Names for the Fairies

Names for the Fairies

The Irish expressions “the Gentry” and “the Gentle Folk” were not bestowed on the Manx fairies as a body, or at least they have not survived; neither has any other title which might testify to their physical or social superiority. They were the “Sleih Beggey,” the Little Folk – the right sort for such a little island.

Another colloquial name was “Mooinjer Veggey,” the Little People” or “kindred.” These were translated into the dialect as “the Li’l Fallas,” and varied with “the Crowd,” “the Mob,” or “Themselves.” “Them’s that’s in” covers the fairies and other supernatural beings of the better sort.

All these terms, both the English and the Manx, were substitutions; caution forbade the everyday use of the right name. None of them is likely to be heard now, because the fear has vanished with the faith, and “the feeries” are spoken of without periphrasis. But in place-names, which presumably date some centuries back, both “shee” and “ferrish” are found.

The Manx must have adopted the English word “fairies” for use in the singular number, and ferrishyn is, at the least, a double plural. This borrowed word ousted the earlier shee in ordinary usage, but shee has survived, alongside of ferrish and ferrishyn, in at least one place-name.

In plant-names, on the other hand, we find ferrish or ferrishyn invariably, from which it may be argued that one or two of the fairy places got their names long before the fairy herbs got theirs. Plant-names are more liable to change than place-names, but it is difficult to believe that in so many of the former the older word shee was replaced by ferrish. Must we therefore conclude that, although magical and curative properties were doubtless attributed to these herbs before Manx existed as a distinct language, their connexions with the fairies were an imported tradition.


(source: A Second Manx Scrapbook by W Walter Gill (1932); photograph is from an unknown wallpaper site)

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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