Meeting the Other Crowd -- the Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland
Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green
"D'you ever hear tell o' the hunt in the middle o' the night? Delmerge's Mountain was the famous place for that sure." -- Latoon Dead Hunt, Meeting the Other Crowd.
In 1999, storyteller Eddie Lenihan made international headlines for his protest over the removal of a whitethorn bush in Latoon, County Clare, Ireland. The lone tree stood in the path of a $20 million road project. Not just any whitethorn, Mr. Lenihan had information that the tree was a fairy tree, a sceach, known and inhabited by the Gentry for generations. As a result of his belief and protest, the road project was altered slightly and the tree was spared.
A storyteller, folklorist and teacher, Mr. Lenihan is the author of a large body of work including books, poetry, children's stories, audio and videotapes. Collecting folktales from storytellers throughout southern Ireland for thirty years, Mr. Lenihan himself is one of the few remaining seanchai in Ireland today.
Meeting the Other Crowd -- the Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland is an essential book for students of folklore and any interested adult reader. While some dismiss "fairy stories" as fodder for children, these stories are not meant, in tone or topic, for children. The book is organized in three parts, with collected tales that describe "who they are and what they want," "fairy places," and "gifts, punishments and other outcomes of fairy encounters."
For the contemporary reader, this book is a treasure trove of authentic rural folklore. Originating in Clare, Limerick, Kerry and the Galway area, the stories were collected personally by Mr. Lenihan in recent years. Having been received directly from older storytellers, the tales retain their "feel" as a story and one can imagine being in the same room with the teller.
Of inestimable value is the fact that Mr. Lenihan is a storyteller himself. He has an inherent respect and belief in the people and the tales that he has collected. Other works such as The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz and even Fairy Legends by Thomas Crofton Croker, himself an Irishman, bear the unintended polish and analysis of an outsider looking in.
Of special note is the Introduction to Meeting the Other Crowd. Truly, the Introduction is worth the price of the book itself. In it, Mr. Lenihan describes fairy belief, the passing of the storytelling tradition in Ireland and the value in not taking such things for granted. The discussion describing the demise of the oral tradition and loss of respect for the landscape is compelling. Sadly, Mr. Lenihan relates that, as Meeting the Other Crowd was going to press in August 2002, the Latoon fairy bush he worked to save was vandalized by someone who used a chainsaw to cut off all of its branches, leaving it a bare stump.
There can be no doubt that the age of great storytellers in Ireland is passing. But it is through the efforts of individuals like Mr. Lenihan that the tradition stands a chance of surviving in a different form. Through his exertions in collecting and relating the stories to a wider audience, we can partake of the belief, try to understand its message and pass the stories and belief on to our own children.
The book doesn't push an agenda for believing in fairies; it offers its stories, that is all. But for my own part? I believe in 'em. Mr. Lenihan is no fool. The Otherworld will always exist for those who believe. Oh and the Latoon fairy tree? It sprouted leaves again last summer.
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