As most fans of fairy tales and folklore know, Ireland is full of mystical tales and spirits – some helpful, some harmful, and some just plain mischievous. In Ireland, they are often known as the Sídhe (or aos sí , the people of the mounds), but are also called faeries/fairies, the gentry, or simply the other folk.
Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland is a collection of orally shared fairy stories passed from generation to generation in rural Ireland. Eddie Lenihan is the archivist, while Carolyn Eve Green helped arrange and edit the collection once it was written down; Lenihan is Irish, and in the preface to his book, proudly describes his staunch belief in the other crowd’s existence and power, even in modern times.
The book is easy to read and vividly presented, because the dialect of the speakers and even their Gaelic vocabulary is preserved in these stories. You can imagine yourself sitting by a fire in a cottage somewhere, hearing a grandmother or grandfather tell about their own brush with the good folk. Sometimes the fairies are helpful, like when they lead a man to a lost cow or sheep, or when they offer gifts. Sometimes, on the other hand, they can harm, especially if you get in the way of one of their paths or, worst of all, disturb a fairy fort (also known as a fairy ring). Sometimes they’ll “sweep” a human, meaning they’ll steal someone away – a beautiful woman, a handsome young man, or an infant they’ll change out for one of their own children. You might be able to enter their land for a short time – but be careful, because if you taste their food or drink, you have to stay with them forever.
I really enjoyed this as an introduction to Irish folklore, and some of the stories were definitely spooky – while some others were downright funny. (It actually reminded me of the ghosts and legends section of The Foxfire Book and its eleven subsequent editions; those books are similarly archived oral tales of “just plain living” in southern Appalachia, and your grandparents or great-grandparents might recognize a few things in there!) I’m hoping to find another book to supplement my knowledge of Irish folklore, maybe one that focuses more on mythological cycles and famous heroes, like Cú Chulainn or Finn MacCool.