Monday, 15 August 2016

The Fairy Hurlers of M___

Hurling, played with a stick called a hurley (a camán in Irish) and a ball (a sliotar), is about 3,000 years old. 
Though it’s the national game of Ireland, Lady Wilde has recorded that the fairies hate the game “and they often try to put an end to them by some evil turn.”
However, according to a letter in the Irish Times in November 1891, there's at least one place in Ireland where this isn’t true.
The following tale may appear very strange, but it is, notwithstanding the doubts some may express, an authentic fact. I was sitting one evening in a tradesman’s shop, and amongst other topics the conversation turned to hurling. We discussed the merits of the various matches we had heard of, and were unanimous in declaring the hurling club of M___ as unrivalled by any other in the annals of the game. I was soon told that the dexterity attained by those players in the use of the “hurley” was due more to the help of the fairies than to any special superiority of their own. Now this was a startling hypothesis to a disbeliever in ghosts and fairies, but yet everyone in this place can tell you this story. It is about two years since a great match was held between M___ and another club not a hundred miles from where I write. A great number of spectators were assembled to see the play, and ranged themselves around the square inside where the hurling was to go on. The players were on the ground, and were preparing for the fray, when the attention of all was diverted by hearing a number of boys shouting out at the top of their voices – “Look, look, who are they,” and more to the same effect. All the sightseers rushed to the ditch, and at the distance of about two hundred yards saw a number of men – and diminutively small ones too – come trooping over one of the ditches of an adjacent field. Breathlessly the multitude watched their elfish proceedings as they went through all the formula of the game. Some of them wore a dress the exact counterpart of the M___ hurlers, others wore the dress of the M___’s opponents. At last the fairy game commenced, and after continuing for five minutes with the usual varying fortunes of the games of opposition, suddenly those in the M___ dress by one coup swept their opponents before them, and then with a fierce rush swept the ball through the goal, when, like the fata morgana the whole scene melted away, leaving the speechless on-lookers breathless with wonder. Then arose such a buzz of excitement as had never been heard there before. All agreed in declaring the players to be the fairy hurlers of M___, who appeared thus to predict the victory of the party who they had mysteriously come to represent. Then the match of the day came, off and true to the fairy prophecy, the M___ hurlers won the day. It has always been the same from the memory of the oldest inhabitant. The fairy hurlers always come to foretell the victories of the club who they so generously patronize, and a sorrowful day it will be at M___ when the fairy hurlers come to predict the downfall of the champions whose faithful prophets they have ever proved themselves to be.  --- W.F.K.
1. Lady Wilde, Legends, Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, (Dover, New York, 2006)
2. The Irish Times, 28 November 1891

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