the fairy council of ireland
Back in 2019, I graduated from Maynooth University with a First Class BA Hons in English and History with a Special Interest in Irish Cultural Heritage. The ICH was important to me, as I had been blogging a number of years on Irish mythology and archaeological sites, and the course deepened my understanding in those areas. However, as the short film above touches on, Irish Cultural Heritage includes far more than tourist attractions; we must also consider language, dance, literature, music, history, identity, religion, art, food, architecture, landscape, flora and fauna, crafts... the list goes on. My course, excellent as it was, did not, and could not, cover any of that. So where do you go, if you want to find out more about Irish Cultural Heritage?
All across the country, there are people connecting with the past and drawing it into the present, who are practising in their field of interest, from the ancient art of storytelling Ireland's folklore, to the use of native plants for food and medicine. And now, there is an organisation where all these individuals can network, and share their knowledge with each other, and anyone else who might be interested: The Fairy Council of Ireland.
On their website, the Fairy Council of Ireland state:
We are an ecological, living, cultural hub of “intangible heritage” supporting the interconnectivity of projects for the protection and regeneration of biodiversity, as well as the rich ancient knowledge and customs of our Ancestors.
séamus draoigall and saraí humble, co-founders of the fairy council of ireland
image (c) john sheridan
The Fairy Council is the brainchild of co-founders Séamus Draoigall, amateur Gaelic Researcher and Illustrator, and Saraí Humble, creator of the All is Well project. It was during her work with finding, cleaning and researching holy wells, that Saraí came across many incredible projects initiated and managed by amazing people out in local communities, all working on the myriad different aspects that make up Irish culture. She realised there was a huge need for a base where these groups could not only be inspired by awareness of others working in similar fields, but that would also enable the flourishing of networking and empowering possibilities.
As Séamus explains:
The name “The Fairy Council of Ireland” was replied in total craic, when Saraí attended the Cultural & Heritage Initiative 2030 meeting in Dublin Castle and was asked by a Minister which organisation she represented. However, over time it started to unveil hidden layers, the idea that, what in Ireland have come to be known as “fairies”, stand, in a way, as symbols of that way of living that has been lost but not forgotten. They are the “Good People”, not different to the older man who goes out every spring to plant trees, or the young blacksmith making brooches and throngs, or the forest-school teacher sharing the knowledge of how to make fire from scratch to a group of wide-eyed schoolchildren. We feel there is a certain... “fairyness” in some people that exists all over the world, of course, but Ireland is really lucky because you don’t have to look that far for that kind of magic, it is alive in so many people here.
Personally, I love the idea that there is an element of 'fairiness' in all those people who are out doing good works in the community, and keeping the language and traditions of Ireland alive... what a lovely thought!
Seamus was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has a background in Social Media and Design, but from a young age his heart has belonged to Ireland.
I did a project in school about the Celts and something within me really recognised (or remembered?) certain elements that stayed with me. In 2013 I got a Working Holiday Visa to come to Ireland for one year, and the impact of that experience led me a couple years later to become an avid student of Irish mythology, history and more. Since 2017 I’ve been coming to Ireland on 3-months visitor’s visas while leading a mobile lifestyle and continuing my research, field work, and amazing exchanges with Ireland and all she is. After much expense, time and stress, I was blessed to finally obtain a European citizenship on 2019 which has allowed me to move to Ireland for good, and put my skills at the service of the land that nurtured, supported and completely transformed me.
When I asked him what inspired him to start The Fairy Council, he is typically modest:
I did not precisely “start” the Fairy Council but my graphic design and illustration skills definitely kick-started a manifestation of the concept, since I brought in the logo sketches and a certain “know how” due to my background in Social Media and Design. The idea of a network that provides enabling structures to indigenous projects had been first conceived by Saraí Humble (creator of the All is Well initiative) and Frank Doyle, whom I befriended at the beginning of the first lockdown a year ago. Due to a wonderful series of unlikely events, me and Saraí spent the first lockdown alongside Lar Dooley (who is also involved in the project) in the Loughcrew Megalithic Centre campsite. This was a blessed oasis in a world that was rapidly changing, and it allowed ample space for setting down the bases of this project.
I know from personal experience that the pandemic with its lockdowns, and all the issues it has thrown up, has only served to spark a closer connection with nature and the landscape around me. Like many people, I walk a daily 5k circle (only realising recently that I choose to walk it deiseal-wise, or clockwise, because that's how it feels right to me), and have engaged on a deeper level with the plants, birds, and animals I have found there. And I'm not alone; many people, it seems, have made similar discoveries about themselves and their communities, according to commentary on social media. So has The Fairy Council come along at the right moment, I wonder; does it tap into an unconscious but growing movement towards 'slow living' and meaningful connection with the earth? I asked Séamus how The Fairy Council has been received by the general public, and his reply was enthusiastic.
We are so honoured and delighted with how the project has resonated. We only started sending out actual invitations to join our hub earlier this year, and the good feedback and support we’ve been getting, even from big names like Anthony Murphy or the Irish band Kíla, makes us feel we’re on the right track. We think there is so, so much potential to people-powered initiatives, where the endgame isn’t profit but creation, expansion and remembering.
Something that we feel is really needed in modern society (and which Ancient Ireland can remind us of) is the highlighting of “skill”. In Gaelic Ireland, your skill could raise your status, give you access to freedoms and rights that others didn’t have, and most of all, your skill was something that was meant to CONTRIBUTE to the tribe as well as the land. This was the measure of worth. In a way, the Fairy Council have led us back to that world-view. There is a lot of people out there ready to take, but are you ready to give? Do you know what is the thing that you, and only you, can contribute to the whole? We think that is a wonderful guideline under which to act: Your skill may give you great things, but we must all learn to put our skills at the service of the whole.
The Fairy Council website has a very clean look with lots of white space; it's design is clearly intended to showcase not itself, but its contributors. It is easily navigable under five key headings which form its core principles: Trees - Crainn (Woodlands and Reforestation), Land - Tallamh (Land and Biodiversity), Water - Uisce (Watercare and Holy Wells), Inspiration - Imbas (Arts and Inspiration), and Knowledge - Eolas Ársa (Ancient Knowledge and Law). Séamus explained more about this:
We had originally toyed with the idea of having 5 sections under the elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Spirit), but we decided that a more bespoke approach would be more aligned with our own ethos: What elements defined our ancient culture? We found that Trees, Water, Land, Inspiration and Knowledge were fitting broad-terms under which to organise the multi-disciplinary richness of this culture. In a way of course it reflects the concept of the 5 provinces of Ireland.
With its beautiful website, clearly set out aims, and rush of contributors, you might think 'job done', but Saraí and Séamus have ambitious plans for their project. There's a strong community element to it, Séamus says,
We’ve been told fairies don’t exist, and by believing that, we’ve been separated by that sense of pulsing wonder, relentless willpower and creative cleverness that was the identity of our ancestors. We can only remember who we were by knowing who we are, so seeing such amazing talents and incredible people doing what they were born to do is incredibly inspiring. Daring to try or doing something new can be a lonely path, so it has been very settling to see how many other “Good People” are doing the “Good Work” in the “Good Land”, you know?
In the future, we aim to provide a platform that offers resources and enabling structures to budding projects. We want to open spaces for debates and talks that need to be had regarding our identity as Indigenous Irish what that means and what can be done. We want to co-operate in larger scale projects, promoting Irish heritage but also, in a way, “becoming” it. Being a living example of what we preach, showing that we can bring forth valuable knowledge from our ancient past, and adapt it to our modern needs. Ultimately, we foresee the creation of an actual “living heritage” sort of space, a place where education, study, creation and promoting of Irish heritage skills and culture is protected, boosted and shared.
Finally, we seek to forming solutions towards the challenges we face in re-balancing our ecology. We can do this by gathering all the experts that are, indeed, showing themselves and sharing their knowledge. If solutions can be offered, we can positively impact government policies to the benefit of all the island.
And already, the project is bearing fruit by birthing collaboration and new work jointly created between contributors who have been brought into contact through the site's networks.
While we were planning the first stages of the project in Loughcrew, we found ourselves organising a side project called “Súil an Craic”. This project was the 2nd iteration of a walk that had been done 2 years before, from Kerry up to Meath, and we decided to launch it to complete the walk but from North to South this time. Between Lughnasadh and Samhain 2020, Saraí walked and followed Lugh's journey through the land and legends. This took her from Tory Island in Donegal down to Loughcrew in Meath, accompanied at different stages by different people but carrying the bulk of the experience by herself. Along the way she connected with locals, held open spaces at sacred sites for people and experts to come to the fire, and of course kept doing her good work on the wells along the route.
The walk project had huge impacts which we’re still deciphering, but it did highlight the need for better access to wells and we’re producing both a Well map (illustrated by the very talented Sean Fitzgerald) and a well cleaning information booklet.
Around the same time, Lar Dooley finished writing his book on Indigenous Irish spirituality, still to be published, which I had the pleasure of editing and designing for him with the support of the Fairy Council.
So for now it is all really just starting. There’s a lot we want to do but have learned the importance of timings, and taking one step at a time. We are currently just a couple of people taking care of all aspects of this project, and even though we’re very blessed to have lifestyles that allow us to do this, we recognise there’s only so much we can do until we’re able to expand our team. Every timing has been so perfect on this journey that we’ve no doubt the right people with time and willingness to contribute will appear at the right time. In the meantime, we’re just focusing on keep finding the Good People.
I'd like to thank Séamus for taking the time to tell me all about the The Fairy Council of Ireland, and wish him and Saraí every success with this inspired and vital venture. It has been an exchange which has certainly brought me food for thought. The Fairy Council network has also already connected me with people I can learn so much from. If you have an interest in Irish Cultural Heritage, and want to find out more about what 'the Good People' are up to all around Ireland, make sure to visit the website.