The bluebell thrives at the start of the warmer weather but will die off from mid-June, when the trees have their full compliment of leaves, cutting off the sunlight to the flowers in many instances. Bluebells can also be found in lesser numbers in locations other than forests so they are very hard to miss at this time of the year, no matter where you are.
From an Irish folklore perspective the bluebell is a flower strongly associated with spirits and fairies, and not always for the good! The most famous association is that the flowers ring out to fairies when a person walks through them and this might be the precursor to an abduction.
Oddly enough, the bluebell is quite a toxic flower so maybe the folklore and mythology regarding falling into a trance comes from this. Some have speculated that this belief is the inspiration behind the writer, L. Frank Baum’s scene in his book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy falls asleep in the field of poppies. The poppies that grow in Oz were said to be a rare, magical species that sends those who smell them into a death-like slumber.
In this Irish account, a girl takes bluebells from a fairy fort and then receives two unusual visitors...
"... under those trees grow clusters of primroses and bluebells. It is said that if you pluck one of those flowers the fairies will be after you. One day a little girl named Kate McDermott went and plucked a bunch of flowers and brought them home to her mother. The next evening she was sitting at the doorstep learning her tasks when two people dressed in white appeared to her and told her to go and leave them back. She at once took them back and the following day she went again to the fort and there were the same two dressed in white sitting beside the flowers. The moment they saw her they fled and she could not see where they went or ever afterwards."
It was also considered unlucky to bring bluebells into your house because of the magical properties. It seems that folklore regards the bluebell with some trepidation because of its unpredictable outcomes. Some tales tell of how wearing bluebells compel a person to only tell the truth, and others describe how by turning the bluebell flower inside out without breaking it would bestow the power of divination regarding the future.
In this account a young boy hears music coming from a fairy fort covered in bluebells. He gets a shock when he goes to investigate...
"There is a fairy ring in the townland of Tardrum, this one is circular in shape with a hollow in the middle. In the spring it is covered with bluebells. There is a story of a small boy who was out on his own street with a tin cup in his hand. He stood listening as he heard nice music coming from the direction of the ring and soon he was surrounded by a great number of small boys. They began dancing around him and draging him away. They took him on till they came to the fairy ring They tried to get the cup from him but he still held on to it and then they all went away and left him standing there. He got home before 12 o'clock. His parents were looking everyplace for him but he could not get him."
This Irish folk story tells of a woman who picked bluebells on a fairy hill and woke up bald the next morning!
"There is a woman who lives beside us, and whose name is Cassie Doherty. One day, she picked bluebells in a fairy hill, and she broke some of the stalks. She went to bed that night, but in the morning there was not any hair on here head. Its grew again, but it was never the same colour afterwards."
(C.) David Halpin. Photo credits unknown.