Tradition, Honour, and Principles: A Re-Write…
At the narrowest travelling point by sea, there are approximately 12.5 miles between the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland and my own County Antrim in the North of Ireland. On a clear day you can see from one to the other, and I’ve experienced it from Mac Airt’s fort atop the Cavehill,
I remember many tales as a child of a secret pathway that was used by the United Irishmen that skirted an old cottage, and a sparkling well that was mentioned in other similar tales, that were told in the homes of my friends by their parents, and there was a few of us who did look for the well, and while we found springs, no well. We were from west Belfast and more familiar with the Divis and Black Mountain, and we gave up.
A week later, Darby and I headed to the hills above ‘The Turf’, and we found this little sort-of pathway just to the right of a steep path. The pathway was made of small rough stones, some of them coloured and we followed it to the rim of a tiny earth basin, and a well fed by a cool stream of water coming off a drop on the Hill above us, coming from what seemed like a hole in the hill. Anyway, we drank from it before attempting, and failing to climb up. After that, we tried it from a height, but were unable to locate it let alone see it due to the fact that the edge jutted out too far.
Now, as we all know, water doesn’t have a taste, but this water was different in that it was earthy and aromatic, and refreshing to the point of revitalising a person. We could have maybe reached the source if we had taken the way of the bluebells, but we were superstitious because to walk through a bed of bells would have triggered their warning sound to the keepers of the well, and we could do without the ‘come-hither’ being put upon us.
That superstition came from the old-school folklore rearing, and respecting magical beings was necessary to avoid their response.
Years later I came across a mountain native on one of my Sunday ramblings who bid me ‘good afternoon’ and I stopped to speak with him ignoring the team of white dogs, similar to Wolfhounds, albeit smaller, that gathered, encircled us as we spoke, yet I never felt threatened. The elderly, white-haired man puffed on his clay pipe as I told him the story of the stairway and the well, and he wasn’t surprised, and he replied something like this: –
The well is a blessed one, with healing properties, and tended by the Faerie folk, and it is they who built the pathway and the basin that were as old as time itself. That they lived inside the hill and only ventured out between dusk and dawn, and he had seen them himself many a time.’
I told him I’d never seen the place since that day, and had looked a few times through the years for it, but it had always eluded me.
He replied: – ‘That it was all grown over and the path no longer to be seen, that the Faery Folk now tended to hiding the path, the well, and their hill, because people no longer believed in them. Indeed, they shunned them and had no respect for nature.’
When I asked him how he knew all this. He replied: – ‘I’m a guardian of this mountain in as much as anyone can be, and my job is to ensure no-one ever finds that hill, and those things remain undisturbed, because until mankind repairs its ways, the faerie folk want nothing to do with them.’
He could see that I was shocked, but insisted I was seen as an outsider as much as anyone else even though he could see I was a believer.
I never seen him again on any of my hours spent on those mountains. Years later, when I took my youngest daughters to those hills, climbing them; well in truth I had them by the hand, helping them to the top behind me, but to be fair – they were young.
You see, I wanted them to share in making a memory and we actually found a well that day. One I drank from, and saw them both horrified that I did, aghast that rabbits and hares would have drank from it, that foxes could have went to the loo in it. I smiled at their Innocence and realised that day I guess, how far removed we’ve become from nature. How dependent we’ve become on progress and the modernisation of a world that is stripping the real world away from us every day. How we’ve forgotten to talk without using a phone, text, an email, or skype. Yes, if one is far enough away from their loved ones – such things are a necessity.
In those times, the mountains, that countryside, had magic in them, and people had manners. The new modern world has too much BS in it, and if you have old fashioned values- can find yourself attacked from a prism of ‘self-righteous-isms,’ – that’s those who believe a wrong is right, and that right – is wrong.
I’d rather have principles than have none, and loads of people out there just like me, and what a poor example we’d be showing our kids if we didn’t take then by the hand to those mountains for walks whilst telling them stories of the fay people.
Our traditions are important and much of what we have in our folklore has been passed down through families in stories. Our culture is what makes us who we are, and we are rich in our customs, and what a dishonourable people we would we be to our forefathers if we failed to maintain our traditions. They are after all, based on morals and decency, and failing to maintain them, will see the generations who come after us poorer in human concern and awareness.
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