How on Earth could I have missed this story the other day?
“The celebrated fairy bush of Latoon, Co Clare has confounded all expectations to sprout leaves again – eight months after a vandal’s chain-saw was believed to have ended its life.
“In recent days, green leaves on the white thorn bush have been visible to motorists travelling along the �90 million Newmarket-on-Fergus bypass. Folklorist Mr Eddie Lenihan said yesterday he was ‘delighted and relieved’ that the fairy tree or ‘sceach’ was growing once more.
“The sceach received international attention four years ago when it was saved from destruction at the start of the roadworks scheme after a successful campaign by Mr Lenihan.
“He warned of a curse on the roadway if the fairy bush was destroyed and related how the sceach was a rendezvous point for Kerry fairies to discuss tactics on their way to do battle with the Connacht fairies.
“Clare County Council placed a wooden fence around the bush, however last August a vandal armed with a chain-saw reduced the tree to a stump after cutting down all the branches.
“County engineer Mr Tom Carey described the act as “deplorable” and the council reported the matter to the Garda�. However no one was apprehended for the attack. Now, with growth returning to the damaged sceach, Mr Lenihan remarked yesterday: ‘The fairies are able to look after their own property.’ He said the sceach offers a window to the ‘other world’.
“Asked what he believes has become of the vandal, Mr Lenihan said: ‘Well, after the despicable act was carried out on the tree, I rang an old man who was very familiar with the sceach and had told me stories about it. After telling him about the attack, there was a long pause before he asked, “Is he still alive?”, referring to the vandal who had chopped down the branches. I won’t say anything more but I would not like to be him.'”
…The bush is indeed moderately celebrated: see this story which appeared in the New York Times in 1999. Lenihan himself is a seanachai, a semi-professional storyteller who is also a moderately well-known folklorist.
It should be said that the hawthorn is a very tough tree. There’s one behind our house which fell down in some storms late last autumn. However, since only about three-quarters of its roots were pulled out, it has gracefully declined to die and is now in flower as well. (It also allows Peter to come in and say things like, “The cat’s up the tree with the sheep.”)
In the NYT story, I’m also interested by the comment of the UCD folklore archivist about the widespread “passive belief” in Old Things. After you’ve been here for a while, you get a sense that there’s a lot of it scattered around this country. But mostly people won’t discuss it too openly even among other natives…and only ever so rarely when someone with a non-local accent (like mine) is standing there. The neighbors are concerned about looking or sounding as if they’re stuck in a previous century. But get them alone, and sometimes you hear interesting things. The hill near our house is supposed to be haunted, for example, though by what isn’t clear. I’ve never had any problems with it…but one of the neighbors, when her car broke down outside our house late at night, was so nervous about walking near that hill in the dark that she knocked on the door and asked to be given a ride home.
That said, walking a mile or so on a dark night near our house would not be fun. There are no streetlights. There are no sidewalks. There are very, very few houses, and their lights are mostly far away. If there’s no starlight or moonlight, it’s dark around here…and once or twice in such circumstances, walking home late from the pub, I’ve remembered Yeats’s story about the man who was nearly scared to death by a ghost that was following him down a dark windy road…and which turned out to be some pages from the Irish Times. (A problem no longer possible with the online edition…)
It’ll be interesting to see if anything further is heard about the sceach as we get closer to June 21st, St. John’s Eve, the night when (it’s said) the doors between the worlds stand open (and when they play softball in Reykjavik for 24 hours without stopping. Why stop when the Sun won’t go down?)…