When I was growing up my mother regaled me with many stories of her own childhood in West Cork, and one of those tales related to the phenomenon of the sí gaoithe. This phrase is normally translated as the “fairy wind” in English, with all its fantastical or indeed scatological overtones, though a more idiomatic description might be an “otherworldly whirlwind”. In essence, my mother described being present on her uncle’s farmlands during the late summer harvest when great breezes would whip up the cut hay or straw, twisting and turning the stalks in the sky, before dumping them on the ground or in a nearby field. This was apparently common enough for my mother to have seen it several times and for the adults who were present to insist, more in jest than earnest one presumes, that it was a sign of the invisible “fairies” moving among the labourers as they worked. As far as she remembered there was talk of the blown cuttings being “their” portion of the successful harvest and that one should avoid looking directly at the whirlwinds lest one be struck down with some unknown malady.
I had almost forgotten the story until I watched this video posted on Twitter by Michael Heffernan, a local farmer in Fontstown, County Kildare. However much we may like to think otherwise, we are not so far from our rural – or cultural – roots.