Ireland has always been a place filled with fascinating folklore and stories. One very interesting piece of folklore in particular surrounds those of the mystical Irish Fairy trees. All around Ireland, there are many Fairy trees that are believed to be the home of the fairies or the “wee folk” as people like to call them – It was once thought by people that they don’t like being referred as fairies.
Even today in Ireland the Irish Fairy trees still carry a lot of superstition. Many Irish people wish to not disturb the Fairy trees as it is said to bring bad luck to those that do.
There is so much to uncover about Fairy trees in Ireland, from its history, superstitions and even locations where you can even go to visit some when in Ireland. Keep reading to find out more about Fairy Trees in Ireland…
Here is a quick breakdown of our article, simply click on a heading to skip ahead!
- What are Fairy Trees?
- Superstitions associated with Fairy Trees in Ireland
- Fairy Trees in Irish Folklore
- Where to Find Fairy Trees in Ireland?
- Origin of Fairies in Irish mythology
- Types of Fairies
- The Celtic Tree of Life
- The interesting history of Hawthorn Trees
- Ash trees and their role in Irish folklore
- Frequently Asked Questions
What are Fairy Trees?
You may be wondering, ‘what is a fairy tree?’. Fairy trees in Ireland are the trees associated with fairies known as either Hawthorn trees or Ash trees. What make’s these Irish Fairy trees different from other trees is their location. Usually, the Fairy tree is alone in the middle of the field or on the side of a road. The trees can be easy to find as long as you know what you’re looking for. You will also often find Fairy trees at ancient sites or at holy wells around Ireland.
Fairy trees are by no means rare in rural Ireland, every small village has a few, and most farmers have at least one on their land.
The hawthorn tree is best described as a small, bushy tree that can grow up to six metres high. The tree can also live to an impressive age of four hundred years old.
The hawthorn tree is thought to be a sacred meeting place for the fairies and cutting down a lone hawthorn fairy tree is avoided at all costs. The Fairy trees are believed to bring luck to its owners and bring prosperity to the land where they lay. Many people who visit the fairy trees leave prayers, gifts and personal items as a token of good gesture in hopes of receiving good fortune or healing in return from the ‘wee folk’.
You might be wondering how the hawthorn tree actually became to be known as a faerie tree? Well, with the tree blooming in Spring it was associated with the festival of Beltane. This was an important time for the ancient Irish and as well as the Sidhe. (The fairy people).
Beltane is referenced throughout some of the earliest Irish literature and has been associated with important events in Irish mythology.
Superstitions associated with Fairy Trees in Ireland
It is believed that the ‘fairy folk’ had enchanting powers where they could outwit humankind whenever they wished. They symbolised both a combination of good and evil. The fairy folk could easily bless someone or cast bad luck over them. They harboured both fortune and misfortune and this gained the ‘wee folk’ a lot of respect.
Many people were said to be frightened of upsetting them due to the magical powers they had. People also believe that if you cut down or damage one of the Irish Fairy trees you would face a lifetime of bad misfortune.
Irish people take the superstitions of Faerie trees very seriously. In fact, there was even a delay in building a motorway for over 10 years because people didn’t want to harm one of the fairy trees. You can read more surrounding the story of this Irish Fairy tree here.
Some Fairy trees are also located on the land of farmers, who would go to great lengths to make sure the trees were protected. They would pile boulders around the base of the tree so that there would be no accidental damage caused. It is also thought that the fairies are the greatest protector of Irish archaeology, another reason why farmers refuse to remove them.
Fairy Forts in Ireland
There are also hundreds of ‘fairy forts” still found in Ireland today, many have not been disturbed due to the superstitions that are associated with them. The main one being that you don’t want to touch the home of the fairies or they might take revenge on you.
The “Fairy Forts” in Ireland are also known as Ring forts, a circular enclosed surrounding by an earthen or stone bank. They were originally designed to protect cattle during the night from cattle raiders. Over time people moved into more open spaces and its believed that the fairies made these ring forts their new homes. And so, they were given the name as “Fairy Forts”.
Fairy Trees in Irish Folklore
Ireland is filled with fascinating folklore stories, nothing is as enchanting as those associated with the Irish Fairie trees. Even today folklore stories related to Fairy trees are a popular discussion.
Irish folklore tells us that the Fairy trees are a getaway for the two different worlds to collide, the mortal world and other-world of fairies. They act as an entrance from one world to another.
The Fairy Faith
During ancient times in Ireland, there was a thing known as fairy faith, yes, the belief in all thing’s fairies. It all started when the Milesians took part in a mythical race in the 11th century that saw them come to Ireland. The Milesians were Gaels who sailed from Hispania to Ireland after hundreds of years travelling around the earth.
When the Milesians arrived in Ireland, they banished the natives to the underground or other-world as it was also known as. The natives become known as the Sidhe, the fairy folk who lived underground; living among the trees and bushes.
It is believed that the Fairy folk had many ways of getting to the otherworld’s through the base of Fairy trees, through burial mounds and even underwater. These getaways became very important to the fairy folk to easily move between the two worlds, and so became protected by magic powers.
Where to Find Fairy Trees in Ireland
The great thing about travelling around Ireland is that everywhere you turn you’ll uncover a tale of wonder. Fairy trees of Ireland offer that and more, they are fascinating and fun and there’s plenty of them to be found in Ireland.
Fairy trees are dotted all over the Irish Countryside and are easy to spot as they will be alone. Once you see one, you’ll be spotting them everywhere you go in Ireland.
Many of the fairy trees are found in places of ancient pagan or holy sites as well as the countryside. If you wish to go find some Fairy trees in Ireland, we have some popular suggestions for you to check out:
- Hill of Tara located in County Meath
- St. Brigid’s Well located in County Kildare
- Killary Harbour located in Connemara
- Ben Bulbin located in County Sligo
- Knockainy in County Limerick
These are just a few places in Ireland you can visit where you’ll find some magical Irish Fairy trees. Just remember not to disturb the trees and maybe you’ll be granted with some good fortune. Fairy trees in Ireland are special and full of wonder. Some trees were also considered by the Celts to be the trees of life itself. Visiting them while you are here will hopefully be a rewarding experience and something that’s unique to Ireland.
Origin of Fairies
In Celtic Ireland fairies are believed to have descended from the ancient race of supernatural deities, the Tuatha de Danann. Our fully comprehensive article on the Tuatha de Danann covers its most powerful members, from Danu the mother goddess, to Dagda the Good God, the Goddess of fire and light, the goddesses of war and King Nuada of the Silver Arm, to name but a few. We also cover their origin and most magical treasures, their greatest stories and finally, the ultimate demise of the tribe of Danu. For example, did you know one of the members was able to remain above ground and become a saint in Catholic Ireland according to the mythology?
The Tuatha de Danann were conquered by the mortal tribe Milesians. After the battle, the Milesians remained above ground while the Tuatha de Danann retreated underground through borrows, hills and burial grounds called ‘Sidhe’.
After many generations the Tuatha de Danann, the Celtic Gods and Goddesses of ancient Ireland, were now known as the ‘Sidhe’, People of the Sidhe’ or Aos sí’ became the fairly folk we know of today.
Types of Fairies
As previously mentioned, the Aos sí are descendants of the Tuatha de Danann. They are human sized, beautiful, intelligent, creative and in tune with nature. They value the arts, especially music and reading.
May different types of fairies are found in this classification. They are the fairies who do not live together like the Aos sí and they often avoid human interaction, coming out at night time. Many mythological monsters in Irish folklore fall under the classification of the solitary fairies.
The first of these solitary fairies is the banshee, a female death-messenger. When a family member dies, the banshee is often the first notice given to family members that someone has passed. Her shriek crying is instantly recognisable and a definitive sign that someone has died. In Irish mythology, Morrigan the Goddess of war and death, and a member of the Tuatha de Danann, was often confused with the banshee. This is because in mythology, they have both been depicted washing the armour of a hero who would die in their next battle.
The leprachaun and its lesser known more mischievous counterparts, the fearr dearg and cluricaune. they are tiny creatures usually depicted as bearded men. The leprechaun’s greatest passion is shoemaking. They can appear as kind or mischievous depending on the tale you read, but they are usually anti-social creatures and unless provoked by humans prefer to spend their time alone making shoes. The cluricaune is more focused on drinking stout and ale and can be found haunting a brewery.
Fear Dearg, named after their red coats and hats, are also called rat boys due to their hairy skin, tail and long snout. They are the most mischievous of all three and actively involve themselves in practical jokes that can be very dangerous for the unfortunate humans that cross their path. They are known to swap babies with changelings, fairy creatures who take the identical appearance of a person while the real child has been stolen.
Another fairy which is just one of many more in Irish mythology, is the dullahan or headless horseman. he is a malevolent figure in mythology, calling out peoples names only for them to die instantly.
The Celtic Tree of Life
Another important tree in Irish folklore is the Celtic Tree of Life. When the Celts used to clear vast fields for settlement purposes, they’d leave one tree standing alone in the centre. They respected the role trees played in nature; providing food and shelter to animals and humans alike.
This single tree would become the Tree of Life that possesses superpowers. The greatest triumph one would have against their enemy was to chop their tree down. It was considered the most offensive act to do to your enemy as it was sacred. Druids often practised rituals under these trees. Trees symbolised the circle of life, as they died each Winter, only to bloom again in Spring.
The tree represented the interconnectivity of everything in nature and the world, and its connection with the Otherworld. The Otherworld was a supernatural world belonged deities and the dead. Celtic cultures believed that the roots of the tree connected our world with the Otherworld. Trees, in general, were seen as doorways to the spirit world. Thus, they were magical as they protected the land from the evil spirits and hindered their entrance into our world.
There are so many unique designs for the Celtic Tree of life designs, but in general, the roots and branches of the tree form to creative an aesthetic and cohesive circle design.
The interesting history of Hawthorn Trees
As we have already covered, the Hawthorn tree has a rich history in Irish folklore. The Celts believed they were sacred and always left one in the centre of a field they were clearing, as a sign of respect. This would create the curious myth of fairy trees and the reverence around them.
It is considered bad luck to cut down a fairy tree, and even today it is unheard of to cut down a fairy tree.
The only time people could interact with the tree without evoking the wraith of the faeries was during Bealtane, an ancient Celtic festival in Spring. People (especially brides) could also respectfully take the hawthorn flowers from the tree. As the tree was sacred and symbolised love and unity, brides often wore them in their hair or in their bouquets.
Ash trees and their role in Irish folklore
As you now know, Ash trees are also known as Fairy trees, however they are also used to make hurleys, the stick used to play our traditional sport, aptly named hurling. You can learn about the sport which has featured in much of Irish folklore, including The Legend of Cú Chulainn, in our ultimate guide to Irish traditions.
The reason this is interesting is because we have already discussed the fact that the fairy tree is sacred, and considered extremely bad luck to cut down. However we must remember what fits the parameters of a fairy tree. While all fairy trees are Hawthorn or Ash trees, not all Hawthorn and Ash trees are considered fairy trees. This is because the location of the tree determines whether or not it is a fairy tree.
Fairy trees are only found in the centre of fields, Ash trees for hurleys are purposely grown to make the iconic stick. They are used in particular for the woods natural strength, flexibility, lightness and shock absorption qualities
Note: fairy trees Ireland
There are many different spellings of the word fairy, such as: faerie, faery, fay and so on. In this article we used these words interchangeably!
The superstition surrounding fairy forts has helped to preserve many archaeological sites around Ireland. While you may not see a fairy in a tree, there are plenty of fairy trees scattered around the country!
Frequently Asked Questions:
Have you seen any Fairy tree’s in Ireland? We would love to hear about your stories and experiences below!
What tree is known as the fairy tree? / What does a fairy tree look like?
Fairy trees in Ireland are Hawthorn trees or Ash trees. What make’s these Irish Fairy trees different from other trees is their location, specifically the fact that they stand alone in the centre of the field, with large stone circle circling its base.
Why do fairy trees stand alone in the centre of a field?
Another important tree in Irish folklore is the Celtic Tree of Life. When the Celts used to clear vast fields for settlement purposes, they’d leave one tree standing alone in the centre. This is because they respected the role trees played in life nature; providing food and shelter to animals and humans alike. hundreds of years later the origin of these trees would be speculated to be the property of the fay.
What are fairy trees?
Fairy Trees also known as Hawthorn or Ash Trees in Ireland, often found standing alone in the middle of a field. Fairy trees in Ireland are known as either Hawthorn trees or Ash trees. What make’s these Irish Fairy trees different from other trees is their location.
Are Hawthorn trees fairy trees?
The Hawthorn and Ash trees are known as fairy trees. The Hawthorn tree is also associate with Bealtane, an ancient Celtic festival in Spring and was considered a sacred tree, a symbol of love and protection.
Are Hawthorn trees lucky?
There are two sides to this answer. It is considered bad luck to cut a Hawthorn tree down or to disturb the tree in any way which may alert the fairies. However, the tree is a Celtic symbol of love and protection. During Bealtane, the Celtic festival of Spring it was permitted to hang things on the tree. Collecting flowers from the tree was allowed, and was actually a tradition for brides to wear in them in their hair or in their bouquet to symbolise their union of love.
Are Fairy trees real?
Yes! Fairy trees are also known as Hawthorn or Ash trees and are found scattered throughout Ireland.
Are there any fairy trees in Northern Ireland?
There are many fairy trees found throughout Northern Ireland. You never have to go too far to find a fairy tree in Ireland, you just need to know how to find them. After reading our article you’ll understand what a fairy tree actually is.
Is it unlucky to cut down a Hawthorn Tree?
Yes it was considered extremely bad luck to cut down a Hawthorn tree. Just a few generations ago, people would take a longer route home at night-time to avoid passing a fairytree. Even today, fairytrees are still standing tall in the centre of fields.
Have you enjoyed our article on Irish fairies folklore? If so, other worthy reads that might interest you include:
Fairy Glens| Curious Case of Irish Curses | Finest Legends and Tales of Irish Mythology| Digging into the Secrets of Irish Pookas| Interesting Facts about the Irish Legend of the Children of Lir| Insight into the Irish Wake and Superstitions Associated with it|
The fairy tree story tells us more than one may think about Irish customs and beliefs throughout history, there is always something you learn by looking into the past. At Connolly Cove you can read about the history of Ireland as well as the best Irish travel guides available online!