anthropology, cultural anthropology, anthropology of religion, fairies, fairy lore, fairy forts, banshee, folk religion, tradition, Ireland, Sligo, Drumcliff, archaeology, generalization of religion, animism, animatism, belief, cultural change


This thesis examines issues of cultural identity and modernity, and the anthropology of spirituality and sacred sites by conducting ethnographic research on fairy beliefs in contemporary Ireland. Irish folk belief has traditionally identified a spirit world intertwined with our own which is inhabited by spirits, often collectively referred to as fairies. Belief in these spirits was once widespread. My research sought to determine the prevalence of these traditional beliefs among modern Irish people within my research area, as well as differences in belief across variables including age, gender, and religious preference. I conducted eight weeks of ethnographic fieldwork during June-August 2008 in and around Sligo Town in County Sligo, Ireland. I selected County Sligo as a research site because it is a sparsely populated, largely rural area, identified in an earlier major study of Irish folklore as a region where belief in the Irish spirit world persisted more strongly than in other parts of the country. My primary research methodology was to conduct structured and unstructured interviews, complemented by visual site surveys. In the preparation of this thesis I utilized data from 52 Sligo residents plus ten other visitors to the area from surrounding Irish counties. While my research suggests that few Sligo residents from the project area continue to believe in the literal existence of fairies, it also shows a much more common belief in a "power" associated with sites identified as "fairy forts," which are natural features of the landscape or the remains of ancient burials or dwellings apocryphally endowed by folk tradition with supernatural or mysterious energies. These beliefs led to a taboo against intruding on, altering, or destroying these "forts" that is still very much alive today. Additionally I was able to discuss at length the subject of the Irish death-herald spirit called the banshee (bean sidhe) with several study participants. Although it can be classified under the umbrella label of "fairy", my research indicates that the banshee is seen as a stand-apart element of Irish tradition by research area residents, and is believed in by those who do not otherwise profess a belief in "fairies" in general.


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Graduation Date



Zorn, Elayne


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

August 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)

Included in

Anthropology Commons