Fairies & Mortals

Fairies & Mortals

The airs of two or three Manx songs have the name of being ‘fairy tunes’ which were overheard in lonely places, especially on the banks of streams. Other melodies from the Middle World are ‘Tappaghyn Jiargey’ (The Red Topknots) and the ‘Arrane Ghelby’ (The Dalby Song).

Drinking cups have been won from feasting fairies, and most of them lost again – perhaps all. Girls have been rapt from this world by their fairy lovers, and men have entered the hills for various reasons; some have returned, but not many.

Between a breath and a breath, a mortal might spend a hundred years in fairyland, or after a lightning glimpse of fairyland he might come back a hundred years later. Or again, his body might live in this world and his soul in the other. Something of this last idea has survived the general belief in fairies and certain abnormal states of mind are still liable to be interpreted, though rarely and privately, as a lapsing into the fairy sphere of influence.

A Lezayre girl was seen to be failing in health; she grew thin and listless and lost her interest in the ordinary affairs of life. Her mother accused her of having dealings with a spirit or with the fairies, but she would not confess to it. So from time to time the mother watched by night in the churchyard and on other nights in the woods above the church and eventually she saw her daughter dancing with the fairies among the trees on the hillside. She did not go near them. Not long afterwards the girl died. She was of course, supposed to have joined the fairies for good.

Quite healthy and normal human beings might find themselves mixed up with ‘The Crowd’ if they were not careful to keep their stables well protected with the usual horse-shoes and keirn crosses. For a horse accustomed to being borrowed at night by the fairies might at any time be attracted by the fairy hunt as irresistibly as the Cabbyl-ushtey (water-horse) was attracted to water. To catch a note of the fairy horn, or the tinkle of silver bridle-bells, or the twitter of a silver whistle, or the yelping and whining of the little red-eared, skewbald hounds, or to get a glimpse of the green and scarlet cavaliers themselves winding along far up the ferny glenside, was enough to make him prick his ears and gallop away with his reluctant rider to join them.

The fairies were most frequently to be seen, heard and smelled in the lonely upper parts of glens, where the bright, slender rivers tumble swiftly and musically from pool to pool and only a narrow strip of sky shines down between the high green banks; but they dwelt also on bare, dry hill-tops where dancing could be enjoyed, and in places where green burial mounds swell from the level sward so delightful for dancing. There was hardly any kind of place indeed, which they would not transfigure with their presence if the humour took them. At night, from a long way off, they could be seen trooping or dancing on ‘the tops’ – the high places – as drifts of sparks or little flickering flames.


(source: A Second Manx Scrapbook by W Walter Gill (1932); artwork is Boy on White Horse by Theodor Kittelsen http://bit.ly/1Wtu6YN)

Bernadette Weyde

Bernadette Weyde

I'm a web designer, amateur historian and keen gardener and I enjoy bringing Manx history, folklore and poetry to a modern audience.


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