'Looking at fairies on my farm is the same as looking at traffic in Dublin' - Farmer who has 'the words' celebrates May Day

Pat Noone on his farm in Galway. Photo: Leo Dolan photography
Pat Noone on his farm in Galway. Photo: Leo Dolan photography
'Irish Gothic Fairy Stories from the 32 Counties of Ireland' is out now.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

“Looking at fairies on my farm is the same as looking at traffic in Dublin. But they don’t come everyday.”

“I kind of expect it. When I was younger if I hadn’t seen them, you’d think there was something wrong. I’ve seen them on a good few occasions after that.”

Pat Noone (52) lives on a 60-acre farm in Galway, and says that 16 acres of it is a fairy field – complete with a fairy fort, a fairy tree and a tunnel running through it.

On his land also lies a megalithic cairn and a fairy stone, monuments that have attracted visitors as far away from Pakistan.

“[The fairy field] has the portal to the fairies – where the whitethorn meets the blackthorn. I have a cairn where an Irish chieftain was buried - there are a lot of those in Sligo.”

“[The fairy field is] a very special place and people have come out frightened out of it.”

Growing up, Pat would hear his father regal visitors with folklore tales, and he’d see him giving tours around the farm.

“My father was a historian as well as a great folklorist, and had a lot of history of the local area – he was an authority on local history.”

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“When I was small, people would bring him a half quarter of tobacco and he’d bring them around and show them the fairy forts and the fields.”

“I was never frightened of the fairies, I’d heard a lot of stories about them. I’ve been farming since I was 14 or 15 and I ran into the fairies because I was up all night calving or lambing.”

“I met them on a few occasions, I chatted to them. They say you should never take a drink from the fairies, but I took a drink from them.” 

Today, May 1, is one calendar day in particular that Pat keeps watch for fairies – and hares.

“I’ve often seen the Irish hare disappear into the hills in the morning, they become fairies early in the morning.”

Traditionally on May 1, a 'May Bush' which is usually a Whitethorn (Fairy Tree), is decorated with rags and colourful ribbons to pay homage to the fairy folk and make wishes for the year ahead. 

May Flowers are also traditionally thrown onto roofs of houses on May 1 to appease the fairies.

“Every farmer is up May morning because he doesn’t want another fairy to steal his luck. That’s a big fairy morning; it’s the big day that the fairy has real power... and they have given real power to other people on May day.”

“When the fairies will give you the words, that’s when the magic comes in. I got them from my father, he got them from the fairies. He was sick for a year twenty years ago, and he had the opportunity to give them to me before he died.”

“I’ve seen a few people coming to me looking for the words, but I won’t because it can be abused as well.”

Possessing the sacrostanct "words" gives a person a healing power, Pat believes, and also the power for a little witchery.

He explains: “If you put eggs on another property on May morning you can steal his luck, but you have to have the words, that is crucial.”

“I can make fairy water as well, I have a big stone on the field, and because I have the words, it can heal the land and people.”

What about other supernatural forms, like the banshee? Is she someone he'll happily greet?

“I’ve seen her on a few occasions, it was scary enough, I didn’t speak to the banshee at all, I kept going on my way. She was combing her hair, a young woman, it was in spring time, this time of the year, and she was sitting on the stone on a few occasions. I didn’t speak to her. Everyone has something that they’re afraid of and that was mine. But nothing ever happened to me.”

“I haven’t had any bad experience because of it, but it stuck in my head about death, and that’s why I didn’t speak to her.”

Farming the land from a young age, Pat says, gave him an easy opportunity to meet the fairies.

“I was about 17 or 18, I’d be out minding cows, I was always out fishing and hunting at night. It was all-night work, and I like outdoor sports. So I wasn’t in the kitchen [growing up], I was reared outdoors.”

“I was coming down after looking at the cows in that 16-acre field. I heard the music and saw the fairies dancing and I went over and got talking to them. They talked English to me, I had no problem talking to them. They told me they just wanted me to keep the land the way it was, and told me not to take any of the bushes out.  I listened to the music and I went home.”

“I have great luck with the stock, with farming, you’ll have your ups and downs with sick animals and nature takes its course, but overall I’ve had very good luck with the farm. And I don’t use any chemicals or sprays. That’s what the fairies told me. I use no weed killers at all whatsoever. It’s not the modern farm that people expect, I let the ditches grow naturally and then trim them back with the saw. It’s left naturally here.”

Storyteller Steve Lally, who recently wrote a book 'Irish Gothic, Fairy Stories from the 32 counties of Ireland' with his wife Paula, says folklore is still very much a living part of contemporary Ireland.

"Even when people say they don't believe they still wouldn't dream of cutting down a fairy tree. Myself and Paula have heard stories from people who live in cities and towns who heard the wail of the Banshee. In ancient times boys were put in dresses as baby's to protect them from being stolen by the fairies, because boys were more sought after than girls in the fairy world."

"This ritual for example still exists today where we see both boys and girls dressed in christening gowns."

Online Editors