The Fairy Tree: Ireland’s ugly and mystical bush that rerouted a motorway

The Fairy Tree: Ireland’s ugly and mystical bush that rerouted a motorway

by Amanda Palumbo
Stripes Europe

The world is chalked full of famous and mysterious trees attached to legends and folklore. The Tree of Life in Bahrain is a plant whose existence baffles scientists. There’s Australia’s Wollemi Pine Tree that’s been able to survive more than 200-million years despite humanity abusing the environment. West Poland has the Crooked Forest, where we know the trees were intentionally curved by man but nobody really knows why.

But none of those truly has the magical pull of Ireland’s Fairy Tree in County Clare. Also referred to as a fairy bush, the tree so powerful it stalled a planned motorway for 10 years while the county and thoroughly annoyed engineers devised a way to construct the highway to go around, or maybe beat around the bush.

When you drive by it, there is nothing really impressive about this tree. It’s a Hawthorn tree, standing alone, branches so messily overgrown you can no longer see the trunk. It sits in the median of the M18, between Limerick and Galway, as truckers, tourists and commuters whizz past it going 100 kilometers an hour.

In 1999, the M18’s upgrade was delayed, rerouted and opened a decade after its planned completion date. The County Clare Council had it written in the construction contract the tree had to be protected no matter the cost and the highway could not come within five meters of the sacred tree. A protective barrier had to be constructed around it. This was the local government using even more taxpayer money to save this bushy tree and the taxpayers gladly obliged.

While it may seem silly to you or me, fairies are no joke in Ireland. Faries or “Daoine Sidhe” in Galic, are to be respected, protected and even feared. A local folklorist believes this tree is the meeting point for Kerry fairies and Connacht fairies to battle. Which seems plausible to me.

So what happens if this tree or any other fairy tree is desecrated: consequences right out of fairy tales. In this case, if the tree had been cut down or even moved to a new location all those associated with the project would have terrible luck, never get a good night’s sleep and possibly meet an unfortunate end. The fairy expert even warned that drivers on the M18 were subject to casualty as the Kerry fairies and the Connacht fairies would finally find common ground and wreak havoc on County Clare. This could last anywhere between 10-15 years because fairies can apparently really hold a grudge.

That did not stop some poor soul, perhaps a disgruntled engineer or maybe a new battle tactic from the Connacht fairies, from taking a chainsaw to its branches one night in 2002. All the branches were cut off and all that remained was the trunk. No more fairy battleground. No more Kerry fairy meetings protected under its blanket of bushy limbs. The county’s engineer called the crime ‘deplorable’ and the local police investigated. They unfortunately never caught the mad tree caper. Maybe they never will because the fairies took care of the vandal.

Many thought the tree would not survive but a funny thing happened. Just eight months later, the tree in full fairy defiance, started to sprout new leaves and eventually branches. 17 years later, I can verify, having seen it with my own eyes, the tree is back in full messy bloom and one can assume the Connacht and Kerry fairies are back at their life long battle.

There are lots of fairy trees throughout Ireland but none as infamous as the one that sits along the busy interchange. If you find yourself in Dublin, head west on the M7 to the M18. It’s about 230 kilometers or a two-and-a-half-hour drive and a great pit stop if you’re on your way to the Cliffs of Moher. Just don’t disturb the fairy battleground and let me know if you spot any.

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