10. Aug, 2020

FAIRY FOLKLORE True or False

Part Four - “The Fairy Doctor”

 

 

‘Fairy Doctors’ can be either male or female, but they are all completely immersed in fairy lore, which enables them to act as intermediaries between the mortal and fairy worlds. The ‘Fairy Doctor’ talks to the ‘Good People’ in a language that they could understand and because of their closeness to the fairy folk they became wise and gained the power of prophecy. Because they possessed these powers the ‘Fairy Doctors’ were sought for their advice when the human community had a problem with the ‘Good People’. They were also consulted to help track down lost items, and also in dealing with non-fairy related illnesses. On occasion they would be engaged as vets or be asked to counteract witchcraft.

 

During their stay with the Fairy Folk the ‘Fairy Doctors’ were bestowed with powers that could enable them to deal with many mortal problems. Their average period of residence with the ‘Good People’ was usually seven years, although there were some who claimed longer periods in their company. Edward Daly, for example, to whom we have referred above in driving out a ‘changeling’ insisted that he had lived among the ‘Good People’ for fourteen years. Nevertheless, whatever the length of their residence with the fairy folk, the ‘Fairy Doctors’ spent their time acquainting themselves with the secret knowledge of how to see into the future by means of a crystal ball, and the use of various herbs in many medicines and charms.

 

In their communities the ‘Fairy Doctor’ was of similar standing to a ‘Witch Doctor’ and acted a link between the mortal and spiritual world. Even when they left the fairy realm the ‘Doctors’ would meet their fairy contacts regularly at the ‘Raths’ or along the local lanes and boreens. Some of these ‘Doctors’, however, were above or beyond conducting some ‘scams’ and ‘confidence tricks’ that would enrich them at the expense of the ignorant. There are some accounts that show how some of the ‘Fairy Doctors’ were nothing short of being criminals, bleeding vulnerable men and women dry of the meagre resources in the most despicable of ways. Yet, there were others who did have the best interests of those who asked for their help at heart. Unfortunately, the sins of the few often taint everyone and in a rural communities in which they practised there were many long-running conflicts between the ‘Fairy Doctors’, the clergy and the forces of the law. In fact there were quite a few who were forced by circumstances to live an itinerant style of life, with some finally settling within the city limits of Dublin.

 

An infamously crooked ‘Fairy Doctor’ called Mary Bourke lived in County Clare and was said to travel from place to place with the spirit of her dead brother within her. To strengthen her claims to be a ‘Fairy Doctor’ Mary told everyone she met that she had spent seven years among the ‘Good People’ learning all their secrets. From place to place the peasants would gather to hear her prophesy. She would first fall in a faint and, when she recovered, she would encourage the gathering by telling them that her fainting was the means by which the ‘Good People’ transmitted their messages to her. Eventually, while travelling through County Mayo, Mary’s activities were very rapidly brought to the attention of the law. She had been asked to treat an ill-tempered mule in a village where it caused a lot of damage. When Mary undertook to cure the mule, she also made a promise that she would bring a dead young man back from the fairies. As part of her preparations to rescue the young man, Mary put the family on a special diet and news of what she intended to do encouraged hundreds of local peasants to gather to witness the extraordinary event. On the day of the promised rescue Mary took a black-handled knife and walked around in the company of young female followers. She also made up a mix of water and blackberry juice that she could throw at any fairies that might oppose her rescue efforts. As the village busied itself in final preparations for the great rescue, Mary used the hustle and bustle of the people to escape before her scam was discovered. She was, however, caught very quickly by the disillusioned villagers and immediately handed over to the authorities.

 

During 1848, in County Westmeath, a woman who claimed to be ‘The Queen of the Fairies’ was taken to court for stealing and in open court the victim of the theft and the woman’s husband testified to all that she had said to them[1] -

 

“(The Queen) come in and pulls out her clay pipe (dhudeen) and puts some quare things into it, and commences smoken; she soon begins to puff, puff, like mad, just as if she was going to change herself into a steam-indian; her two liven eyes began to blaze, like two coals in a fire; up she starts, all in a suddint, and places her arms akimbo, and spreaden herself out fornents me, like a frustrated turkey-cock; I’m yer mother, ses she; begor I am dam-founded with consternation, at the idaya of haven me mother afore me, who’s dead and gone to glory long ago, the bed of heaven to her; haven recovered from exstonishment, I ses to her, you can’t be mother, for the dear dacent woman is dead this long time, may God be merciful to her sowl; oh, but I am your mother, ses she, and I’m nayther dead nor alive, but I am the Queen of the Fairies; cross of Christ about us, ses I , a cowld thrimblin creepin all over me, from head to foot; yes, I am Queen of the Fairies, ses she, and ‘twas I that ordered Dick’s other two wives to me palace at Knockshegowna (a famous fairy fort), there above Birr, and if you don’t be obajient to me command, I’ll send you to keep company with them.”

 

Then, at the end of the case, she was told by the judge that she would be sent to prison for four months the paper recorded her response[2] -

 

her Fairy Majesty seemed not at all disturbed; she assured his worship that beyond any manner of doubt she was Queen of all the Fairies in the British Dominions, and if he confined her under 365 bars, bolts and locks, still she would be ‘as free as the breeze that blows over the mountain.’ It was true that she would leave a breathing, something in shape and form like herself, as a substitute during the eight months, but to think for a moment that they had her real, living, identical self in ‘durance vile’, would be the most absurd of all the extraordinary absurdities of the day.

 

 

 



[1] ‘Borris in Ossory Quarter Sessions’, Westmeath Independent, 28th October 1848. Downloaded from the British Newspaper Archive, July 2020.

[2] As above in 10