Sitting off the Ayrshire coast, 10 miles west of Girvan, the volcanic plug we know as Ailsa Craig strikes a familiar sight. On the evening of this year’s summer solstice, the immensely vibrant vermilion sun was a breath-taking backdrop to the Craig or ‘Paddy’s Milestone’, the halfway point between Belfast and Glasgow. In Gaelic, Ailsa Craig means ‘Fairy Rock’. When I walk along the beach at Ayr, there are days when the Rock can be seen clearly; large and dark. At other times, although the weather is fair, the Rock cannot be seen: have the fairies hidden it from view?
The seventeenth century Church of Scotland minister, the Revd Robert Kirk of Balquhidder and later Aberfoyle, wrote an authoritative book on folklore. Entitled The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, the book was based on traditional stories told in the Scottish Highlands. It was written to promote Christianity, validate the concept of ‘second sight’, demonstrate the presence of non-human spirits, and challenge atheism. The Highlands, ‘the place of the Gaels’, are the remote, silent, majestic setting for the fairy stories. The fairies or Sith (pronounced Shee) were thought to be of a middle nature between humanity and angels. They are known also as the Still Folk, People of Peace and the Wee Folk.
One favourite memory from my teenage years in The Boys’ Brigade is of our hill walking expedition to the summit of Schiehallion. On a bright sunny day, while we were enjoying our lunch, two RAF jets roared passed us, swooping round in the glen beneath us. In Gaelic, Schiehallion means ‘Fairy Hill of the Caledonians’. The minister, Robert Kirk, died on Doon Hill, near Stirling, a fairy hill, before his book on fairies was published. A legend grew that the fairies took him to serve as Chaplain to the Fairy Queen.
On the Isle of Skye, for generations, the ‘Fairy Cradle Song’ has been sung over the new-born sons of the clan chiefs of Clan MacLeod. The Fairy Flag hangs in Dunvegan Castle for visitors to see. The Hebridean-born writer, Alastair McIntosh, mischievously tells the story of fairies at the bottom of his garden in Glasgow. There, behind the rockery, lies a huge circle of daisies. Such circles, he says, are a sign of a fairy wedding. Fairy weddings take place early in the morning when first light is beginning to emerge, long before people are about.
Robert Kirk used stories of elves, fauns and fairies as proof of non-human spirits. What do you think of such beings? When I see daisies growing in the manse garden, I ponder these stories and possibilities. Has our secular mind dethroned our spiritual imagination? Whatever is true, I think also of the eloquent words of the apostle, Paul, who, in his Letter to the Romans, assured us of God’s love in all circumstances. Paul said, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?……For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’