Eugene Daly continues his series on aspects of Irish folklore and customs
It was believed that at Bealtaine (May Eve) and at Samhain (Hallowe’en) the veil between this world and the Otherworld was open and that supernatural beings were more than usually active. It was very likely to come across a band of travelling fairies, a pooka (púca), a headless coach or a mermaid.
It is believed that the Great Earl of Desmond is seen on May morning in full armour rising from the waters of Lough Gur in County Limerick, to gallop his silver-shod horse around the lake. With all this otherworld activity going on, people took precautions for their safety. Best of all was to remain in the security of one’s own house, or at least to venture out only briefly and, above all, not to sleep out of doors.
A piece of iron in the pocket gave some protection; a black-handled knife was the best form of iron. Other useful safeguards were a spent cinder from the fire or a sprig of rowan (mountain ash).
Persons passing by forts or other homes of the ‘good people’ often met them setting out to engage in dancing, hurling or other revels. There are many stories about humans being ‘abducted’ by a fairy band to help them against another group in a game of hurling.