Back in April 2016, I posted a short piece about the death of James McAnespie. McAnespie had gained infamy in April 1950, at the age of 72, when he failed to return home after leaving to collect firewood in the demesne near his home. A search was organised and McAnespie was eventually found, frozen to the spot where a fairy thorn had recently been destroyed.
When the Belfast Telegraph reported on McAnespie’s death in January 1954, they recounted this incident. The Telegraph gave the impression that Mr McAnespie just happened to be passing this spot when something very strange happened. But, according to this story from The Northern Whig and Belfast Post of 21 April 1950, it seems this wasn’t McAnespie’s first visit to the site. And he definitely wasn’t just passing by.
"The Wee Folk" are said to be angry out at Fintona (County Tyrone) because a 300-year-old fairy thorn has been bulldozed out of existence in a field just outside the village. Villagers have not been surprised at this week’s queer happenings, because many of them forecast reprisals four weeks ago, immediately after the destruction of the fairies’ little sacred tree.
About a month ago, Fintona Golf Club were given permission by Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky to carry out improvements and extensions to the golf course on his lands. He gave them permission, among other things, to cut down a thorn hedge, because it was in the way. But the men on the job made a mistake. They were using a bulldozer for levelling purposes, and they bulldozed the fairy thorn out by its roots.
This fairy thorn, set in the middle of a field in Mr Browne-Lecky’s Ecclesville Demesne, was planted by his ancestors over 300 years ago. Naturally, he was he was angry when the tree was destroyed. He told the Golf Club so – and so did many villagers.
“The people in the village are in a rage over it,” Mr. Browne-Lecky told a “Northern Whig” reporter last night. “For my part, however, the hatchet is buried, because it was apparently a mistake. I was not angry because because of possible revenge from the fairies – I’m afraid I don’t believe in them. But many people do, and that’s why the villagers are upset about it.”
Anyway, the “wee folk” are said to have begun their reprisals. Old-age pensioner James McAnespie – who is 72, lives by himself in a house opposite Fintona Police Barracks, and is a former hotel hand – bought some of the bulldozed tree to use as firewood.
That was two or three weeks ago. Mr. McAnespie took the wood home and started to use it regularly. And things (according to him) started to happen. He began to hear bells tinkling in his house, and he says he saw little things flying about in the air – little things like wasps, which he could not catch.
Last Sunday James McAnespie used the last of his firewood and decided to go for more. On Sunday night the people next door realized that he had not returned – and that was unusual for Jimmy McAnespie, because he is usually in house by about eight o’clock at night. So the people next door went out to search for him. They couldn’t find him, so they ran across to the Barracks and told the police. And a search party of police and civilians set out to find the missing pensioner. R.U.C. Sergeant Boland was in command.
The searchers called out at intervals, but never got a reply. They made their way through the demesne, still calling, still getting no answer.
Then at 11.30 p.m. – just 30 minutes before the witching hour – they saw James standing motionless at the very spot on which had been the fairy thorn. As they came near he walked towards them, then went back to the village with them.
And what does James McAnespie say about all this? He says he gathered sticks for firewood around the place where the thorn had been cut down. He tied the sticks to a rope, began to go home when it became dusk. And when he got to The Spot he was suddenly unable to move and unable to speak. That was why he could not answer the search party.
For two hours, he says, he stood there with all his powers dispelled. He heard bells ringing around his feet. He saw a sort of ditch all around him, and a big house, or perhaps it was a barn, with lights inside it. He saw two fairies – “wee fellows.” And his hands were absolutely closed tight on the rope.
Sergeant Boland bears out the fact that James McAnespie was found standing on the site of the bulldozed fairy thorn. But the sergeant is a disbeliever. He laughed last night and said: “I must say I heard no bells and I saw no house.”
- The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 21 April 1950