I noticed that the first daffodils are beginning to emerge on our local fairy fort, Rathvilly moat, so I wonder if this is a sign of things about to change for the better? Obviously we need the winter and darkness as it is all part of the cycle of things but you do reach a point when the brighter days are very welcome again.
Within many folklore traditions the area where daffodils grow wildly is considered to be a magic place and this is certainly the case with Rathvilly moat. I thought it was a nice reflection of spring arriving, either way.
The emergence of Daffodils is a sign of the first beginnings of seasonal change. These flowers are associated with fertility and new life and it has always been considered good luck for a person to receive a gift of daffodils. That said, an old Irish custom warns against bringing daffodils into a household on Bealtaine eve if a goose is hatching. Eagle-eyed readers will spot that in this case there may be a get-out clause as sometimes cowslips are interchanged with daffodils in the folklore archives. So, your goose may not be quite cooked yet in this instance.
Cowslips themselves have a long history of being used in ancient medicine. Pliny the Elder mentions that Druids found many uses for these native flowers including treatments for bronchitis, skin problems and as a tonic. There are also more magical attributes associated with this flower, especially when it comes to fairies. Perhaps the most well known of these is that fairies seek refuge within cowslips in times of peril and threat. You may recognise this as also being the case with daffodils: it was considered extremely bad luck to step on a daffodil lest a fairy might be resting inside its petals. Another more recent bit of folklore I have read is that fairies use daffodils as phones! Now, I’m not going to vouch for that one, to be honest, as it sounds more like ‘fakelore’ but if anyone has a good example of it then I’ll gladly curb my scepticism.
Here’s a nice verse about fairies hiding in daffodils from Marjorie Barrows:
When the winds of March are wakening the crocuses and crickets,
Did you ever find a fairy near some budding little thickets,...
And when she sees you creeping up to get a closer peek
She tumbles through the daffodils, a playing hide and seek.
The daffodil was also used for assisting trance-like states in antiquity. According to the Greek writer, Sophocles, the daffodil was the ‘chaplet of the infernal gods.’ In this instance the daffodil was known as Narcissus, after the story of the youth who stared at his own reflection and was then turned into the flower by the gods. However, perhaps a less than subtle reference to its hypnotic and trance-like properties is alluded to in the story of Persephone, which itself is a retelling of a much older Babylonian myth. In this case it is when the Goddess Persephone is picking daffodils that she is transported to the Underworld.
A further example of how widespread the links between fairies and the daffodil are can be observed in this old Chinese myth. In this story a fairy gifts the daffodil to the poorer of two brothers whose fortune then begins to change.
Returning to Rathvilly Moat, we have quite a few fairy encounters associated with this ancient site which was once the seat of the King of Leinster, Crimthann mac Énnai. Apart from many recent accounts we can also look back in time to the old Irish archives at Duchas to find that this is indeed a long phenomenon. In a previous post I wrote about how a landlord tried to dig up the mound but when he heard music coming from within it he placed his eye over a hole to look in. He was poked through the eyeball for his trouble and never tried to destroy the moat again. You can read the original text here.
In this fairy encounter from Rathvilly moat the fairy is dressed in red and green and described more like a leprechaun:
"When Grandfather was about 12 years of age, he was coming home one Sunday evening from a walk with his father from a place called Moate Rathvilly and when they came to a high part of earth under a tree he heard a light tapping going on a looking around he saw a Leprechaun the tiniest little man dressed in red and green who seemed to be asleep under the tree and by his side was all sorts of tiny tools, he wanted to go near the man but his father would not let him and Grandfather always points out the place where he saw him and he remembered it quite clearly and he is now 71 years old."
Here's to brighter days and the return of the light! (C.) David Halpin.
Art by Cicely Mary Barker