Fairy Tales

by Frances Browner

In Limerick, long ago, there used be a tradition
for fairy stories. I knew because my grandfather
told them too. Hundreds of supernatural incidents
were recorded during Ireland’s War of Independence
and Civil Wars, sightings of little people, the banshee.
Because death had become a reality, you see.

The following are those of Irene Aherne (1921-2023)
as told to me.

On a frosty winter’s night, stars in the sky,
I opened the door, saw a crowd pass by. Little
people, like children, ten-years-old, babbling
holding hurleys, sweeping brushes, poles.
There was no school like there is now. You could
walk from Ryan’s to the rugby ground. I followed
them as far as the Green. Fairies, from fort field.

There was a fort on the Ballyhooley Road,
a round mound of trees, bushes, bits of hedges,
where the second scheme of houses was built.
Every morning when the builders came to work,
a roof had fallen in. The fairies didn’t want to leave,
you see. But no one listened to me.

Construction continued with terrible destruction.
People died sudden, were thrown out of bulldozers;
one man went around all his life holding his palms up.
They couldn’t set his shoulders, you see.
You can’t go against a fairy.

One summer’s eve, coming into dusk, this big rat,
no one ever saw a small rat, crossed the road,
rolled over on his back and caught a bottle of milk
in his claws. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Another
one, hot on his trail, dragged him home by the tail.
People were losing milk every day and didn’t know
why. Laughing at me, rolling their eyes. But I knew
the rats were fairies in disguise.

I used see a woman looking out over a half door
up the Cross Road. Heard after she’d been dead
for years. Saw things on the Treaty Stone no one
else could see. Saw the banshee below in Kilkee.
Heard her cry. Terrify. Next morning, some
imminent man from the public house would die.

In the month of May in Meelick, standing under a
tree from the rain, with two children in a pram, three
by the hand, I saw a gang of seven-year-olds carrying
hurleys, again. All talking to themselves. Fairies –
they couldn’t have been anything else. Next morning,
I was in the butcher’s telling my scéal. Mr. Dillon
added to the tale. He saw them go through a hedge and
never come out. Heard them shout. They found the fort.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was composed in Poetry as Commemoration workshops held at Limerick Museum in May 2023. The workshops were led by writer David McLoughlin.