When Margy and I came back the next day together, it was still there, and I took this picture, somewhat blurry as it happened.
In each of these ancient holy places, I have honored the elements and the directions and the ancestors in the best way I can, and these small magics reassure me that we are welcome here.