LATOON (Reuters) – A rendezvous point for warring fairies on their way back from battle in western Ireland has once again defied the odds against survival. The legendary fairy tree of Latoon is sprouting leaves once more after a vandal armed with a chainsaw reduced it to little more than a bare stump last summer.
According to folklore, lone hawthorns were known as fairy trees and never cut down for fear of interfering with the supernatural.
However, experts fear the Emerald Isle’s rich story-telling tradition may be less fortunate as the insidious influence of television and the Internet take an unwelcome toll.
A few years ago, the celebrated fairy tree of Latoon in County Clare — a meeting place for the little folk of Munster after fighting the fairies of Connacht — was threatened with the bulldozer to make way for a new bypass.
After storytellers warned of a curse on construction crews and motorists if the tree was uprooted, town planners agreed to divert the road in the wake of a huge public outcry.
They even went as far as to erect a wooden fence around the tree to protect it.
Other planned roads have been re-routed around fairy forts — relics of Iron Age settlements — in recent years given the superstition that misfortune will come to anybody who disturbs them.
The fairy tree of Latoon subsequently grew in appeal as a popular tourist attraction until last year’s close shave with destruction.
“It’s a funny coincidence but just over a week after it was vandalized Clare lost the all-Ireland hurling final,” said traditional storyteller Eddie Lenihan, intimating that the fairies exacted their revenge on the sporting field.
NOT “DISNEY FAIRIES”
Contrary to popular belief, real fairies are not “Disney fairies” with gleaming wings and glittery wands, said Lenihan, but ferocious and bad-tempered creatures.
A former schoolteacher who has spent a lifetime collecting old stories for future generations, Linehan said he first heard about the fairy tree of Latoon from an old cattle driver more than 20 years ago.
“He said on several mornings he came to the field before walking cattle to fairs and saw this stuff with the consistency of liver but greenish in color — in other words, fairy blood.
“Immediately, he knew that the fairies had been fighting the night before and had dragged back their wounded and dead after the battle.”
Known in Ireland as a seanchai, or traditional story-teller, Lenihan has kept audiences spellbound the world over with his tales of mysterious encounters with the “other world.”
Although he welcomes the fairy tree’s continuing survival, he fears that Ireland’s illustrious story-telling tradition is on its way out because of the country’s new-found “Celtic Tiger” prosperity and a rush to embrace modern ideas and ditch the past.
“It’s pointless to blame television for all of it. The simple fact is that people aren’t talking to each other even in pubs.
“There’s such noise levels that privacy is a thing of the past,” Lenihan rued.
Ironically, foreigners are more interested these days in hearing about fairies and their shoemakers, the leprechauns, he added.
“The great shame is that folk traditions in other parts of Europe have been preserved but here people don’t seem that interested.”