While fairies from all over the world have their place in the books of myths and legends, there are none quite as popular as the fairies of Ireland. Irish fairies are mischievous, kind, helpful, a little arrogant, and can be beastly if you get on their wrong side.
A favorite Irish fairy is the Sidhe (“Shee”) which has been found in stories all along the British Isles. These are believed to be angels or even humans who fell to earth before humans resided on the land and water. They live well beneath the waves or in the average garden. They are very small and primarily dress in green tunics. The Irish look for them at Midsummer Eve, or any night of the full moon if you can find a river rock with a hole worn through the center by natural erosion. Cutting a hole in the middle of a stone won’t work because the magic is found in the natural hole worn away by water. Irish housewives often set out little sweet cakes and other snacks for their garden fairies, who say thank you by allowing the garden to grow and flourish. The Sidhe love to dance in their mushroom circles, or a circle of twelve flowers growing where no flower should. They are very clean little beings, and a full birdbath in the garden serves well as a fairy bathtub. If you listen closely to the wind outside your garden in the morning while the dew is still on the grass, you may be rewarded with the sounds of Sidhe music, as they live in groups and love to dance and sing.
Not all Irish fairies are so family-oriented or helpful to those who would ask for a plentiful garden. The Irish Banshee is a solitary fairy who is thought to be much larger than the Hawthorne tree-loving fairies of the Irish backyard. The Banshee is a lonely Sidhe and in Irish lore believes that she has one particular human family that each is attached to. Her wails foretell of death in that family, but it is not your family Sidhe that is coming for you; she is simply mourning the passing of your family member with you.
This “lady of sorrow” Sidhe deters from the classic description of a fairy in that she is almost human like; tall with wispy gray hair and blood red eyes from an eternity of sorrow. An interesting belief about the Banshee, is believed to be attached only to ‘the best” Irish family lines–those having an “O”, “Mc”, or “Mac” at the beginning of their names.
One of the most terrifying Irish fairies is the changelings. It is widely believed that the fey folk can not reproduce without many of their children being deformed. These deformed fairies are swapped with human children and are known as “changelings.” They are left in the crib and the real child is spirited back to the fairies homes to be raised as one of them. Legends abound on both sides regarding changeling stories, among them an unusual talent in the child for musical and singing ability, but alas, they only live to be about three years old. Irish midwives will often place iron tongs at the head of a newborn’s crib to ensure that the fairies don’t come for the baby, as the Sidhe are afraid of Iron, and apparently, tongs.
The Merrow is the last of the common Irish fairies. She is kin to the mermaid and lives under the water. When she comes up on dry land, she must shed her clothes and often appears as a seal. The Irish believe that one must never remove clothing found along the coastline for this reason; if she can not return to the sea, she will seek out the person who removed the clothing and play vicious tricks upon them until they either die from fright or return the clothes to the exact place where they were found.