The Solitary Fairies

In 1888, William Butler Yeats edited an anthology of Irish folk tales and folklore.  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Germ Magazine invites you to enjoy Yeats’ introduction to the solitary fairies, now a part of the public domain and reproduced in full below.   Who better than Yeats to teach us of fairies?

 

“The Solitary Fairies,” from Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by W.B. Yeats [1888]

“The name Lepracaun,” Mr. Douglas Hyde writes to me, “is from the Irish leith brogi.e., the One-shoemaker, since he is generally seen working at a single shoe. It is spelt in Irish leith bhrogan, or leith phrogan, and is in some places pronounced Luchryman, as O’Kearney writes it in that very rare book, the Feis Tigh Chonain.”

Leprechaun_by_cermaith
Leprechaun by cermaith

The Lepracaun, Cluricaun, and Far Darrig. Are these one spirit in different moods and shapes? Hardly two Irish writers are agreed. In many things these three fairies, if three, resemble each other. They are withered, old, and solitary, in every way unlike the sociable spirits of the first sections. They dress with all unfairy homeliness, and are, indeed, most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms. They are the great practical jokers among the good people.

The Lepracaun makes shoes continually, and has grown very rich. Many treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time, has he now for his own. In the early part of this century, according to Croker, in a newspaper office in Tipperary, they used to show a little shoe forgotten by a Lepracaun.

The Cluricaun, (Clobhair-ceann, in O’Kearney) makes himself drunk in gentlemen’s cellars. Some suppose he is merely the Lepracaun on a spree. He is almost unknown in Connaught and the north.

The Far Darrig (fear dearg), which means the Red Man, for he wears a red cap and coat, busies himself with practical joking, especially with gruesome joking.  This he does, and nothing else.

Fir Darrig by cermaith
Fir Darrig by cermaith

The Fear-Gorta (Man of Hunger) is an emaciated phantom that goes through the land in famine time, begging an alms and bringing good luck to the giver.

There are other solitary fairies, such as the House-spirit and the Water-sheerie, own brother to the English Jack-o’-Lantern; the Pooka and the Banshee–concerning these presently; the Dallahan, or headless phantom–one used to stand in a Sligo street on

dark nights till lately; the Black Dog, a form, perhaps, of the Pooka. The ships at the Sligo quays are haunted sometimes by this spirit, who announces his presence by a sound like the flinging of all “the tin porringers in the world” down into the hold. He even follows them to sea.

The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress), seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth–this malignant phantom.

Besides these are divers monsters–the Augh-iska, the Water-horse, the Payshtha (píast = bestia), the Lake-dragon, and such like; but whether these be animals, fairies, or spirits, I know not.

Fir Darrig by cermaith
Fir Darrig by cermaith
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