The Fairy Hawthorn
Commoner of the Wood
The White Hawthorn grows in hedges throughout our fair land, blooming come May.
Known in ancient Ireland as ‘the commoner of the wood’, the hardwood of the Hawthorn takes a good polish. Its young leaves are a delicacy and used in salads or dried to make a refreshing cup of tea.
The Hawthorn tree figures prominently in Irish folklore known as The Fairy Thorn. The thorn bush is held sacred by country folk and is seen in the middle of so many Ulster fields.
There is not a farmer in all Ireland who would allow anyone to meddle with them. They are left standing, avoiding the risk of offending the wee folk who supposedly assemble there.
Fairies are harmless when left alone, but deadly when disturbed. A burning topic for years, the danger of upsetting the little folk and interfering with their ‘magic’ thorns.
In lore and legend, people who chop down these special hawthorns in splendid isolation do so at their own peril. In your journey around our fair land, you will see ploughed fields but the Fairy Thorn stands alone untouched.
Looking at the solitary thorn in the still peace of a summer evening, one feels a penetrating sense of the supernatural. A feeling that is better to keep at a reasonable distance.
I asked a farmer once if he believed in fairies and the hurt they could do to anyone interfering with them? He answered, he did not know whether he believed in them but he wouldn’t touch anything when their names are associated.
There is much in this world of ours that we cannot account for which is why many of us would not act like fools. Rushing in where angels fear to tread.
These fairy thorns, small green hills forts and raths are found all over Ireland, greatly enhancing the beauty of our countryside and lend enchantment to the Ulster scene. These special abodes of the fairies and leprechauns provide a great attraction for Ireland’s tourists.
So strong is this tradition that even the direct necessity would not compel people to interfere with them in case bad luck should follow their activities. To the local farmers, they will always be the homes of the fairies and forever remain. The Fairy thorn will continue to grow undisturbed so that the ‘Sidhe’ may still reside amongst us and give to our country that indefinable atmosphere that will forever belongs to Fairyland.
Left in Solitary
In years gone by, motorways were rerouted to avoid these trees or building plans changed.
At Clonduff, near Hilltown in South Down, a townland called Bush town is enclosed by a triangle of main roads. Called because it contains the largest ‘fairy thorn tree’ in Ulster.
Standing alone in the middle of a field, this sprawling tree is still very much respected; the legend handed down tells us it grew from a stick planted by a priest to ward off an angry bull that knocked down a wall of a newly erected small church in the neighbourhood.
You will notice a storm has blown part of the structure down but the local people left it alone.
Photo © louise price (cc-by-sa/2.0)
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