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Irish Fairy Tales – 1893

Freemans Journal 1st November, 1893 (abridged)

Kinvara Twilight Photo: BO'D

Kinvara Twilight
Photo: BO’D

Mr W. B. Yeats delivered an interesting lecture on “Irish Fairy Tales” at 15 D’Olier Street last evening, under the auspices of the Young Ireland League. Mr Henry Dixon presided.
Mr Yeats, who was received with applause,  said that night was sacred to the fairies in general and to the phouca in particular. The phouca sometimes appeared as a horse, sometimes as a donkey, sometimes as an eagle and, indeed, took innumerable four-footed and two footed shapes.

The night of Samhain in old Pagan days was the commencement of winter, over which presided the phouca, whom the people considered the spirit of decay. They believed it was dangerous to go abroad on that night because the fairies might carry them off into their kingdom.  That night also the dead were believed to come out of their graves and ride upon the white sea waves, and there were stories of fishermen, who, having escaped the waves and come ashore, found the dead grasping them from behind.

Mr Yeats related a number of interesting fairy tales and said that folklore afforded the most beautiful material for literature and they could not do better than encourage people to use it for such. Every country in the world had these beliefs and universal belief like that meant some universal need for it. If there was not deep down in the human soul some need to think about imaginary beings more beautiful and more powerful than the men and women they met in ordinary life, these things would not have arisen.   Forelore gave a beautiful and most ample expression for their vast emotions –  emotions which were always struggling to express themselves but were beaten down by the sordid interest of real life.  Poets were folklorists who had listened to the voice of the people.  They had taken the stories of the old men and women and had made them the delight of the most profound minds of all nations.

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