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Fairies Investigated in Irish Court August 16, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Beach has been enjoying himself with fairies these last few months, looking at late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century news-reports from Britain and Ireland. What is curious is that fairies very often appear in the law pages of the newspapers. They do so typically in one of two guises: (i) child abuse because parents believe the child is a changeling or (ii) swindles based on a seer claiming to know the will of the fairies and then disappearing to America with ten sovereigns. However, just today he stumbled on this extraordinary account from the Limerick Star from the early nineteenth century that does not fit into either of these categories.

Here, instead, worlds are colliding. On the one hand, we have the bench and the local squires defending the status quo and rattled by rumours of a nocturnal gathering in a time when Ireland was perpetually on the edge of rebellion. And then on the other there is the Irish peasantry gently explaining the reality of fairies to their betters.

When Beach first read this he thought that it was a joke, but it is not outré enough for that and our writer himself assures us: that ‘[p]art of the business which was before the court this day has so much the appearance of levity, as that it may be considered a fiction; but every word of it, I pledge myself, is literally true, and occupied much of the time of the bench’.

Immediately after the sitting of the court this day, Mr O’Grady got on his legs and addressed the great number present at considerable length, respecting illegal meetings, etc. He expressed his determination to put down illegal meetings with considerable warmth. The learned gentleman said ‘I am informed that there was an immense number of horse and foot seen parading the hill of Knockagreana on an evening in the last week; when I heard of it, I caused persons to make particular inquiry, to go and examine the place of rendezvous closely, to see if there were any tracks of men or horses, or other traces of such meeting. I sent word around the neighbourhood to have any person or persons who may have any knowledge of the circumstance to come forward and give information of such illegal meetings; they must be put down, and I now call upon any person who may have any knowledge of it to come forward and give information – I entreat them to do so, and I promise I will put down those meetings; if it is not the case, and if no one will come forward to see the thing at rest, let me have no more talk about it. I just have one of the persons who said he saw this meeting in my eye: come forward then, Matthew Bourke and take this book.

Mr Bourke: I will not take my oath about it; I don’t know what you want to swear about.

Mr O’Grady: I insist that you must; you are one of the persons who reported that you saw this great meeting; you must tell us what you know about it.

Mr Bourke being sworn

Mr O’Grady: Now tell us what you saw.

Mr Bourke. I saw something like a great number of people and horses going from the Leinfield side of the hill, towards Pallas.

Mr O’Grady Had they arms?

Mr Bourke: I don’t know whether they had or not.

Mr O’Grady Were they living people?

Mr Bourke: I don’t know.

Rev. Mr Coote. What do you think they were?

Mr Bourke. I don’t know; I cannot say what they were.

Next up is my Morty Hayes who is less reticent.

Mr O’Grady: Come forward here, Morty.

Mortimer Hayes: I did not see the meeting at all.

Mr O’Grady: You know something about it for all that: come, Sir, take this book, we must have what you know about it.

Being sworn.

Mortimer Hayes: I did not seen anything; I known nothing only what I heard other people say; I heard it from twenty; I believe it is true that there was a great meeting there.

Mr O’Grady: Do you believe that it was living people that were there?

Mortimer Hayes: I believe it was not.

Rev Mr Coote: What do you think they were?

Mortimer Hayes: I believe they were fairies (great laughter) [Beach bets he actually said ‘good people’]

Mr Coote: Upon your oath do you believe there are such things as fairies?

Mr Hayes: I do (renewed laughter)

At this point there is some speculation in the court about whether the meeting really took place or not.

Mortimer Hayes: It is no lie for me; hundreds of persons besides me say there was a great sight there; Parson Scott’s daughters saw them; and here is another man, John Harty, who saw them; they might be going the road abroad, before your eyes, and you may not see them.

Mr O’Grady: When I heard of it I sent to have the place examined, to see if there was a sign or trace of such meeting. Sergeant Philips, did you examine the place?

Sergeant Philips: I did, and after viewing the place closely, as you desired, I could not find any trace or mark of such meeting.

Mr O’Grady: I am sure that it was some designing persons that set the report afloat, to make out that this district is in a disturbed state, which is well known is not the case.

Finally John Harty takes the stand:

‘Saw a great number on the hill of Knockagreana as they were like men and horses; they were moving along towards Pallas; did not know whether they had arms; there were more than a thousand; does not know whether they were living or dead; believed they were not living beings; I can’t say what they were; did not know any of them.’

The reporter now becomes facetious – he had been provoked:

‘[n]one of the person who were brought forward being able, or at least did not undertake to identify any of the party, from as was supposed the similarity of their red caps… Everyone was in amazement at Mr O’Grady’s efficiency and determination in attempting to make those beings, who are supposed to be a privileged class, amenable to the laws of this sublunary world.’

Any other examples of Forteana becoming the subject of legal investigation? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com