“There Catholic Ireland was the preexisting culture surrounding the

“There is a country called Tír-na-n-Og, which means the Country of the Young, for age and death have not found it; neither tears nor loud laughter have gone near it.” from Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland by W.B. Yeats1. Tír na nÒg, the land of eternal youth or the Irish Elysian Fields, is just one aspect of the rich history of the supernatural that inhabits Ireland. The numerous stories of the sidhe, or fairies, emphasized a dualism of helpfulness and wickedness among the na Daoine sidhe, or the supernatural race, and suggests that the Irish people were open to other powers. It is this rich history of stories that helped keep the island at peace during The Burning Time, 1400-1700 C.E. when the fear of witchcraft was at its height2. Despite over 35,100 witch trials across the European continent, over eight thousand trials in Germany alone, Ireland experienced less than ten trials over nearly five hundred years.3 This is a result of a number of factors, including the Reformation and the presence of the British tyrant on the island, however the reason the stereotype of demonic witchcraft did not take hold in Catholic Ireland was the preexisting culture surrounding the unknown. The chronicle of coexistence between the supernatural and mortal in legends such as Children of Lir, Cuchulainn and Oisín that detailed the duality of magic, was one reason for the few number of witch trials in Ireland in the early modern period.When St. Patrick arrived in Ireland in 432 C.E Christianity has already been introduced gradually through trading contact with Gaul and Britain.4 One of the stories surrounding St. Patrick is his banishment the snakes into the sea.5 In this legend St. Patrick drove all the serpents of the island into the sea after being attacked during a forty day fast. This legend is a mirror to the story of Exodus 7:7-14 when Moses and Aaron must compete with the Pharaoh’s sorcerers, whose staffs turn to snakes. Aaron prevails when his staff, which had too turned into a snake, consumes the others. However, snakes did not exist in post-glacial Ireland.6 Likely the legend was created later to instill distrust surrounding the Druids of the past, who had been attacked, but by the Romans in 57 C.E. Not only are serpents symbols of evil in the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as in the story of Genesis, but often the Druids were adorned with tattoos of the Ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail that represented the cycle of life and wholeness7. The feelings of the Roman soldiers, “druids practiced all sorts of weird and evil rituals. Magic and soothsaying, even human sacrifice…were carried out on this distant island.” Likely were carried forward into the Roman Catholic Church, as these presumptions had little reason to change in 400 years.8 9 This is reflected in the King James Version of the bible, written in 1611 C.E., “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgat the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves.” Judges 3:7 Baalim, although often a reference to the Canaanite and Phoenician false gods, is too associated with the pagan traditions of Ireland.10 The annual festival of Tara, associated with Samhain, has also been called “Baal’s fire”.11 The groves too reference the druids, the Oak Groves being the sacred meeting place or group of Celts since the first century C.E to today.12St. Patrick who dedicated the later portion of his life to the Christianization of Ireland, brought in a sense of literacy and learning with it. His entrance to Ireland coincided with the fall of Rome in 436 C.E., when barbarians became a constant threat to the people of mainland Europe. Ireland, distanced from the danger of barbarians and Rome itself, eventually nabbed the nickname “the isle of saints and scholars” as Irish monks preserved much of the literary works of the Classical World, both Christian and pagan, while the libraries of central Europe were lost.13 St. Patrick, who preached the good in mankind and nature, practiced interculturation, which allowed the Gospel to meld with local customs rather than forcing fixed hierarchies and theological structures common of Rome14. Through this the Celtic church “a Christianity without the sociopolitical baggage of the Graeco-Roman worlds” was born.15 The early scholarship of the Irish was motivated by curiosity and fascination with new learning; glamour, in the sense of enchantment and grammar sharing the same root word.16 However writing and literacy was largely kept to the religious class until the 19th century.17 Although the monks of Ireland were becoming familiar with both local legend and international classics, the common people were still practicing a principally oral tradition.The masses and common folk of Ireland continued to live largely illiterate, and the “most romantically wistful and tenacious folklore of any in the world” still spread even in the face of new Christian traditions, interculturation failing to challenge these classics.18 It’s among these legends and the strong beliefs in the na Daoine sidhe that the chronical of coexistence is recorded and the duality in the long lineage of magic in Ireland is revealed.”Throughout the early modern period, fairy belief in Gaelic-Irish culture provided a cogent explanatory mechanism for misfortune”.19 The Irish fairies divide themselves into two main classes, social and solitary; the first being kind and the second often mean and among these classes there are subdivisions. Such as land vs. water, or dark vs. light of heart. The presence of such creatures, like Changelings and Pookas, in Irish day to day life is evidence for the relevance of the supernatural. The changeling, a fairy child and social fairy, is the result of when mortals, most often babies, are fancied and taken to Tír na nÒg.”Come away! O, human child!To the woods and waters wild,With a fairy hand in hand,For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”- The Stolen Child by W.B. Yeats The Sidhe can have difficulty with birth, and are said to kidnap overly praised or loved human babies, sometimes replacing them with a sickly baby of their own.20 These fairy children can grow up to be short and gangling, appearing old and are often musically gifted.21 To protect a child from being swapped with a Changeling, parents baptize their children, among other counter actions.22 23This suggests that Christianity and fairy beliefs were not two separate subjects, but merged as a result of interculturation. The Pooka, a much feared Sidhe and solitary fairy, rather similar to the Scottish Kelpie, is a glossy and beautiful black horse that creates trouble and tumult.24 The name is derived from poc meaning he-goat, and W.B. Yeats tells of how the Pooka would emerge in November and give sensible advice and apt answers about the next year when consulted. However, in the mountains and ruins it would “grow monstrous with solitude”.25 It may steal individuals for midnight rides, and if refused, the property of the individual will disappear. It may also take the form a goblin like creature that demands some portion of crops, for this reason a share of any harvest is left in the field as the “Pooka’s share”.26 Although it could be regarded as superstition, it implies a certain respect for the na Daoine sidhe and that dealings with fairies can have negative consequences. However, fairies aren’t necessarily above the mortal race, numerous tales tell of clever mortals tricking leprechauns out of fortunes or how the banshee predicts death for great Irish families.27 28         The Children of Lir, likely a Christianized version of The Twelve Geese, tells the story the children of King Lir, and his Wife Aebh, descendent of a goddess, and the wicked step mother, Aoifa. After Aebh dies, Aoifa married the King and came to be jealous of, and eventually hate, her four step children for the love their father, King Lir, had for them. Aoifa turned the children into swans and cursed them to be such for 900 years until a druid from across the sea arrives and they heard a bell that rings for prayers.29 Christianity came to the island during their time cursed as swans and in some versions St. Patrick himself blesses the Children of Lir and gives them Christian graves. This legend is noteworthy for illustrating the intermarriage between mortals and na Daoine sidhe, and the connections between religion and magic. In this story Aebh, the supernatural mother, loves her children and succumbs to death despite being closer to the Country of the Young while the mortal step mother is full of hate, suggesting that fairies too both know good and bad, and birth and death, as humans do. There also lacks a clear division between the age of fairies and Christianity, suggesting an integration over abandonment.         The story of Cúchulainn, a sort of Irish Hercules, follows that of a great warrior who earns his name through acts good character and loyalty, displaying both the importance of trustworthiness and virtuousness in Irish culture and the capacity for it among mortals.30 Eventually Cúchulainn marries a fairy queen, Emer, again illustrating connection among the Sidhe and mortal realm.         Oisin, a bard and warrior, is regarded in legend as the greatest poet of Ireland, is more famously known as the only man to have gone to Tír na nÒg and returned. Loved by the Sidhe princess Niamh, Oisin is taken to the land of the fairies, promising his father and comrades that he will return before long. After what seems to be three years, he returns to the mortal realm on a white horse gifted to him by Niamh who warned him should he dismount he cannot return to Tír na nÒg. Looking for his friends and father, he realizes three hundred years have passed and his religion has been replaced by Christianity. Attempting to help men in the building of a road, he touches the ground and “his three hundred years fell upon him, and he was bowed double, and his beard swept the ground.”31 Before dying he is visited by St. Patrick and recalls his stay in the Land of Youth, and depending on the version you read or hear he either converts or defends the druid faith.32 This legend is another example of the coexistence and relationships among mortal and supernatural, and more importantly, seems to signify a coexistence between Tír na nÒg and the Christian heaven. Since, people have claimed to see Tír na nÒg in many places, in the bottom of lakes, in a sounds of vague bells, and far off in the horizon. Some claim its even triple – “the island of the living, the island of victories, and an underwater land.”33         It is because of the preexisting attitude surrounding magic, as illustrated in the previous examples, that the stereotypes surrounding witchcraft typical in Catholicism elsewhere failed to take hold on the island. These stereotypes were exemplified in the Malleus Maleficarum34 by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer, written in 1487. In this treatise Kramer endorses the extermination of witches, compares sorcery to heresy, and recommends torture to effectively obtain confession35. Written in Latin, if it ever was received in Ireland, likely couldn’t be understood by the majority of the population. However, even if the majority of the population couldn’t read such literature, the feelings surrounding religious deviance in the Catholic hierarchy didn’t leave Ireland unscathed.         Ireland’s first witch trial was in 1324 C.E. when Alice Kyteler was charged by Bishop Richard de Ledrede of Ossory. Richard de Ledrede was a Franciscan Friar and Englishman. Dame Alice Kyteler was of a good Anglo-Norman that settled in Kilkenny. She had four husbands, who all perished.36. A band of “heretical sorcerers” made up of seven women and four men, led by the Dame herself, were accused of denying the Christian faith, sacrifice, and blasphemy among other charges.37 After torture her maid, Petronilla of Mearth, confessed some information that damned Kyteler, and the Dame escaped to England while Mia was scapegoated and burned at the stake and the eleven other members were either whipped, banished or excommunicated. 38         The next trial was in 1578, three following in the 1600s and eventually the Islandmagee Trial in 1711, an early Crucible and reflection of the Salem Witchcraft Trials two decades earlier, in which Mary Dunbar claims to be a victim of demonic possession and nine individuals end up accused.39 The last trial was in 1865 in which Biddy Early was accused. Early was a girl born to poor tenant farmers and was known to be ‘with the fairies’ from birth, records saying she could talk to them among the fruit bushed and such.40 Her parents died when she was around sixteen and her extended family, knowing of her reputation with the Sidhe, did not take her in for long. Her first husband died, and it is said that her only son went with the fairies, but left her a blue bottle from which she could see the future.41 Early was known for healing the locals, though little educated, had gained a knowledge of herbs from her mother. Her three subsequent husbands all died quite early and unexpectedly, but she was well liked among the local people. Often the priests expressed discontent for her, though she had expressed no problem with Catholicism. When brought to court all witnesses refused to testify against her and she was released for lack of sufficient evidence.42         After over five centuries only six individuals were executed for witchcraft in Ireland, a startlingly low number when compared to instances such as the Wurzburg Trials that took place in the 17th century, in which one hundred fifty-seven men, women and children were burned at the stake and over two hundred were executed in total.43         The practical integration of na Daoine sidhe lore and Catholicism allowed the Irish not to abandon their respect for that which is not fully known, but to incorporate new traditions that connected the island to a central authority that created centers of education in monasteries, that recorded both native thought and the records of the Roman Empire. While the religious class became literate, the fables, tales and legends that resulted from the interculturation by St. Patrick thrived among the oral traditions of the common class. This leads one to wonder the result of the westward Island if missionaries has imposed the hierarchies and structures of Rome, or if Catholicism had not reached Ireland at all. Without the scribe work of monks it is likely the Medieval Ages would have been different, for if the knowledge of all the libraries that were lost to the fall of Rome and Barbarian had truly disappeared the modern landscape would not be the same. One may be curious to find how this Celtic Church influences the modern nation of Ireland, and if the widespread literacy of the 19th century, with the introduction of English, influenced these longstanding stories. Supernatural influence on culture isn’t limited to Ireland, Germany despite seeing eight hundred times more trials, too had fairytales, the Grimm Brothers being famous modern day for bringing German stories to the wider world, so in what way did the societies differ to allow such a stark difference in participation during the Burning Time? Several authors, such as Thomas Cahill, Andrew Sneddon and Robin Briggs explore these questions. However, this paper aimed to fill a gap left in the recent wake of publication and developments in the study of Irish witchcraft; the effects of the common people’s attitude surrounding magic as embodied in tales like Children of Lir, Cuchulainn and Oisín, and the environment of the Celtic Church that allowed such beliefs to thrive and assisted Ireland in not succumbing to violent hysteria in the early modern period.