Dad’s Diary

Sharing the magic of fairies and folklore

Ireland is laden with mystery and tradition. Whenever I stumble upon some fresh hint of this strange richness, I explore further. It was only natural, therefore, that when I saw a signpost for an “Underground Leprechaun and Fairy Cavern” during a recent trip to Carlingford – I followed it.

As we walked through medieval Carlingford, Co. Louth with its abbeys and castles silhouetted against the Mourne mountains, it seemed hardly surprising that there would be a fairy cavern in the vicinity. As we wandered toward it, I gave the children a brief rundown of my admittedly limited knowledge of fairies and leprechauns.

Much of this stems from my own childhood when, as small children, we would glimpse fairies everywhere. We would often see ‘fairy signs’ pointing toward buried treasure. Perhaps a branch lying on the ground that pointed auspiciously toward a gap in the wall, or a discarded crisp packet that was guiding us toward a particular shrub. During one such quest, when digging down at the roots of a cherry tree in search of gold, we encountered the top of a bag – imagine our excitement! Here it was – at last – after fruitless weeks spent following ‘signs’, we had now found a bag of buried gold! Three of us gave it an almighty heave upwards and – with a crash – the cherry tree fell down. We had pulled the sapling up by the root bag in which the young tree had been planted a couple of years before. Our parents were less-than pleased.

Thankfully, upon arrival at Carlingford’s fairy cavern, we were greeted by someone far more knowledgeable in the ways of the little people. McCoillte, the renowned leprechaun whisperer, explained patiently to the children how the fairies each night travel down the Foy mountain through a tunnel to the cavern by the shores of the lough. They shed their wings every seven days, he told his rapt audience of two, and they travel upon the backs of forest animals such as foxes, squirrels and owls.

Steps led down to the fairy cavern lit, appropriately, by fairy lights. We adults had to get down on our hands and knees to crawl in, but the children could walk in stooped. Once inside, the cavern opened up and we were greeted by magical dioramas showing ‘tunnels’ featuring sleeping fairies and creatures – as well as a magic waterfall. McCoillte picked up a delicate small object which we adults could not identify when asked. He then asked the four-year-old who, bemused by our ignorance, instantly and correctly identified it as a fairy wing.

Back on the surface, we were greeted by a beautifully tended garden with a fairly horse, which had been stolen a few months earlier (along with a cement mixer). A Garda spokesman at the time confirmed, “It is the first time we will have ever searched for a fairy horse,” although, appropriately, it was not police work, but magic, which ensured its eventual return. After McCoillte informed the papers that that the horse would “bring bad luck to whoever took it because it is a fairy horse” it was swiftly returned, being left at St Brigid’s shrine near Dundalk. However, there was no sign of the cement mixer, so McCoillte told the press: “I’ll keep the curse on them until I get it back.” Before long, that too, reappeared.

In the face of such evidence, who can really doubt the enduring power of the little people? However, they will now have to use their magic to ensure that An Bord Plean·la grant permission to retain the fairy cavern so that, for years to come, other children may glimpse, like ours did, the magic of the Irish legends of little people.