Photograph by: Gary Mc Parland
Bluebells and the Faeries
The photographs in this article were taken in Aughamoria woods near Warrenpoint, a ten-minute drive from my home. I feel very grateful to live beside this magical wood and to have the opportunity to see the fragile flower in full blue bloom, each May of the bluebell season. A sight that can only be described as, breathtaking.
The bluebell and the Faeries
There is so much written in Folklore about the association of the bluebell to the Fairies of the Irish Glens. I love bluebells and I love the stories about the fairies that I heard over the years, the folklore and legends of our mystical land.
It was believed that Faeries used bluebells to trap passersby, particularly small children. Bluebells were said to ring when Faeries were summoning their kin to a gathering; but if a human heard the sound, or seen them, it would be their death knell.! Not surprisingly, it was considered unlucky to trample on a bed of bluebells, because you would anger the fairies resting there. There’s an interesting belief that wearing a garland of bluebells will induce you to speak only the truth. Or that if you could turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you would eventually win the one you love.
If you are interested in delving deeper into that mystical world here is a great link to follow:
You can read this (and more) of the ‘Schools Collection’ at duchas.ie and https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5177598/5172069/5185283.
Seeing the fairies… A short tale from Tyrone
Like many Irish people, I have met someone who has (or believes) that he has seen the faeries of the glen. He hasn’t spoken to many people about his experience, for obvious reasons i.e. no-one would believe him. He did, however, agree to speak to me about his experience. Henry is his name.
Henry is a shy and quiet Tyrone farmer, now in his late 80’s, sensible and sound of mind in my opinion. He relayed his experience to me as follows: “The glen was full of bluebells, I was driving my tractor to a field as I did many times passing the glen to get into another field. Something drew my attention to the glen and when I looked over, there they were little creatures, I can’t describe them because they turned to bluebells in a flash. I made it my business to get out of that field as quickly as I could. I have never and will never be back in that field.” “It was a terrifying experience.” That was all he said. I asked him to try and describe the creatures, he said he couldn’t because it happened so quickly, explaining that in an instant they were gone.
In Ireland, you believe in folklore or you don’t, my granny would say; “it is all piseog” (Irish for superstition). either way, folklore is fascinating and what stories they make.
When I was researching the fragile, beautiful and humble bluebell flower, I came across the article below from Ireland’s Wildlife by Calvin Jones https://www.irelandswildlife.com/ If you are visiting Ireland and are interested in everything Irish wildlife, whales, dolphins, seals, birds of prey etc..you are going to love this website. They offer wildlife holidays, tours and so much more. I am very grateful to Calvin for giving me permission to share his article.
Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
May 9, 2011 by Calvin Jones
There’s nothing quite like walking into an Irish woodland in spring and being greeted by a vibrant carpet of flowering bluebells. One of Ireland’s most familiar and striking wildflowers, bluebells are found all over the country. A display of the flowers en-masse is breath-taking: a true wild phenomenon.
The Bluebell is a wild member of the hyacinth family, and although common and widespread in Ireland and Britain it is a globally threatened species, making the Irish population particularly significant internationally.
The fragrant, bell-shaped flowers that give the plant its name stand upright when in bud, but hang downwards when fully opened to nod gently in the spring breeze. Flower colour ranges from the familiar violet-blue to white, and even pink on rare occasions. The flowers are arranged in clusters on flower spikes (called racemas) that grow to about 40cm (c. 15.5 inches) high and have drooping tips. The narrow, deep green leaves reach a length of about 45cm (c. 17.5 inches).
Bluebells flower from early April to June, making the most of the fact that the trees above have yet to develop their full complement of leaves. Plenty of light still reaches the forest floor, and the bluebells are quick to exploit it. The flowers attract a host of insect pollinators, which makes them particularly valuable to a wide range of wildlife.
Bluebells are perennial flowers that grow from underground bulbs and are found in the same location year after year. This predictable pattern of growth has led to woodlands around the country becoming locally noted for their fine spring display of bluebells.
Although bluebells favour native broadleaved woodland and put on their best flowering displays in such forests, they also grow in other habitats. It’s not unusual to find swathes of bluebells adorning meadows and cliff-tops, and growing under hedgerows or beneath upland stands of bracken – perhaps a sign that these areas were once covered by native woodland.
Once bluebells finish flowering the flower spikes die back, but the foliage persists for some time. The leaves convert energy from the limited amount of sunlight that still penetrates the now fully developed woodland canopy. This energy is converted into food and transported to the bulb where it’s stored to fuel next spring’s early growth. Eventually, the leaves too die back.
The second part of the bluebell’s scientific name Hyacinthoides non-scripta, means “not written on”, a label to distinguish it from the purple hyacinth described in Greek mythology. Legend has it that the youth Hyacinthus, favoured by the sun god, Apollo, was killed by Zepherus, god of the west wind. In his grief, Apollo raised a purple flower from Hyacinthus’s blood and traced the letters “Ai, Ai” upon its petals so his cries of woe would endure on earth. The bluebell bears no such inscriptions, hence its suffix nonscripta.
Ironically the bluebell’s popularity is the source of one of its biggest threats. Bluebells hybridise readily with the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), a species introduced to the horticultural market.
Find out more at Irelands Wildlife
If you have any stories about bluebells and Fairies that you heard growing up in Ireland, I would love to hear them.
Thank you Gary Mc Parland for the amazing photographs, if you would like to see more of Gary’s landscape photographs please visit his website on www.garymcparland.com
Thanks for reading x
Irish words of wisdom