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Fairy Sighting on Skye, c. 1880 March 12, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

The family crisis continues here and so Beach offers a modest little post on a fairy sighting in Skye: perhaps Beachcombing’s favourite witness account of the ‘good folk’.  This was written out in the early 1960s that puts the experience back c. 1880.

In the darkening of an Autumn evening over eighty years ago a little boy in the Isle of Skye was awaiting the return of his mother from a visit to an ailing neighbour. He and his elder sister had been left with their grandmother while their mother was on an errand of mercy. Another little boy had joined them, and all had played happily during the afternoon. Their own home was some distance from their grandmother’s – just too far for little ones unaccompanied. Presently there came to call on their grandmother an elderly woman from the village, one whom the children knew well and whom they liked. Probably by this time they were becoming a little tired and cross, and their old friend was trying to amuse them. Suddenly she said: ‘Come with me. I want to show you something.’ They all took hands and went out into the gloaming and down the path by the side of the burn. Then the old lady stopped, and said: ‘Look, do you see them?’ And there on the hillside, all dressed in green, were the fairies dancing in a ring round a fire. The children were simply enchanted by what they saw, and one can imagine their excitement and the wonderful story they would have to tell their mother on her return. Next morning they rushed out to look for the ashes of the fairy fire, but there was nothing to be seen.

So what is so special about this account recorded in Katharine Briggs’s work?

[A]s children my brother and sisters and I were never tired of hearing this story. My aunt too, when she came to visit us, would corroberate [sic] the tale. And I have passed it on to mine, and shown them the green, grassy mound ‘where Papa saw the fairies’. Two years ago, and for the first time, I met the third child, now an old man, and he could recall as vividly and clearly as if it had been yesterday all the details of that wonderful evening.

This could in part be rationalised away as brother and sister retelling and retelling an experience and misunderstanding the presence of fairies on a Scottish island: the wealthy Briggs family had connections with Skye.  But KB’s discussion of the tale with ‘the third child’ suggests someone outside the magic circle who had his own independent memories. Perhaps KB is right, if we want to look for a ‘rational’ solution, to concentrate on the one adult present who was said to have second sight.

An interesting point in this narrative is the second-sighted woman who gave the children their glimpse of the fairies. It is noticeable that they were all hand in hand when they saw them, though her method was simpler than that of the wizards described by Kirk, who put their right hand on their pupil’s head and their right foot on his left and made him look over their right shoulder. The fairies were dressed in the usual manner in green and were dancing round a fairy knoll, but it was somewhat unusual for them to dance round a fire instead of being more mysteriously lit. Fires are as a rule only used by the iron-working fairies.

Beach is always looking for fairy accounts: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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14/Mar/2011: Fey writes: ‘The question of fairies, belief and fairy experts is a fascinating one. Let me give some examples. There are out and out believers: e.g. Signe Pike and Eddie Lenihan. They are not scholars and can get away with it. Janet Bord author of Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People is a serious type and I suspect that she believes. ‘My personal view is that traditional fairy lore had developed from various stimuli, namely belief in nature spirits, primitive races, pagan gods and the spirits of the dead. Personal sightings, on the other hand, could be the results of imagination, fabrication, or the externalisation of unconscious archetypes. If these were the only explanations, then none of the Little People seen were objectively real. Can this be true? I honestly do not know, and I am not going to pretend that I do, but if I were to allow myself a flight of fancy, I would speculate that some of the Little People might be real, and that they live in another world which exists parallel to ours.’ Katharine Briggs says in some place – can’t find it! – that the Cottingley Fairies don’t seem real to her because they look too much what Edwardian Fairies should look like. Does this not imply a certain patience that fairies can exist? Perhaps, perhaps not. Or what about this from Welsh scholar Robin Gwyndaf? ‘Once upon a time there was a boy who lived on a farm, high in the hills of north Wales. Occasionally when he was not needed to help with the housework or on the farm, or when he just felt like wandering over his ‘country estate’, he would leave the farm yard, walk along Cae Bach (the little field) until he came to Y Giat Goch (the red gate. Once through this he was right in the centre of a circular piece of land about ten yards in diameter . The grass there was always green – unusually green – and always fine and even, like velvet. There the young lad would sit for hours and dream his time away. Nowhere would he be happier than in that green circle of land near the red gate, because there the fairies would come and take him with them on a long journey, over the Foel Goch hill, Llangwm village nearby, and the Berwyn mountains, to a wonderful land of beauty and plenty, sweet music and dance. The author of this essay was that yong boy! I mention my childhood recollection not to emphasise the power of imagination, but to point out that the belief in the fairies persisted in Wales into the late forties and early fifties of this century.’ This surely implies belief in a scholar?’ Thanks Fey!