The May Magpie

I have enjoyed reading about other people’s experiences with fairy of Ireland and wanted to share my story too, although it’s not really about me at all.

In May 1992, I stayed 4 weeks at a Bed & Breakfast in far north Donegal. I won’t trouble you with the reason for my extended stay, suffice to say I departed a better man than had arrived.

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I want to tell you about Nora, my host at the B&B. She has been in my thoughts lately, as I have come to realize she probably saved my life.

Nora ran her house with the routine of a drill sergeant and expected absolute courtesy from her guests. She fed me three times a day, insisted I hike at least once a day (regardless of the weather) and dragged more ‘pleases’ and ‘thankyous’ from me in those 4 weeks than my Mom had managed in 20 years! But she was by no means a hard woman. She had a soft spot for troubled souls like me and… she believed in fairies.

I arrived in Donegal in early May. The one month in the year so Nora told me, you are most likely to be stolen or attacked by a fairy. Though I never (knowingly) saw one myself, according to Nora her garden was teeming with them.

She spoke to them, and about them, politely, as though they were distant relations but there was one that caused her constant worry. The May Magpie.magpie-1332420 (2).jpg

According to Nora, a lone magpie in May is a disagreeable fairy in disguise with a mind to cause you harm.

And she had one in her garden.

There it is as every year before,” she said as she set breakfast to the table in the sunroom (which overlooked the garden), “come to test me. I’ll be keeping the cat inside til June now, hope you’re not allergic”.

She had a tight smile on her lips and a keen eye on the magpie as she spoke. “If you slight the May magpie, it will bring a world of trouble to your door the likes you had never known”.

I had to stifle my young self from laughing as Nora assured me she could handle the fairies and knew how to appease the May magpie.

And so, for the next 4 weeks I watched. Every morning, after serving my breakfast, Nora ventured into the garden to greet the waiting May magpie.

She bowed her head in greeting and spoke a familiar word or two.

Good day to you, and isn’t it a fine one?” or “You are looking well yourself” she would say.

And every day after serving my lunch, she would venture back into the garden, make a little small talk and leave a bowl of Guinness for it to drink.

They say there’s a change coming from the West now”.

And would never think of hitting the sack without checking in… “I’m off out after tea, so I’ll bid you goodnight” she once hollered from the backdoor.

One day I even heard her give the May magpie the time, “It’s a quarter past the midday now” she said as she pinned washing on the line.

That lone May magpie, at least for the month of May, was treated as Nora’s most revered and dare I say, feared, guest. I can only wonder what might have happened if Nora had displeased the May magpie for no matter how I tried, she would never venture into that conversation.

I have seen and done many things in my life that are best forgotten, but memories of Nora and her May magpie have never left me. In fact, the words Nora told me back then, ring just as true today.

A kind word goes a long way” she said, “it just wants you to acknowledge it. To say I see you. You have no need to harm me nor I you. Let us live byside each other in peace.That is all we need tell any of the fairies”.

Even now, after all these years, I still think about the fairies in Ireland and still nod my regards to a lone magpie.

Just in case.

Daniel – Philadelphia

The Treehouse

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When I was about 10, my dad decided to build me a treehouse over the 4th July holidays.

Our backyard was fantastic, it was more like a meadow, with rolling grass, flowers growing wild along the fences, iron gates and unruly trees of amazing colours. A great garden for a kid to explore.

Dad was a carpenter and knew how to build, he was no hack, he knew wood, he knew trees and had the best tools, but no matter what he did, he could not keep this treehouse together.

He chose an old oak tree which stood right in the middle of the yard and began by setting the supporting beams in the ground with cement. He had no problems with that but when he moved on to the braces and platform, that’s when the trouble started.

The next morning he went outside to find the braces and platform on the ground and the screws (stainless steel) he had inserted in the tree pulled out and the threads flattened and un-useable.

He thought it was stupid kids messing around and vowed to finish the tree that very day. He worked all day and into the evening and, apart from the rails, got the basic treehouse built.

Next morning, same thing, only this time all the treehouse, except the supporting beams, was in a heap on the ground. Dad was seething. We couldn’t talk to him all day he was so angry. He rebuilt the whole thing again and this time, at nightfall, stayed up in the treehouse with a torch and waited to see if the kids returned.

Next morning, I came downstairs to find Dad sitting in at the kitchen table, face pale and hands clasped around a glass of Mum’s brandy. Mum sat next to him with her hand on his shoulder and shook her head at me as if to say ‘don’t ask’.

So I walked over and looked out the window at the backyard and there, all over the ground, were scattered the various pieces of the treehouse. The only thing standing were the supporting beams.

Not a word was said, but later that day Dad took the chainsaw to the beams and cut them off at ground level and stored the wood neatly under the house. All plans for a treehouse were abandoned.

Fast forward 6 years, at my sister’s wedding, Dad got rolling drunk and I asked him what happened that night in the treehouse. He told me that he had been visited, not by neighbourhood kids, but by 3 creatures.

They came at him not from the ground below but scurried across from the branches of other trees. They were covered in green fur and their eyes were big as plates. He said he shone his torch at them and they growled and banged their fists into the wood of the treehouse.

Dad was terrified and tried to grab the ladder to get down when they started tearing the treehouse apart, only not with their hands, but seemingly with their eyes. He said they stared at the joins and the screws and seconds later they just separated and fell to the ground.

Dad jumped to the grass below and stood watching the demolition in astonishment but not fear. He said, once he was on the ground, he felt no fear of them.

When they had finished, the 3 creatures lay their hands on the wounded parts of the tree and mumbled like some sort of ritual. Then they were gone. Dad didn’t see where they went, they were just gone from sight and his treehouse building days were behind him.

Dad grabbed me by the lapel of my tux and said “That old oak was a Fairy Tree, we got off light. Never touch a Fairy Tree”.

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And the tree? well, Dad built a (metal) fence around the tree so no-one can climb it or even touch it.

Sean – Pennsylvania