The Sociable Fairies

: Irish Fairy Tales

These creatures, who go about in troops, and quarrel, and make love,

much as men and women do, are divided into land fairies or Sheoques

(Ir. Sidheog, 'a little fairy,') and water fairies or Merrows (Ir.

Moruadh, 'a sea maid'; the masculine is unknown). At the same time I

am inclined to think that the term Sheoque may be applied to both

upon occasion, for I have heard of a whole village turning out to hear

two red-capp
d water fairies, who were very 'little fairies' indeed,

play upon the bagpipes.

1. The Sheoques.--The Sheoques proper, however, are the spirits that

haunt the sacred thorn bushes and the green raths. All over Ireland

are little fields circled by ditches, and supposed to be ancient

fortifications and sheep-folds. These are the raths, or forts, or

'royalties,' as they are variously called. Here, marrying and giving

in marriage, live the land fairies. Many a mortal they are said to

have enticed down into their dim world. Many more have listened to

their fairy music, till all human cares and joys drifted from their

hearts and they became great peasant seers or 'Fairy Doctors,' or

great peasant musicians or poets like Carolan, who gathered his tunes

while sleeping on a fairy rath; or else they died in a year and a day,

to live ever after among the fairies. These Sheoques are on the whole

good; but one most malicious habit have they--a habit worthy of a

witch. They steal children and leave a withered fairy, a thousand or

maybe two thousand years old, instead. Three or four years ago a man

wrote to one of the Irish papers, telling of a case in his own

village, and how the parish priest made the fairies deliver the stolen

child up again. At times full-grown men and women have been taken.

Near the village of Coloney, Sligo, I have been told, lives an old

woman who was taken in her youth. When she came home at the end of

seven years she had no toes, for she had danced them off. Now and then

one hears of some real injury being done a person by the land fairies,

but then it is nearly always deserved. They are said to have killed

two people in the last six months in the County Down district where I

am now staying. But then these persons had torn up thorn bushes

belonging to the Sheoques.

2. The Merrows.--These water fairies are said to be common. I asked

a peasant woman once whether the fishermen of her village had ever

seen one. 'Indeed, they don't like to see them at all,' she answered,

'for they always bring bad weather.' Sometimes the Merrows come out of

the sea in the shape of little hornless cows. When in their own shape,

they have fishes' tails and wear a red cap called in Irish cohuleen

driuth (p. 79). The men among them have, according to Croker, green

teeth, green hair, pigs' eyes, and red noses; but their women are

beautiful, and sometimes prefer handsome fishermen to their

green-haired lovers. Near Bantry, in the last century, lived a woman

covered with scales like a fish, who was descended, as the story goes,

from such a marriage. I have myself never heard tell of this grotesque

appearance of the male Merrows, and think it probably a merely local

Munster tradition.