Away with the Fairies in Timeless Ireland

Wade Suarez
September 23, 2021
Am image featuring gravestones that overlooking the rolling valleys of County Meat

"Welcome home! Take a seat. Here's everything you missed."

Those words hang on the intentions of a society that teaches their kids about their history. The American experience, at least, is kind of like that. It's kind of like that, except you do it five days a week, often for several years. Perhaps, in High School or Junior High, it's just a year wedged between Geography and World History. Perhaps, even, it's ‘just’ APUSH (shudder). But then you must absorb an itemized list of every shot fired in this or that war, aaaand you're going through puberty, too. Your teacher drones on about a chapter on the Civil War, and why it's important, and why it will be on the exam, and you consider sneaking a text to your friend. Ol' Honest Abe grimaces up at you from a textbook that is thicker than the desk it sits on. 

Two hundred and twenty-five years since 1776, and you're getting a play-by-play at snail speed. It is important to say that the total history of people on our continent extends way beyond that. Two hundred and twenty-five years are a minute speck on humanity's timeline; the United States of America's existence, as a whole, is relatively brief. This fact far too easily slips the mind, in part due to the tragic loss of pre-colonial histories. This fact is impossible to forget under the Irish sun. 

Dublin is jam-packed with such revelatory right hooks. If you find yourself waiting outside the Guinness Factory for your tour group's timeslot, you could take a stroll around the block. You'd discover a church that is older than America, on a lot older than the Aztec Empire. Were your stomach to grumble, you could grab a seat at an unremarkable pub down the street. It would be a passing comment, provided without decorum, that informs you that the pub is older than the Declaration of Independence. Welcome, American. You've missed a lot. 

I took a trip outside of Dublin last weekend, spurred by the desire to roll around in some grass. Of course I’ve loved my strolls along the Liffey, but I truly needed a touch of nature after my second week. Transitioning to life abroad is a lot, and I needed to find somewhere to sit quietly. My attention was brought to the Hill of Tara. 

Mentioned to me by a professor, the Hill of Tara is an ancient burial site which overlooks County Meath. "A bus could take ye' there in an hour or so," he mused, as I frantically scribbled down the suggestion. It, um, definitely did not take an hour to get there—try two or three on for size—but man was it worth it. A rallying call to my classmates, a couple of busses, and an uphill climb later, there I was.

The sun greeted me at the crest of the hill, instilling a quiet tranquility that almost deafened the sound of my legs shouts for mercy. An emerald sea softly cushioned my footsteps, and the breath was stolen from my lungs as I soaked it all in. I took my time, and began by slowly perusing the bulletin boards at the front. Then, heading towards the Hill’s iconic obelisk "Lia Fáil", I lingered by the several monuments along my path. Eventually, just by the aforementioned standing stone, I found a seat on a bed of grass which danced softly in the wind.

I sat there for a long time and reflected on my trip thus far. This experience has flown by, it seemed, yet still it was as if I had just then truly arrived. I was surrounded by a sprawling complex, a white-hot singularity, of Irish history. Around 3,000 B.C., some long-forgotten Neolithic civilization had built a burial tomb on this Hill. Later, the Celts would come and do something of the same. Time and time again, ceremonial mounds, monuments, obelisks, and miscellaneous marks have been left on that hill by civilizations that came upon it. Now I’d come to, uh, meditate or something. 

Most of what we can even glean about the Hill's bounties come from literature. The only explanations for some of these structures, such as Lia Fáil, are about fairies. Yes, fairies, those legendary pre-Christianity figures which were said to populate Ireland. Laugh if you want, but that's all we have of things like the Lia Fáil; 11th-century historians shrugging and saying, "fairies, probably". That, plus mythology that features Tara, comprises our earliest record of the location of my weekend day-trip. Honest Abe doesn’t seem so old. 

I breathed that in for a while, and knew that I was in the right place, and knew that jetlag and passport-panic had been worth it. I went on to visit the hill’s mask-laden ‘Fairy Tree’, traditionally believed to grant wishes for good health. Then, I sauntered down to Saint Patrick’s church, which sits adjacent to a statue of Saint Patrick on the other side of the Hill. The statue commemorates Saint Patrick’s fifth century mission. Supposedly, it’d begun on this Hill, where he’d come to chase the old gods—the fairies—into hiding. Looking at the marbled Saint, and recalling that piece of folklore, I was reminded of Columbus and his consequences. 

The church itself is closed to visitors, but graves—yes, some older than the U.S.—litter its courtyard. A view of the Irish Countryside, which was bathed in sunlight that squeezed its way through scattered clouds, rewards the explorer who visits a few graves behind the church. I feel so grateful to have been given that view - and, really, that idyllic day as a whole. I wonder if I should be thanking the fairies. 

Wade Suarez

<p>Yo! My name is Wade Suarez. I'm an English Creative Writing major attending Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am attending the Dublin Writer's Program in Fall of 2021, and my current plan is to not shut up about it the entire time I'm there. My favorite thing to do is to write (shocking, I know), but my next favorite hobbies are exploring, reading, and hunting down the best nooks and crannies I can find, wherever I am. My ultimate goal while I am in Ireland is to connect with a place and people that I've never known, so check it out if you want to see how that's going. I'm pretty pumped to share with you the things I learn and the connections I make while I am adventuring abroad this Fall.</p>

2021 Fall
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