Did I ever tell you about the time I saw the fairies in Ireland?

Now, I'm not one of those that “sees” things left and right. Oh, I've had my share of visionary experiences over the years, to be sure, most of them that momentary irruption of an image so vividly unexpected as to be of nearly visual impact, and no less transformative for all that. If I talk about such experiences at all, it's generally in a poem. This is intimate stuff, not to be touched upon lightly.

And then there's the time I saw the fairies in Ireland.

Perhaps I should say, “the time we saw the fairies in Ireland,” except that I don't know what my friend Jake saw, if indeed he saw anything at all. I've always been hesitant to ask.

So, two drunk Americans stumble into a fairy fort in Ireland one night.

We were staying with Jake's boss at his country place in Co. Clare. After a night of too much Guinness and too much poteen, he says to us: “There's an old fairy fort down by the gate. You boys like that sort of thing: you should go take a look.” So we do.

We stumble through the dark and into the woods, where it's even darker. (Iron Age ring-forts in Ireland are often wooded, because even in these post-Keltic Tiger days no one in his right mind would dream of cutting timber there.) We climb up over the bank and down into the fort.

Then came the eyes.

A ring of them, man-high, all around us. Cold green fire, staring. Not friendly eyes, no my precious. Not friendly at all.

Who are you and why are you here? Is this in my head or are these real, hearable words?

“Um, we're, like, travelers from the Western Land across the sea?” (Have I ever spoken so gracelessly before in all my life? Am I even speaking out loud?) “And we've, um, brought some things for you. Uh, here.” (Pours poteen, lays coins on ground.)


So, and you've brought your fine things. (Am I hearing irony here?) Now get out.

Jake says in a voice I've never heard him use before, “What was that?”

“Come on, Jake,” I say, “let's get out of here.”

And we do.

I look at so much of what passes for “fairy” on the pagan scene—the gauze, the bustiers, the butterfly wings—and I smile and shake my head. What I have seen is beautiful and terrible beyond telling.

I smile and say nothing.