Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fairy trees

Fairy tree

As you travel through Ireland, you will often see small, gnarled trees or bushes, hawthorn (also called whitethorn), standing alone in a field or by a road. These are fairy trees. Don’t mess with them!

People who believe the old Irish lore won’t cut down or harm these trees, and don’t take kindly to being mocked for it. “In Ireland, if the three fairy trees, Oak, Ash and Thorn, grow together, it is particularly auspicious, and this is venerated even more than the single tree.”

Apparently, if you touch or damage a fairy tree, you risk bad luck or the unwanted attention of the Sidhe (say "shee"). Like standing on a hill in moonlight, you could be sucked into the magical world of the Sidhe, never to be seen again. “This is very old Irish folk superstition, although there have been documented cases of strange and somewhat frightening things happening to those who violated a fairy tree.”

If you doubt the power of belief or the power of fairy trees, here’s a short article that might change your mind:

Hawthorn identification (Posted by James Kilkelly in the Irish forum)

“Whether you fall under the heading of hedge planter or fairy hunter, here is how to identify our native hawthorn, when out and about. A bushy tree, hawthorn grows on average, to a height and spread of 6 meters.

Unlike blackthorn, whose stems are dark, the stems of hawthorn are light grey turning to a pinkish brown color with age, which is also when character-filled cracks start to appear up along the trunk. Most of the young twigs sprouting from the tree emerge red before going through these color changes. The glossy green leaves are between 20 to 30 mm long and are divided into 3, 5, or 7 deeply cut lobes. The tree comes into leaf at the end of March.

Hawthorn is in flower from May to June with 5-petalled white flowers, which unfortunately have an unpleasant smell. You see, up close, the flowers have a faint scent of rotting meat; this allows pollination of the flowers by flies rather than the bees, which are not active in early spring, Hawthorn’s blooming time.

Hawthorn is all around us in the countryside, so if you live there or have spent some time there without being put off by hawthorn’s spring scent, then you won't find it unpleasant.

By September, the pollinated flowers become 1 cm wide, deep red fruits known as haws. These can contain up to five seeds at their centre.”


Flowers that smell faintly of rotting meat. Charming!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Nollaig na mBan

In Ireland, Nollaig Bheag takes place on January 6 and signals the end of Christmas and a break from the hard labor of the season for Irish women. I didn’t know this, but, in the old Julian calendar, Christmas day used to be celebrated on the 6th of January, until they switched to the Gregorian calendar.

“Little Christmas is also called Women's Christmas (Nollaig na mBan), and sometimes Women's Little Christmas. The tradition, still very strong in Cork and Kerry, is so called because of the Irish men taking on all the household duties for the day. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Bars and restaurants serve mostly women and girls on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers.”

Little Christmas is the one day of the year where the Irish mammies get to put their feet up and the men folk do all the chores and cooking? Hah! I'd like to see that!! Irish mammies rule, that's for sure.

For the less cynical, here is a lovely blog post of one Irishwoman’s memories of this tradition:

My female friends and I do celebrate this day, either at someone's house or at a restaurant or bar. As a modern tradition, it's great fun to have a girls' night to dress up, eat, laugh, and socialize. No boys aloud, though we sometimes break that rule. Of course, you can do this any day of the year these days, but Women's Little Christmas is still something special.

Nollaig Shona (Happy Christmas - again)!