I’ve just started reading William Butler Yeat’s Irish Fairy and Folk Tales this morning. After an attempt at the introduction (no offense to Allison Carroll who wrote it) I moved my restless self to searching through the stories and poems. The first one that caught my attention was “A Donegal Fairy” from Letitia Maclintock (page 47). It’s a short tale of a faerie that’s fallen down the chimney into boiling water. He screams and a bunch of faeries come to his aide and as him in the human lady alone in the house scalded him with the boiling water. The faerie says no, admitting it was his own fault, just an accident. The others hear him and say that if it had been the lady, they’d have made her pay.
There’s a lot about that story that jumps out at me right away.
First, the faerie showed a value in honesty. Falling and burning his leg like that, having to be rescued by a bunch of others, well I can imagine that would be a bit embarrassing. It would have been easy in the moment to blame someone else. It reminds me that one should not be afraid to look weak in the eyes of others. It’s okay to feel a bit embarrassed, to fail and fall and even get injured in the process. It’s a part of life and if we’re lucky, there will be a load of others ready to rescue us.
That’s the second thing I noticed. Once the faerie cried out from landing in the boiling water, a bunch of other faeries came running to help. There’s really a lot to this piece to unpack. If taken as a metaphor, I can see this part of the story as a message to call out when you’re in need of help and others will come, maybe even a surprising amount of people. Another part of this is that having community really is important as well as being a part of one. It’s important to have people around that will come to your aid when you need the help, but it’s equally important to be a community member that comes to the aid of others too.
I personally believe there are very few coincidences in this world and here I find some connections to my life that I can’t really ignore. The title refers to Donegal County and/or Donegal Town in Ireland. I’ve actually visited Donegal Town before in my trip to Ireland in 2014. I went there because in Donegal Town is a castle that for most of it’s time was run by an O’Donnell family. My mother’s maiden name is O’Donnell. Whether my mother’s ancestors had any connection to them, I have no idea, but I still thought it would be a fun visit. I can’t help connect that reference of Donegal in the title now to my mom.
I moved across the country and back in with my mom in December of 2019. I’m a recent college grad with a bit of student debt on my plate. My mom has chronic illnesses. Both of us, well, have some other issues of our own and together as well. Our relationship isn’t the best, for sure. With quarantine going on, we are stuck together much more often than we have been in a very long time, possibly ever. Its been a strange time where sometimes I think we’re growing closer together, but plenty of times all the same old, bad stuff seems to resurface.
Honesty can be tough sometimes. I really value it, but, sometimes we’re being dishonest without realizing right? Especially if we’ve been lying to ourselves. Why do I get mad about some of things I get mad about? Am I being honest to myself about how I express my anger? Am I shifting blame, taking it out on her, and is it even about that thing or have I been bottling it up and now just letting it explode everywhere? Am I the faerie that’s fallen into the boiling pot blaming the lady in the house or blaming myself when really there may be no cause for blame at all?
Community is something that I and my mom have struggled with for a long time. We’ve both been blessed with the ability to easily chit chat with people, but neither of us have been good at upholding relationships, and close ones at that, for longer periods of time. That’s including relationships with family members. In the last some years we have both gotten a lot better about it, though still in need of learning a lot. Distance (on my part) and quarantine make keeping connected with community really hard though. It’s often easy to feel like we’re each others only community and even then, not reach out or give back to each other when needed. It’s easy to, metaphorically, fall in a pot of boiling water and bite your tongue or push away the help that comes. I know I put a lot of burden onto myself and figure out things on my own. I know I’ve felt like I’m all alone and end up snatching for help when it feels like it’s drifted by on chance.
Like this story shows though, you’re never really alone. You might want to be alone or feel like you’re alone, but there are people willing to support you or just hang out with you. It can be scary and difficult to handle these relationships whether they’re with friends, partners, family, or even neighbors. But maybe the most important line in this whole story is the very first one: “Ay, it’s a bad thing to displeasure the gentry, sure enough–they can be unfriendly if they’re angered, an’ they can be the very best o’ gude neighbours if they’re treated kindly.” All of our relationships are much more complex of course, but it doesn’t negate the truth of this statement either. Just as our relationships can turn bad, we can also reach out and try to become “gude neighbours” once again. After all, the story began with this line, it didn’t finish with it.
Remember to check in with your loved ones, ask for help if you need it, and do your best to be honest and kind with yourself and others. Now is the time for community work as well as shadow work. Until next time ❤
By the way, this is the books I’m using:
It’s a Barnes and Noble edition as seen in the link on the title at the beginning of this post. I plan to make more posts about my thoughts on different folktales in this book. You can likely use any edition of the book if you’d like to check out any piece I refer to in this new series of posts I’m starting. The page numbers may change a little based on which edition you use though. You might just be able to google the folktale and find it online for free as well.