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IRISH FOLK TOURS DUBLIN
FOOD, FOLKLORE AND FAIRIES

Story and photos by

Johnny Daly is a shanachie (seanchai in Irish/Gaelic), which means he is a professional Celtic storyteller. His enchanting stories about Irish folklore and fairy history held us spellbound.

The Brazen Head, Ireland's Oldest Pub
The Brazen Head, Ireland's Oldest Pub
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Visitors to Dublin, Ireland, can hear Johnny Daly's storytelling at An Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies at The Brazen Head. Dating back to 1198, The Brazen Head is the oldest pub in Ireland.

Directions to Brazen Head pub

Located at the southwest corner of Ushers Quay and Bridge Street, south of the Liffey River in Dublin, Brazen Head's address is 20 Lower Bridge Street, Dublin 9. The pub is a 10-minute walk from Temple Bar.

An Evening of Food, Folklore & Fairies begins as guests from Europe, Canada and the USA gather around candlelit tables. The Irish dinner menu offers three appetizers, five main courses and two desserts, with tea and coffee. Guests can buy drinks if they wish.

Dinner menu

We selected Irish fish cakes, made with mashed potatoes and chunks of seafood. Our poached Irish salmon fillet, with basil pesto cream sauce, was mouthwatering. And the chocolate fudge cake was decadently delicious.

Irish salmon dinner at Dublin's Brazen Head pub
Irish salmon dinner at Dublin's Brazen Head pub
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Other Irish Folk Tour guests selected traditional bacon and cabbage with mashed potatoes, beef and Guinness stew with onions and mushrooms, and Irish stew, made with lamb, vegetables and potatoes.

Johnny Daly began telling his stories between the appetizer and main courses. We forgot we were in a Dublin pub restaurant, as we time-traveled to 19th-century Ireland, a world of fairies and leprechauns.

Because potatoes are a main component of Irish cuisine, it wasn't surprising that Daly began by answering the question: Why are potatoes so important to the Irish?

Irish food

We learned that potatoes grow well in Ireland's poor wet soil. The crop sustained a population explosion until the 1845-to-1850 potato blight caused famine and emigration from Ireland, which continued for years.

Johnny Daly tells Irish folklore stories.
Johnny Daly tells Irish folklore stories.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Ireland's biggest export has always been people," explained Johnny Daly. "One in four English, 40 million Americans, 15 per cent of Canadians and a half million Argentineans claim Irish descent."

Irish whiskey

After entertaining descriptions of the origins of other Irish foods, like corned beef and cabbage and smoked dried salted herring, Daly told us stories about two popular Irish drinks—tea and whiskey.

Although tea, brought to Ireland from India by the English, became very popular, it also initiated superstitions. "You don't want to stir the teapot, or you'll stir up trouble," said Daly, "especially if your husband is out at sea fishing."

Irish whiskey, in the 16th to 18th centuries, was home-brewed in small pots. When Royal Irish constables began enforcing licenses to make whiskey, the distillers moved to the mountains to make whiskey by moonlight. (This is the origin of the words, moonshine and Mountain Dew.)

Fairy world

Johnny Daly's expressive voice and body language had us so entranced that it felt like only seconds had passed before it was time for our entrées. After staff cleared our main course plates, Daly resumed his stories, beginning with an explanation of why the Irish believed in a fairy world.

"What the human mind can't understand, it invents," he said. His stories described how the Irish Celts used the fairy world to explain why crops failed or children died.

Irish archaeology

From ancient to medieval times, Irish farmers lived in ring forts, made of earth and stone. At night, they moved their cattle inside to protect them from cattle raiders and wolves.

According to Daly, when farmers moved into houses, the Irish people believed that fairies moved into the ring forts. There are thousands of fairy forts across Ireland today, yet modern farmers refuse to touch them, just like their fathers and grandfathers. "Fairies are the biggest protectors of Irish archaeology today."

Johnny Daly entertains guests at candlelit table.
Johnny Daly entertains guests at candlelit table.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Strolling from table to table, Johnny Daly enraptured us with story after story, ranging from why trooping fairies made it risky to be out on Halloween to how folklore about solitary fairies (leprechauns) kept people safe. (Parents would tell their children, don't talk to strangers. They could be leprechauns!)

Belief in fairies was so strong, in the 19th century, that parents dressed their young boys as girls so they wouldn't be abducted by fairies. We recalled a portrait in Daniel O'Connell's House, which depicted his son dressed as a girl.

"Even today, people dress boys, as well as girls, in long dresses when they are christened," said Johnny Daly. "Few people remember the origins of this custom."

Fairy stories

As we took a break for dessert and coffee, Daly noted that people often tell him their fairy stories after the Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies ends. The Canadian family sitting at our table was no exception.

"I was born in Dublin," said the mother. "My father often told us that he had a fairy fort on his property. He always farmed around it and never built anything on it, because he believed something bad would happen if he did."

Johnny Daly's stories triggered more memories for her. "My father showed me a photo of his grandfather, when he was three years old. He was wearing a dress and holding a gun."

Irish pub
Irish pub
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Fairy tales, myths and legends

"Irish folklore is incredibly rich," stated Johnny Daly. "Just go into any Irish pub and you'll see that we love conversation.

"Storytelling was a wonderful creative outlet for the Irish in times past, especially during the winter when the whole community gathered around the fire. Everyone was encouraged to contribute to the group's entertainment," he said.

"Professional storytellers, or seanchai, made their living by helping people escape from their mundane and difficult lives into a wonderful world of imagination, through the power of their words."

Looking back on our Evening of Food, Folklore & Fairies, we know exactly what he means.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

An Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies: www.irishfolktours.com

Dublin Tourism: www.visitdublin.com

Tourism Ireland: www.discoverireland.com

More things to see and do in Dublin:

Abbey Island - Derrynane National Park - Co. Kerry Ireland

Bodhran Lesson - Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry Ireland

Southwest Ireland - Dowsing for Water and Earth Energy

Gap of Dunloe Tours - Hike, Bike or Jaunting Car?

Valentia Island Walking Tour - Geokaun Mountain, Fogher Cliffs and Slate Quarry