By Mae Leonard

The topic of conversation in Limerick during the mid-1950s was fairies. The Limerick Leader was full of them. And they weren’t stories about good fairies. Well, maybe they were good but they were angry. It had all to do with the disturbance around the fairy fort where Limerick Corporation was in the process of building houses at Ballynantybeg.

But you don’t build houses at, in or near a fairy fort. There were reports of strange accidents on site and of machinery breaking down without reason. People really believed in fairies and were in fear of their power and of spells they might cast on trespassers. Men actually became seriously frightened and refused to work there.

At that time my father was working with an army maintenance team at a place called Knockalisheen which was where the army trained in summer. It was a short distance up the road from the fairy fort at Ballynantybeg.

“Knockalisheen,” he told us, “means ‘The Hill of the Fort of the Little People’. There are fairies and leprechauns all over the place.”

My little sister begged him to bring home a fairy to her. He told her that it was too difficult to catch them but there is a good chance that he could get a leprechaun with a crock of gold. My mother admonished him several times for filling our heads with nonsense but that only egged him on!

Behind all of this there was something a lot more serious. Stories of fairies who were wreaking havoc at Ballynantybeg were pushed out of the headlines of the Limerick Leader and replaced by the refugees who had escaped from Hungary after the Uprising of October 1956.

What had begun as a peaceful student demonstration was violently crushed by the Soviet tanks. The Rising lasted two weeks and left over two thousand Hungarians and some seven-hundred Soviet troops dead. Refugees left their homes with whatever they could carry and made their way through frozen marshes and windswept plains to cross the border into Austria and Yugoslavia.

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