#3 – “Hawthorne”

In 1990 work on the Limerick to Galway motorway halted. A lone tree stood in its way. The Hawthorne, according to tradition, belonged to the Sidhe (Ireland’s Fairies). Disturbing such sites is forbidden. A curve was added. The road snaking around the Thorn Tree. 


“This lore is not dead. People think it’s dead […] and the reason they think it’s dead because it’s not being talked about any more. Why is it not being talked about any more? Because people are ashamed to talk about it. If you talk about the fairies today […] you get nudge nudge, wink wink, ha-ha-ha, but the old people used to call them the fairies. The old people used to call them many sideways names.” [1]

These are the words of Eddie Lenihan “Ireland’s greatest living storyteller”, a folklorist, historian, and expert of traditional Irish fairy lore.

In 1999, Eddie made headlines across the world. The following is an excerpt from an article dated June 15th of that year, which appeared in the New York Times:

LATOON, Ireland — Eddie Lenihan, a smallish man with a dark unkempt beard, a wild head of hair and an intense look in his eyes, pointed to the high white-blossomed hawthorn bush standing alone in a large field in this village in western Ireland and issued, not for the first or last time, a warning to local officials:

“If they bulldoze the bush to make way for a planned highway bypass, the fairies will come. To curse the road and all who use it, to make brakes fail and cars crash, to wreak the kind of mischief fairies are famous for when they are angry, which is often.” [2]

The fairy-thorn (sceach in Gaelic) at Latoon was, according to Eddie, an important marker on an ancient fairy path. Specifically, it was believed to serve as the meeting place for the fairies of Munster whenever they prepared to ride against the fairies of Connacht. Lenihan was informed by a local farmer that he had seen white fairy blood at the spot, proving that the hawthorn was still in use by the fair folk. 

Eddie weaponised his storytelling skills as a form of non-violent protest and activism. Repeating the old tales as loudly and widely as he could, he drew the interest of first the national, and then the international press. And it worked. The route of much-delayed motorway, originally was begun in 1990, was ever-so-slightly altered, to skirt around the sacred tree. 

In a letter published in the Irish Times shortly after work was completed, Clare county engineer Tom Carey, who oversaw the project, claimed that there was no influence of the fair folk, however. It was simply easier to go around the tree. That had always been the plan, he insisted. Nothing to do with fairies at all. [3] Still, there are those who were, and who remain, rather sceptical of this official back-pedalling. We all know that people are often ashamed to admit that they believe in fairies these days, but that doesn’t mean they don’t fear the consequences of upsetting them. 


  1. https://eddielenihan.weebly.com
  2. https://eddielenihan.weebly.com/in-the-news.html
  3. https://www.soundsofsirius.com/the-fairy-tree-that-moved-a-motorway/