Giants and fairies and beer, oh my!


Reagan Villet 5/20/16

As a child (and who am I kidding, as an adult too), I have always been interested in stories of fantastic creatures, mythological tales, and folklore (Harry Potter, anyone?). Coming to Ireland, I had no previous knowledge of their vast mythology, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was lucky enough to get to experience many of the stories in person, seeing places that many Irish believe to be sacred; parts of history that are explained with magic and tall tales, making learning about the past just a little more fun.

The first mythological stop was Giants Causeway (previously mentioned in this post). The background story involves a giant named Finn McCool, who is very well known around Ireland. A brief overview of the legend is that Finn was out strolling along the water one day, when he noticed a Scottish giant across the way. They began to antagonize each other, yelling names and throwing stones, until so many stones were thrown that a small “bridge” formed from Scotland to Ireland. The giants began running at each other to fight, but Finn realized the Scottish giant was much larger than himself. He quickly ran back home to seek advice from his wife Oonagh, who devised a plan to trick the other giant (women are always so smart!). When the Scottish giant reached Finn’s house, he did not find Finn, but instead found Oonagh and a very large baby (who was really Finn wrapped in a blanket). The giant saw the baby’s size and realized Finn would have to be huge to have an infant that large, and ran away. As the giant ran back to Scotland, he stepped on rocks (flattening them), and ripped them up so that there would no longer be direct access from Ireland to Scotland, leaving behind a small group of rocks now known as the Giants Causeway.

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Giants Causeway (5/18/16)

The second mythological stop we made was at the Loughcrew Cairns, or “The Mountain of the Witch”. This site is a series of hills (three to be exact), where piles of stone are formed over small cave-like structures. No one knows the purpose of the sites, but there are many carvings inside of the caves (which interestingly, line up perfectly with the sun during the equinox), and one hill holds a rock known as the “hag’s chair”, where a witch supposedly sat. The story says that the witch was dropping stones on the hills as a sort of ritual to gain power over the land. She successfully made rock piles on three of the hills, but when she went to jump to the fourth, she missed, and ended up breaking her neck. She was buried in the hills, and legend says that if you sit on her “hag chair” (a large stone on one of the hills) and make a wish, her spirit will grant it for you.

A rock pile at Loughcrew Cairns (5/20/16)

The final stop we made was at one of the many “Fairy Trees” spread out over Ireland. We were told by our tour guide that Irish people take these trees very seriously (even so much that they will build major roads AROUND them!). Legend says that a long time ago, there were two magical “races”, one bad and one good. The good teamed up with humans to defeat the bad, and then decided to split the earth. The humans would have anything in the light (or above ground) and the fairies would have the dark (below ground), and would only collide during the in-between time (when light is becoming dark, such as sunset). The trees are seen as the way for fairies to come up from underground, and they often “reside” here. The legend says that if you dip a string (or anything really) in to a holy well, make a wish for someone who is NOT yourself, and tie the string to the tree, when the string falls, your wish will be granted by the fairies.

A fairy tree (5/20/16)

Overall, I was very intrigued by the stories and sites we were able to see, mythological or not. Who knows where magic lies, or what forms it lies in?

In the words of author Roald Dahl, “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”.

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