home books e-books audio books recent titles with blogs
The Irish are Still Quite Fey

Posted on 11 March 2024, 9:16

I try to pay special homage to my Irish ancestors on St. Patrick’s Day, which is coming up on Sunday.  They include my maternal grandmother, Mary Ellen Donovan (right photo), her father, Jeremiah Donovan (top left), his two sisters Bridget and Catherine Donovan (bottom left), who cared for Mary Ellen after her mother, Margaret (Lynch) Donovan, died at childbirth.  Bridget and Catherine accompanied Mary Ellen to the United States from County Cork in 1903. Bridget was my Godmother, and although she died in an accident in 1938, when I was just a year old, I never had a chance to know her. I think she might be one of my spirit guides.  Also, Anna (Toaz) Bowles, my maternal grandfather’s mother (middle left) was three-quarters Irish, although she was born with a surname having roots in the Iberian Peninsula.


I am especially indebted to the Donovan/Lynch/Sullivan side for my Catholic heritage. It provided me with a spiritual foundation, one I could build upon and chisel away at in in later years, thereby developing into a more meaningful existential approach to this life and the “larger life.” Without that foundation, I’m not sure what path I would have taken. I might have otherwise chosen to be a nihilist, thereby being “one with my toys.”

A few days ago, it seemed like a good time to call my long-time friend, David Stang, as to the state of spirituality in Ireland. Although Dave is an 85-year-old retired American lawyer living in Washington D.C., he has a summer home in Ireland and has spent time there nearly every year for the past five decades.

In a chapter titled “Religion on the Rocks,” in his 2003 book, Emerald Spirit, Dave observed that many Irish people had left the church or remained only nominal parishioners.  The reason, he wrote, is much the same as in other countries – various clerical scandals and disagreement with certain Church teachings, but perhaps more than those it was materialism.  “Through watching American and British movies on TV portraying the glories of a materialistic culture, and by being bombarded with advertising, a growing number of Irish are beginning to believe that they are what they buy,” he explained. “They are learning to measure their self-worth by the clothes they wear, the houses they live in, and the cars they drive. The more they have, the better they tend to feel about themselves.”

Reduced Rosary Chanting

I asked Dave if there has been any noticeable change since he wrote the book 20 years ago. He said he didn’t have any statistics available, but opined that “Materialism is replacing Christianity. The small towns are slower to catch on,” he said.  “The old ways of seeking divine intervention through saying the rosary have been largely abandoned by the big city folk in Dublin and Cork.  The people there want to be ‘European,’ not ‘rosary-chanting Irish.’ In the country towns, you still find some people going to church.  They may not accept all the doctrines of the church, but they are superstitious so they still see reciting the rosary as a good way of avoiding a future in hell.”

According to a 2022 census, 14 percent of the Irish population are “irreligious,” while 69 percent identify as Catholic, down from 94.9 percent in a 1961 census. In that ’61 survey, fewer than one-percent were in the “irreligious” category. In a separate survey, church attendance was down from 80 percent during the 1990s to 28 percent in 2020.

As Dave sees it, the materialistic mindset is more prevalent among those under 35, the consciousness of hard times tempering somewhat the spending habits of those over 50.  An increasing number of Irish, he further notes, believe that they are losing their Irishness and no different now than Yanks or Brits.  “Their mistake is in assuming that their belongings are the principal means of demonstrating their collective identity,” he added.  “Many appear to forget that social and cultural identity are shaped by more than material possessions alone.”

With some 50 years of observing Irish consciousness, including their spirituality Dave sees a number of major factors contributing to the development of the subtlety of the Irish stereotype, which, “generally” includes fair skin, freckles, blue eyes, sandy hair, musical and poetic abilities, a penchant for extensive conversation, a remarkably quick-witted sense of humor and of course being quite fey.”

The most important factor is that their collective gene pool is rich in inducing what can best be called “fey” or possessing clairvoyance. Dave said what he means by this is that the Irish gene pool empowers the populace with a special way of sensing which ranges in intensity from strong intuition to possessing with the Irish call the second sight or the sixth sense. Viewed from the academic perspective of parapsychology this means possessing extra-sensory perception. He told me a story that one of his Irish friends with a very strong capacity for the second sight or sixth sense reported that in his small village in County Kerry when someone dies everyone knows it intuitively. He said, “For example when you wake up in the morning you know right away that someone in the village has died. Radio Kerry which we will listen to has a programmer morning listing on the deaths within the past 24 hours. It is no surprise to us when we hear that one of the names on that list is from our village.” Another Irish friend told me that when he was a boy there was someone in his town that had the sixth sense of being able to hear banshees cry. He said, “The cry of the banshee informs us that someone has died.” Dave suggested that very prevalent Irish superstition may well relate to an intuition which detects that something isn’t right. He also told me that when he raises the matter of the sixth sense or second sight with Irish friends and acquaintances they deny that they have any such skills. It took him a while to discern that they say that because nearly everyone in Ireland is fey. “So in Ireland” he said, “it’s no big deal to be able to intuit something before it happens.”

Other examples of being fey include among a good number of the Irish that they possess a vibrant awareness of the Other World; belief in magic and the power of disincarnate spirits to reap vengeance through haunting. Additionally many still believe in the magical healing power of the holy wells or what is known elsewhere as natural as springs; their remarkable awareness of nature including the oppressive continuity of stratus clouds to spray down depression-inducing rain; and their remarkable memories of what they hear spoken because the Celtic-rooted Irish language from the beginning of the Iron Age until the seventh century was entirely verbal, thus completely unwritten.

Dave goes on to point out that the many dark days instill in the Irish a certain melancholy, while the bright days induce an almost manic state of bliss, As a result, the fey dimension of Irish” is constantly being reinforced by its kaleidoscope skies.  “When you cast your eyes towards the horizon and see, streaming through the cloud cover, majestic rays of light, you can only begin to suspect that the Deity, or at least a mighty host of angels, is close at hand,” he explains the phenomenon.  “The majestic rays of light are as plentiful as rainbows in Ireland. And everyone knows about the spiritual magic of rainbows.”

And then there’s the landscape.  “There is something magic about the landscape, the way it changes from minute to minute,” he continues.  “The visible suddenly becomes invisible, then returns again as if under the control of spirit beings.  If you relax and let the panorama phantasmagoria speak to you, your consciousness may click into a realm of fantasy where charms, magic, and mystery all dwell contentedly together.  This allows your rational mind to let itself lapse into a semi-stupor so your child’s mind can awaken and listen. The child’s mind is fueled with curiosity and a belief that all things are possible.”


Dave then got into some mini-insights, involving the Irish character beginning with suspicion and trust, which he says follow closely on the heels of guilt within the penumbra of Irish consciousness. “Due to the last 13 centuries of Irish history, xenophobia, perhaps more than anything else has given rise to suspicion and distrust. If you are a foreigner in Ireland or a blow-in, meaning that you come from any other town in Ireland than the one in which you are presently located, you are usually instinctively distrusted and treated with deep suspicion. My favorite example of this phenomenon is a personal one. One day when I was walking through Killarney I noticed that the battery on my watch had stopped and I feared that I might be late for an appointment. So to the first person I met approaching me I asked if I could trouble him for the correct time.  My God, did that attract suspicious response. The man stopped dead in his tracks, backed up a couple of steps and stared at me as if I were on the threshold of committing a felony. This is what he said: “Time, you say? Highly unlikely. Straightaway you can completely forget about trying to trick me out of anything. Now, get on your way and leave me alone.”

The next insight had to do with secrecy. “A friend of mine whose brother was dying in a nearby hospital was asked by a sympathetic neighbor, who knew that my friend had just returned from seeing him in the hospital, how his brother was faring. My friend responded, ‘When I last saw him he was still alive.’ “Not very revealing, was it?  Later my friend’s sister who just arrived from England asked her brother what his mobile telephone number was. My friend told her, ‘You have no need to know.’ She responded, ‘But I am your sister, your only sister and our brother is dying.’  My friend’s response: ‘That makes no difference a’tall’.”

Finally, Dave mentioned what the Irish call “Falling Out,” meaning the abrupt and potent complete revocation of a long and otherwise quite agreeable friendship. “I’d heard this phrase used for many years in Ireland but only had a most superficial understanding of what it meant,” Dave said. “So I asked an Irish friend to explain the meaning of that phrase. He said, ‘You just stop talking to the person involved and act as if he never existed.’ I asked him what happens if you run into him walking down the street. ‘You look the other way or you cross the street to avoid him. You pay him no mind at all.’

“I inquired whether in politeness one might nod his head or smile or make some other friendly gesture, including possibly waiving. His answer: ‘Total disengagement. You don’t look at him. You don’t say a word to him. You don’t waive or make any other gesture toward him. For all practical purposes he ceases to exist.’

“I asked him, ‘Do you ever make up with such a person who was once a good friend of yours with whom you have fallen apart?’  ‘Never. Not a chance. And your family supports your decision and they pay the man no mind as well.’  This goes on between families here and lasts for several generations.”  Falling out, Dave ended the discussion of mini-insights, is “a very heavy-duty kind of thing.”
Death, Dave says, is a very big thing in Ireland.  “Rural and small-town Irish often curse their neighbors behind their backs, but the moment the neighbor is dead, they say, ‘God rest his soul; I’ve never had any unkind word to say about him.’  Life-long enemy or not, they go to his funeral – sometimes it seems, as a form of penance to avoid retribution for unkind words and deeds previously inflicted on the now dead man.”

As Dave sums it up, the Irish have heart-centered souls.  It is a soul filled with empathy and compassion and one that feels with intensity. “When they live out of their heart, and soul, it shows,” he concludes.  “They exude a reverence for being alive, humility, kindness, compassion, graciousness, sociability, cheerfulness, and humor. But most of all a good proportion of the population appears to be quite fey.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

NOTE: If your browser will not accept a comment at this blog, send it by email to Mike at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  or Jon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and one of us will post it.

Next Blog post: March 25



I got a DNA test too and was able to print off about   two inches and a half of paper.  I wouldn’t put too much stock in those test results.  My test indicated that one of my closest progenitors was Japanese and I know for a fact that that is absolutely not true. Most of my results were European, German, English, Irish, Iberian and some South American.  In other words, I am just a mongrel dog!  - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Sun 24 Mar, 13:37

Welcome to the club, Bruce, and thanks to all for the comments.  My DNA result was also surprising. I had always considered myself 25% German on my paternal grandmother’s side, as she was born in Vienna, Austria and German was her first language. However, the DNA results suggest that she was 80% Ashkenazi Jewish, since my number was 20% and the German only 5%.  What is even more surprising is that her nephew, the son of her brother, was a German soldier killed in WWII. The family name was Brok. Her mother was a Zimmerman and her mother a Kellar. It is somewhat mystifying.

Michael Tymn, Sun 24 Mar, 03:14

I didn’t have any Irish ancestry until today. So your blog had no impact until today. This happens with messages from passed loved ones but rarely from your blog. Are you getting psychic?
Every so often Ancestry sends out an update. Well, imagine my surprise to see North Kerry and North Cork on my communities of DNA sent today. This was not on my DNA profile before as mainly south east England.
I have not been to Ireland but my bus trip to a Scottish Lochnaw castle (owned by a friend of mine) from Manchester in 1988 put me off going to Ireland. As people got on to the crowded bus no one sat near me. I thought it was strange. When I left the bus I asked a little old lady why did no one sit near me. She said I looked like a British paratrooper and would have been the first to be shot by the IRA. Australians had been shot before by mistake. Mind you, as I was in Australian munitions I had been warned by a British Army Captain that our details were known to the IRA. I thought it wise not to visit Ireland.
I thought no Irish in the family but DNA is getting better and better.

Bruce, Wed 20 Mar, 09:41

Hi Michael,
As an Irish man brought up in England when we used to return to the family farm in Mayo for holidays in the 1960’s there was an intense belief in fairies and fairy forts. All sorts of rules needed to be observed as to not cause offence!
As a lapsed Catholic I cannot do without the supernatural in my life but do have periods where I wonder if there really is anything. My belief in an afterlife does swing from total conviction to atheism. I wish I could make up my mind and stick with it but hey ho that’s my personal experience.Keep flying the flag.
Best wishes
Pete Marley
Leicester England

Pete Marley, Thu 14 Mar, 14:47

Hi Michael, This one made me smile. One side of my family, oh yes, just this way. Especially sensitive to knowing when someone has died, or when someone will die.

C.M. Mayo, Wed 13 Mar, 00:04


As the “token protestant” at our lunchtime Irish pub in NYC back in the day, your wonderful reminiscences unleashed a host of streaming memories.

Prominent among them were the many hours my Irish Catholic friends and I spent debating (and wondering) about the various mysterious facets of (what else!) spiritual topics. The conversations might have been a bit different had we known then what some of us know now…

Don Porteous, Tue 12 Mar, 12:22

Bring part-Irish myself, I found this blog a delight to read. The stories cited certainly sound like my mother’s family 😄

Michael Schmicker, Tue 12 Mar, 01:06

A very nice piece of writing Michael.
I thank you, and my great grandfathers Amos Alfred Doyle and Washington Doyle thank you.  AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 11 Mar, 18:01

Add your comment



Your comment

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Please note that all comments are read and approved before they appear on the website

translate this page
The Only Planet of Choice: Visitations – Many people use the word ‘Alien’ to describe a visitor from outer space. Extra terrestrial is another word, which is rather more user friendly. For the sake of the question and answer format, the word used by the questioner has been left, though even Tom questions our use of‘Alien’. Should we wish to foster openess between all beings of the Universe perhaps we should also look at our vocabulary? In a discussion between Andrew and Tom many years earlier, Andrew had asked Tom about UFOs and whether they were created manifestations. Tom had replied: “Many of the flying things that you call UFOs come from our place, but they come from other places also, and they do come in physical form. But many of them are not physical. They are like your movie screen”. Read here
© White Crow Books | About us | Contact us | Privacy policy | Author submissions | Trade orders