The Eggman and the Fairies (First published in The Twentieth Century, July 1960, and collected in Escape from the Anthill, 1986)


by Hubert Butler (1900 - 1991)

Butler locates this essay in his own backyard – Tipperary’s hill of Slievenaman – and talks as if we are his neighbours, who already know local Irish legends well.

He then recounts one horrific ‘legend’ from 1895: when Michael Cleary burnt his wife Bridget alive, witnessed by half the community, because he believed her possessed by fairies. The title’s ‘eggman’ points to a more prosaic explanation. Butler’s point is that there is nothing ‘charming’ about superstitious fears, whether that involves fairy folklore or Catholic ‘magic’. He is astute about how extreme actions can arise from confused ‘half-belief’ as much as from fanaticism.

Related recommendation: Bacon’s ‘Of Superstition’ (1625)

Origin: Ireland

Themes: Superstition

Genres: Biographical

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