30 May 2018
The Edge of Elfland
Manchester, New Hampshire
Not long ago I was made aware of the excellent Facebook page Ronan Kelly’s Ireland. Kelly travels around Ireland interviewing people, showing his audience Ireland. Kelly goes out of his way to show us the non-touristy Ireland. I’ve watched videos with an older woman shopkeeper, an old cobbler and his mate, a savant piano player with schizophrenia. But my favorite by far has been the video interviewing Pat Noone of Green Hills Farm. What did they talk about? Fairies.
Green Hills Farm is in Kilconnell, Ireland and is run by Noone and his wife. According to Noone his farm is home to fairies, as well as two standing stones––vertical stones placed in the ground, most likely during the neolithic era––and is known to be a place of healing. Noone himself claims he can free up your body to cure itself, drawing healing from the land through a copper wire passed around you. Copper is believed in alternative medicines to be helpful. Even Hildegard von Bingen believes it could be useful in the curing of certain kinds of fevers in the stomach. She also suggests that when used to heat wine, it can overcome certain kinds of poison.
It would be easy, to pass Noone off as a fake, someone who spreads stories like these in order to get people to go camping in his fields or to attend his bed and breakfast. But even if that salacious rumor were true, it would not change the fact that many people––many more now than in recent years though not near so many in years gone past––hold such beliefs. Many of those who come to Green Hills Farm do so out of a personal belief in Faërie and not because Pat Noone believes it. And there is something to this close connection with nature. Don’t forget what Chesterton said about the possibility of making the English a religious people people, “If we ever get the English back onto English land they will become again a religious people, if all goes well, a superstitious people. The absence from life of both the higher and lower forms of faith is largely due to a divorce from nature and the trees and clouds.” It seems to me, in his own way, this is where Pat Noone is. Of course, I know nothing of Noone’s religious beliefs, and I may ask him, but the key here is that Noone is clearly a man of Irish soil.
One of the most interesting stories, to me, from Noone in the video is that of an Italian woman, a scientist, who once camped on his farm. She becomes scared in the night and while she won’t say what scared her, she seeks out a Catholic Church. This might lead some to believe that Noone is in league with Lucifer and the fairies are nought but demons. And it is true that many in the history of the Church have believed so, but not all. Noone himself makes it clear that the fairies are not an evil folk, even if they are not totally benign. While they may not look much like Tolkien’s elves, they share much in common with Susana Clarke’s fairies, though we ought to remember that not all are like the man with the thistledown hair. What’s more, we ought to keep in mind the various medieval traditions, Sir Launfal, for instance, has little to complain of given his travels with the fayfolk and even Sir Gawain comes away a better and humbler man. Thomas the Rhymer and Robertus Kirk can be said to have suffered or benefited, depending on which stories you believe.
Of course, as usual, my goal here is not to get you, dear readers, to believe in fairies. That, at the moment, is entirely secondary. Rather, it is what belief in fairies represents: a closeness with the land, a closeness that allows for things, for ideas, bigger and greater than what can normally be seen. After all, as a Catholic, I believe in things far stranger than healing from the land or mischievous gnomes: I believe in angels, nine orders of them, I believe that prayer can be efficacious, I believe that daily bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, I believe that God created and sustains reality, that he is the source of being and yet beyond being. I believe that God became a human, lived with us, taught us, died for us, defeated death for us, rose for us, and is returning for us. I believe all these things and more. And doing so has taught me to more greatly appreciate creation itself and particularly to appreciate those who live closely with it and see things I don’t.