The White Hawthorn grows in hedges throughout our fair land, it blooms in May in ancient Ireland it was known as ‘the commoner of the wood’. As the hard wood of the Hawthorn takes a good polish no wonder they make good walking sticks. Its young leaves are very tasty and may be used in salads or dried to make a refreshing cup of tea.

The Hawthorn tree figures prominently in Irish folk lore. The Fairy Thorn; the lone thorn bush are held sacred by the country folk and are to be seen in the middle of so many Ulster fields. There is not a farmer in all Ireland who would allow anyone to meddle with them, although they are an inconvenience, they are left standing rather than run any risk of offending the wee folk who are supposed to assemble there.

Fairies are harmless when left alone, but deadly when disturbed. A burning topic for years has been the danger of upsetting the little folk and especially of interfering with or cutting down their ‘magic’ thorns.  In lore and legend people who chop down these special hawthorns standing in splendid isolation do so at their own peril, so be warned!  In your journey around our fair land, you will see ploughed fields but the Fairy Thorn stands alone untouched. Looking at the solitary thorn in the still peace of a summer evening, one feels a penetrating sense of the supernatural, a feeling that is better to keep at a reasonable distance. I asked a farmer once did he believe in fairies and all the hurt they could do to anyone interfering with them? He answered he did not know whether he believed in them or not, but he wouldn’t interfere or touch anything when their names were associated with, just in case.

There is much in this world of ours that we cannot see or account for which is why many of us would not act as fools, rushing in where Angels fear to tread. These fairy thorns, small green hills Forts and raths which are found all over Ireland, greatly enhance the beauty of our countryside and lend enchantment to the Ulster scene.  These special abodes of the fairies and leprechauns provide a great attraction for Ireland’s tourists.

That a belief in existence of fairies still persists is shown by the reluctance of a housing committee a few years ago to use the site of a fairy rath for building houses. So strong is this tradition that even the direct necessity would not compel our people to interfere with them in case bad luck should follow their activities. Archaeologists and geologists may suggest theories to account for the raths, those tree-encircled mounds that are a feature of our landscape.  To the local farmers they will always be the homes of the fairies and forever remain so and the Fairy thorn will continue to grow undisturbed so that the ‘Sidhe’ may still reside amongst us and give to our country that indefinable atmosphere that will forever belongs to Fairyland.

In years gone by it was known motorways to be rerouted to avoid these solitary trees or building plans to be changed for if you damage or remove these trees bad luck will surely follow. At Clonduff, near Hilltown in South Down there is a town land called Bush town and it’s enclosed by a triangle of main roads. It is so called because it contains the largest ‘fairy thorn tree’ in Ulster. Standing alone in the middle of a field, this sprawling tree is still very much respected; the legend handed down tells us it grew from a stick planted by a priest to ward off an angry bull that knocked down a wall of newly erected small church in the neighbourhood.  You will notice a storm has blown part of the structure down but the local people left it alone so the fairies wouldn’t get angry and create a bit of bad luck.

J.J.Tohill