Looking for Faeries

Hello all! My name is Katie Demeria and I am a junior at the College, majoring in English and minoring in Philosophy. Like everyone else, I’m sure, I’m honored to have received a Charles Center Scholarship, and so excited to be able to carry out my research!

So, the title of this post may be a little misleading. Every time I’ve explained my research, I feel as though I have to preface it with, “I know faeries aren’t real, but…” just so nobody thinks I’m planning on sitting in a fairy circle or chanting “I do believe in fairies!” You’ll notice that I’m using two different variations of the word. While ‘fairies’ would refer to Tinkerbell and all those good things, ‘faeries’ refers to people in Celtic mythology. When I say I’m looking for faeries, I’m really looking for remnants of the Tuatha de Danann — a mythological race of men — in contemporary Irish culture. I’m trying to find moments in Irish society that harken back to themes or traditions that existed in Celtic mythology, trying to see how that background operates now.

The basic outline of my research will work around the study conducted by anthropologist W.Y. Evans-Wentz in 1907. His book Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries was an account of the testimonials he collected from Irish citizens, who all told stories about their personal experiences with faeries. It was part of their culture — a culture that was distinctly Christian, but which explained natural events as having to do with the Tuatha de Danann. I’m going to try to visit the sites that Wentz also visited and compare those with sites like Newgrange, which is a prehistoric monument that dates back to 3200 BC. Newgrange is immensely popular, but few individuals in Wentz’s work mentioned it. How does it compare to a place like Knock Ma, located in Tuam, County Galway, which was supposed to be the seat of the King of the Connacht faeries? According to Wentz, a clerk in Tuam testified that the famine from 1846-1847 was caused by the faeries who lived in Knock Ma. The clerk said that he “saw the good people and hundreds beside [him] saw them fighting in the sky over Knock Ma and on towards Galway” (Wentz, 43). How does the contemporary Ireland treat this place?

I am going to be studying in Galway with the William and Mary program and will be spending the weekends traveling to the sites that Wentz visited. For two weeks afterwards, additionally, I will be traveling around Ireland, then returning home to work on a novella that will be based on my research. I’m particularly interested in women, since Ireland is such a unique country with such a unique view on gender, and since Celtic mythology had a number of powerful women who affected the outcome of numerous mythological events. I want my work to connect ancient history to modern culture, and investigate how Ireland interacts with past beliefs.

(And even though I’m not technically looking for ‘real’ faeries, I might just sit in a fairy circle or two, if I can find them. Actually, I probably will.)