Ireland has always been a place filled with fascinating folklore and stories. One very interesting piece of our folklore involves the mystical Irish Fairy Trees. All around Ireland there are Fairy Trees which are believed to be home to the magical creatures.
There is so much to uncover about Fairy trees from their history, the superstitions around them and even the locations in Ireland where you can visit them. Keep reading to find out more about Fairy Trees in Ireland…
Also called the “wee folk”, it was once believed that the magical creatures didn’t like being referred to as fairies. Even today in Ireland the Irish Fairy trees carry a lot of superstition. While many Irish people no longer believe in fairies they still avoid disturbing the Fairy trees as it is said to bring bad luck to those that do.
Here is a quick breakdown of our article, simply click on a heading to skip ahead!
Table of Contents – Fairy Tree Ireland:
- 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. The thing that makes these Irish Fairy trees different from other trees is their location. As we will soon explain, not all Hawthorn or Ash trees are fairy trees.
The Fairy tree is usually found alone in the middle of a 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 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 fairy trees 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 and prosperity to the owners of the land where they grow. Many people who visit the fairy trees leave prayers, gifts and personal items as a token of good gesture in the hopes of receiving good fortune or healing in return from the ‘wee folk’.
You might be wondering how the hawthorn tree became known as a faerie tree. Why is it that this tree in particular became identified with fairies? The most likely reason is that the tree blooms in Spring and was associated with the festival of Beltane. This was an important time for the ancient Irish as well as the Sidhe. (The fairy people who appear in Irish mythology).
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 and 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 the fae due to the magical powers they had. People also believe that if you cut down or damaged one of the Irish Fairy trees you would face a lifetime of 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 about the story of this Irish Fairy tree here.
Some Fairy trees were located on the land of farmers, who went to great lengths to make sure that 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 said that the fairies are the greatest protector of Irish archaeology, which is another reason why farmers refuse to remove them. Even if you don’t believe in the mythology, it is impossible to deny that the fae folk are a symbol of ancient Irish history. Many people were afraid to disturb the tree and as a result, ancient sites nearby fairy trees have gone untouched for centuries. This leads us on to the next section of this article.
Fairy Forts in Ireland
There are hundreds of ‘fairy forts” still found in Ireland today. Many of the forts have not been disturbed due to the superstitions that are associated with them. The main myth is that you don’t want to touch the home of the fairies as they might take revenge on you.
The “Fairy Forts” in Ireland are also known as Ring forts, a circular enclosed surrounding covered by an earthen or stone bank. They were originally designed to protect cows during the night from cattle raiders. Over time people moved into more open spaces and its believed that the fairies made these ring forts into their new homes. This is why Ring forts were given the name “Fairy Forts”.
Fairy Trees in Irish Folklore
Ireland is filled with fascinating folklore stories, but 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 two different worlds to collide. These two worlds are the mortal world and the other-world of fairies. The trees and forts 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, which was the belief in all thing’s fairies. It all started when the Milesians took part in a mythical race in the 11th century which saw them arriving in Ireland. The Milesians were Gaels who sailed from Hispania to Ireland after hundreds of years travelling around the earth. The Gaels were originally from Ireland and wanted to return to the home of their ancestors.
When the Milesians arrived in Ireland, they banished the natives to the underground or other-world as it was also known as. These natives were actually the Tuatha de Danann, Ireland’s most ancient supernatural race (we will discuss them in more detail below). The native Tuatha de Danann became known as the Sidhe, the fairy folk who lived underground among the trees and bushes.
It is believed that the Fairy folk had many ways of getting to the otherworld. Methods included entering the base of Fairy trees, burial mounds, fairy forts and even by going underwater. These getaways became very important for the fairy folk to easily move between the two worlds, and so they became protected by magic powers of the otherworld.
Where to Find Fairy Trees in Ireland
The great thing about travelling around Ireland is that everywhere you turn you will uncover a tale of wonder. The fairy trees of Ireland are fascinating and there are plenty of them just waiting to be found.
Fairy trees are dotted all over the Irish Countryside. They are easy to spot as they will be alone in a field. Once you know how to recognise a fairy tree, you’ll be spotting them everywhere you go in Ireland!
Many fairy trees are found in places of ancient pagan importance, holy sites as well as random fields in the countryside. If you wish to go find some Fairy trees in Ireland, we have some popular suggestions for you to check out:
- The 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 that you can visit to find some magical Irish Fairy trees. Remember not to disturb the trees and you may even be granted with good fortune for respecting them. Fairy trees in Ireland are special and full of wonder, but they are not the only trees that have an interesting folklore. The Celts recognised the importance of trees to their survival, so much so that the tree of life became a common Celtic symbol. Visiting these while you are here will hopefully be a rewarding experience, as they are 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 describes its most powerful members.
Notable members include Danu the mother goddess, 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 the origin of the Tuatha de Danann, their most magical treasures, their greatest stories and finally, the ultimate fate of the tribe of Danu.
The history of the Tuatha de Danann is fascinating. For example, did you know that one of its members remained above ground and became a saint in Catholic Ireland according to the mythology?
The Tuatha de Danann were conquered by the mortal tribe known as the 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 Celtic Gods and Goddesses of ancient Ireland were now known as the ‘Sidhe’, ‘People of the Sidhe’ or ‘Aos sí’ and became the fairly folk we know 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.
They are mysterious in nature; we know a lot about the Tuatha de Danann, the ancestors of the Aos Sí, but much of what happened to them after they went underground is unknown.
May different types of fairies are found in this classification. Solitary fairies are the fairies who do not live together like the Aos sí. They often avoid human interaction, coming out at night time. Many mythological monsters in Irish folklore fall under the classification of the solitary fairies. These are the fairies that you imagine when you think of fairy trees.
The first of these solitary fairies is the banshee, a female death-messenger. When someone dies, the banshee is often the first notice given to family members that a loved one has passed away.
Her shriek crying is instantly recognisable and a definitive sign that death has occurred. 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 folklore, they have both been depicted washing the armour of a hero who would die in their next battle.
The leprachaun and its lesser known but more mischievous counterparts, the fearr dearg and cluricaune are up next. 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, however. They can be found haunting breweries.
The Fear Dearg are named after their red coats and hats (dearg means ‘red’ in Irish and fear means ‘man’). They are also called rat boys due to their hairy skin, tail and long snout. They are the most mischievous of all three creatures and actively involve themselves in practical jokes that can be 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 human when the real person has been taken.
A changeling was a fairy that took the place of a human, usually a child. The changeling could alter their appearance to become nearly identical to the person that was stolen. It was only through the unusual behaviours the changeling showed when they thought that they were alone that their true nature would be revealed.
Changelings appear throughout European mythology. Their origin, motives, traits and abilities vary from story to story, but the good news is that there is usually a way to recover the missing child from the fairy people. Sometimes good fairies would return the child to its parents before they even realised they were swapped.
Dullahan – Headless Horsemen
Another solitary fairy is the dullahan or headless horseman. He is a malevolent figure in mythology, calling out peoples names only for them to die instantly. In other myths a person would die if his horse stopped moving.
The headless horseman has appeared in Irish, Scottish and American mythology as a vengeful spirit that should be avoided at all cost. In some myths wearing gold would protect people from the Horseman.
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 would always 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 the Celts believed possessed supernatural powers. 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 the tree was sacred.
Druids often practised rituals under these trees. Druids were high ranking figures in ancient society, fulfilling the role of religious leader, doctor and judge. Unfortunately druids left very little written information behind. We do know that trees symbolised the circle of life, dying each Winter only to bloom again in Spring.
The Tree of Life represented the interconnectivity of everything in nature and the connection of our world with the Otherworld. The Otherworld was a supernatural place which belonged to deities and the dead. Celtic cultures believed that the roots of the tree connected our world with the Otherworld. Trees 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. They acted as both a door for fairies and a barrier for evil spirits.
On one night in particular the barrier to the Otherworld was weakened. This night became the festival of Samhain and has now transformed into modern day Halloween. Why not read our article about Halloween traditions throughout the years to find out more.
There are so many unique designs for the Celtic Tree of life artwork, but in general the roots and branches of the tree form to create an aesthetic and cohesive circular design.
It makes sense that fairy trees were actually created by the Celts. Their custom to leave a tree in the centre of fields to honour the circle of life created the mysterious lone fairy tree that we know of today. Of course this is only one of many theories, but it seems to make perfect sense. What do you think?
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 in Ireland and the reverence around them that still exists today.
It was considered bad luck to cut down a fairytree, and it is unheard of to disturb one. Even if people are less likely to believe in the myth of fairy trees, they will not take the chance of cutting them down. People also like to preserve the history of the tree in their area. Many Irish people grew up listening to their parents and grandparents telling stories and reminiscing about the magical trees. If nothing else, they are nostalgic and remind us of simpler times.
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 could also respectfully take the hawthorn flowers from the tree during this time. The flower 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 Fairy trees. However, ash trees are also used to make hurleys, the stick used to play a traditional GAA sport called 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 that this is interesting is because we have already discussed the fact that the fairy tree is sacred and that it is considered extremely bad luck to cut one down. However we must remember what fits the criteria 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 dwelling.
Fairy trees are only found in the centre of fields, Ash trees for hurleys or hurls are purposely grown to make the iconic stick. Ash is used in particular for the woods natural strength, flexibility, lightness and shock absorption qualities.
Players are very connected to their own Hurley. Each hurl is unique as they are made from skilled craftsmen who each have their own methods. Hurls can break during matches (which is known as a ‘clash of the ash’) but players are often reluctant to replace their stick with a new one.
Unfortunately a disease in the ash tree has caused a shortage of wood for hurls. Many players are now forced to use synthetic woods and even bamboo as a replacement. This has made the surviving ash hurls even more special as they are becoming rare.
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 fairytrees 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 makes these Irish Fairy trees different from other trees is their location. They stand alone in the centre of the field, usually with large stone circles surrounding their 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 would leave one tree standing alone in the centre of the field as they respected the role trees played in life and nature. Hundreds of years later the origin of these trees would be speculated to be the property of the fairy folk.
What are fairy trees?
Fairy Trees are also known as Hawthorn or Ash Trees in Ireland. What makes these Irish Fairy trees different from other trees is their location; Fairy Trees are often found standing alone in the middle of a field
Are Hawthorn trees fairy trees?
The Hawthorn and Ash trees are known as fairy trees. The Hawthorn tree is also associated with Bealtane, an ancient Celtic festival in Spring. It was considered a sacred tree, a symbol of love and protection and was not to be disturbed.
Are Hawthorn trees lucky?
There are two sides to this answer. It is considered bad luck to cut a Hawthorn fairy 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 also allowed. In the past it was actually a tradition for brides to put Hawthorn flowers 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 on the island of Ireland, you just need to know how to find them. After reading our article you’ll understand what a fairytree actually is and how to spot one. They are most prominent in the countryside.
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 fairy tree. 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 can 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!