Taking Flight with the Fairies

Wishing Trees (aka May Bushes or Fairy Trees) are hawthorn trees where people tie ribbons to ask blessings from the local saints/deities/wee folk. The hawthorn usually flowers in May, time of the Bealtaine festival of rebirth (now generally known as May D

Yesterday, I mentioned that S. was in town and we went over to several places including a place new to me – Duleek Abbey. One of the other places that we went was the Hill of Tara. I have posted a blog about it before (you can see it here – Hill of Tara), but I decided that maybe I should go into one of the interesting things about Ireland and ancient faiths that is relevant to the Hill of Tara (and other places around Ireland).


Here in Ireland, the people are considered mostly Catholic / Christian in faith. Now this is changing as time moves on and immigrants from other places arrive, but one thing that is interesting is that if you know where to look – there is evidence of far older beliefs. Celtic beliefs. When you go to Tara, you wander the grounds up the ditches, down the ditches. You see the stone of destiny, and you feel the ever blowing wind at the top of the hill. The smell of grass is thick, and the bleat of sheep and moan of cows are carried from the fields below. There are kids running about, dogs playing fetch, and others that are just enjoying the view. One thing that most people miss – because they don’t walk the perimeter of the site – are the the Trees.


To most people, the Hawthorne trees / Hawthorne bushes edging the Hill of Tara are trees are nothing special and most of them are what they seem. The reality is that trees are among Ireland’s most ancient. They can live to be 400 years old. The trees grow in a knarled fashion with rough trunks that have deep divots and curves. In spring time, the trees bloom in white flowers and as their leaves come in they have thorns just under each tiny little sprout. These thorns typically 1–3 cm long. In autumn, they bear a red fruit type berry. The hawthorn has been regarded as the emblem of hope, the ancient Greeks used to carry Hawthorn branches in wedding ceremonies, but somehow during medieval times the tree took on a lore that might help, in part, to explain why people avoid them. The crown of thorns that Christ wore during his crucifixion is said to have been made from a Hawthorn tree.

In Irish legends, the first humans on the Island encountered a “fairy” or “mystical people”. They were called the Sidhe (pronounced Shee-hey). Something happened (was it a fight?) and the Sidhe were banished to the Realm of the Fay. Some of the wee folk chose to remain, however, and they live underground or sometimes are said to reside in certain trees or bushes, usually of the hawthorn variety. You don’t want to disturb the fairy folk or you might bring some kind of misfortune upon yourself.

Other legends say that a pair of Hawthorne trees serve as a portal to the Land of the Fay and if you’re not careful, you can fall through the portal and wake up ‘on the other side’.

What’s interesting is that at the Hill of Tara, there are a pair of “Fairy trees” (aka Wishing Trees), despite the negative connotations around the “portal” and the “wee people”. While you could walk through the portal between the trees into the netherworld, those that visit these trees are bringing wishes and gifts for the Sidhe to take on to the other side. Over the years of visiting Tara, I have come across these Hawthorne trees in various seasons. In the Winter, the OPW who is in Charge of Tara clears away all the debris and cuts off all of the “ties” and “tags” that have been put on the tree. Come springtime though, the people bring their offerings to the trees. By summer, they are covered in decorations, and by autumn, it is nearly impossible to find a place to put your own. It is a very interesting place. Each wish is different – but they tend to be in similar forms.

Children’s pacifiers / bracelets or toys – Perhaps in mourning for a lost childhood, as a symbol of growing up, or as a wish for children (more children)?

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree



Pet items (like a collar, a leash, or a poop bag) – Perhaps their pets are lost? Perhaps they want a pet? or perhaps they are hoping that people will learn to clean up after themselves.

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

keychains or little plush shaped like animals


Notes / messages and paper items:

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

My offering to the Fairies

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

Ribbons, hair ties, and barettes:


Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

Bells, chimes, things that move with the breeze or catch the sun and sparkle.

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree



Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

I think for me, the fact that the belief / wishes are still being placed on the trees makes Tara that much more magical and the cultural tradition very sweet. I’ve not seen any other trees, though I hear that they are all over Ireland – one even having had a petition to have a road routed around it successfully. For me – I always take the time to leave a little something for the fairies – just in case. ;).

For a legend about the trees, you can checkout a blog post at – http://www.derryghosts.com/tree.htm


Hill of Tara

(The Hill of Tara with Stone of Destiny in the Distance)

Over the last few months, I’ve been very busy and had some great friends and family over to visit me here in Ireland. This has resulted in me doing some touristy stuff (I bought a little 700 euro car) and exploring Ireland near where I live. In the last month and a half, I’ve been to the Hill of Tara twice, and might I just say it’s well worth a visit – especially because it’s free admission and what I would call an endangered site because people just roam all over it.

(ground level view)

From Far away, the Hill of Tara doesn’t look like much. If you didn’t know it was there, other than a brown sign on the side of the road saying “Hill of Tara” with an arrow to the exit, you’d not know it was there. The entire thing is located off the new M3 motorway (controversial because they didn’t do any archaeology before putting the new traffic lanes only a couple miles from the structure), then down a narrow 1.5 car lane wide country road lined with shoulder high rock walls. When you get there, there’s a line of cars parked on the side of the road (tight squeeze to get past them), a 20 car parking area, and at a tiny pub and a tourist office at the end. The majority of local inhabitants are sheep, cows, and horses – and a handful of locals trying to make a buck to support the local economy. Getting out of the car, You have to walk up a blue gravel pathway and through a cow gate and then around and/or over several steep random mounds.

(The great banqueting long hall remains)

Essentially, It’s a huge green pasture with what looks like lumps and bumps of unplowed and overgrown mounds that are great fun for the kids to play on (running up and down, racing dirt bikes, and so on). To the un-knowing these mounds look almost like someone took a bulldozer and some dump trucks and piled up dirt for some sort of construction site that was never completed.

The Stone of Destiny
(The Stone of Destiny on the top of the Royal Seat “mound”)

To those in the know, you can see the remains of a long storied Irish history. When viewed from above, you can see that the mounds make two giant “ring forts” for protection, along with one extremely long single halled building used primarily for banqueting. It was from this site that the Iron Age (500 AD) Celtic kings of Ireland ruled their domain for over 1000 years. It was a place not only of celebration of the Celtic religion but also assembly place and burial place for over 140 ancient kings. There are over 30 monuments on the site itself and most date over a period of 4000 years – between 3500 BC – around 700 AD.

Mound of the Hostages
(Mound of the Hostages – outside)

Mound of the Hostages
(Mound of the Hostages – inside through the barred gate)

According to Legend, this the home to the Celtic Goddess Maeve (kings here had to drink spiced ale and symbolically marry her to gain the king ship) and possesses not just one but Two Fairy trees (where one comes to communicate and present offerings to the fairies), but also here was the place that St. Patrick (the patron saint of Ireland) had his victory over the Celtic King Laoghaire in the 5th Century.

(Two Fairy Trees decorated with offerings and wishes)

Because of the forced conversion of the populace to Christianity, there is, naturally, a Church with old cemetery overlapping part of these ancient Ring Ruins. The church, naturally, is named St. Patricks, and is now dis-used.

(St. Patrick’s Church on the Hill of Tara)

I have to say that I really enjoyed my time exploring this historic site where thousands of years of Irish history cross – from the ancients, to the Celts, to the Christians digging into sacred Pagan ground to bury their dead. It really makes one pause and think about beliefs and preservation – and even more so when you see children playing and sheep grazing on this once holy site. But, as one day sets, another begins – and time moves on for us – and yet stands still at Tara.

Celtic Cemetery stone & Tree at hill of Tara
(St. Patrick’s Cemetery with Celtic style Cross and the edge of the mounds at the Hill of Tara)