Tag Archives: fairy

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(A special thanks to Auntie Ros for her recent endorsement.)

The Summer Solstice was on Wednesday morning at 5.24 am (BST) aka 4.24 am Greenwich Meantime. However, Midsummer’s Day is actually tomorrow, St. John’s Day, making this the magical time of year known as Midsummer’s Eve. According to legend the most dangerous time of Midsummer’s Night is between midnight and sunrise. This is when the most powerful magical beings were said to roam the earth. However, modern time-keeping has created great confusion because true midnight, when the sun is on the exact opposite side of the earth to when it is in daytime at noon, is 12.00 am GMT.

But thanks to British Summer Time true midnight is actually at 1:00 am tonight at Greenwich in England. But, true midnight does not actually occur here in Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland, until half-an-hour later because we are a few hundred kilometres to the west. So for us the magical beasts don’t actually have the run of the place until 1.30 am and for the very few hours until sunrise, which is very early in northern Europe. And yes, Midsummer’s Night is actually Midsummer’s Eve’s Night, or more correctly by modern reckoning, Midsummer’s Morning.  And there are some wonderfully magical creatures out there right now, such as this beauty:

   The White Plume Moth is a small moth which appears soon after dark and flies about at the ends of gardens. It looks just like a child’s idea of a fairy and appears to glow in the dark. Also, they are so white their details can only be seen properly in sunlight – your kids will be certain they’re seeing fairies as soon as the sun goes down. So do have a look for these at sunset. And then there is a very similar but much larger creature, the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli):

   The very best place to see these moths is on meadows along the seashore on warm balmy nights when they hover like small ghosts over the grassland. You can easily approach them. The males are a shiny, silky white and the reason they hover is that they are searching for the yellow and pink females lying in the undergrowth below them. These are quite large and impressive moths and really do seem magical. They can also be found in gardens with unsprayed lawns where their caterpillars feed on dandelion roots.

The magical creature I’m searching for tonight, and have never managed to see in my life, is the moth that this gigantic caterpillar will turn into:

   This is the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) a very large moth which is a stunning pink and yellow colour. It feeds on honeysuckle in hedgerows and other similar plants, and lays its eggs on Rosebay Willowherb, which the extraordinary caterpillar feeds on. I have found several of these little monsters in my garden in the last few years, but have still never managed to see the moth, so tonight I’ll definitely be looking. And if I have any luck I’ll definitely be posting the photo tomorrow. In case you’re wondering about the caterpillar, it does give the species its name, but those are not eyes but in fact eyespots designed to make it look like a larger animal, perhaps a lizard. The actual head is at the very end of the ‘trunk’ and is a typical caterpillar-type head.

A Midsummer’s Night Fairy Tale

When the sun sets on Midsummer’s Eve it is Midsummer’s Night, when all the supernatural beings and forces are said to wander about. In many parts of Europe bonfires are kept to keep malevolent spirits away, and this tradition is still maintained in some parts of Ireland where the bonfires are temporarily exempt from the normal regulations. Midsummer’s Night, rather than Halloween, was referenced in Dublin author Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. However, thanks to Shakespeare, Midsummer’s Night is mostly associated in modern times with benevolent fairy folk. In Ireland fairy folk were mostly regarded as large, frightening beings, but pixies, brownies and leprechauns were an exception, being small nymphs associated with nature. When children in Wicklow are told there are fairies living at the bottom of their gardens they will often see them on summer’s nights in twilight, and if you don’t believe me, just look at this photo:

An image found in many illustrations of fairy folk, but rarely as a photograph. This was taken at the bottom of my garden.
An image found in many illustrations of fairy folk, but rarely as a photograph. This was taken at the bottom of my garden.

To catch a glimpse of these creatures on balmy nights is to momentarily have disbelief suspended, and to feel that sense of magic which is normally lost to adults. These fairies of Wicklow  gardens are a remarkable species of small moth with feathered wings like those imagined on angels. A detailed photo of the moth, which is known as the White Plume Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla), in no way lessens its incredible appearance. It is a magical being, to say the least, and has a remarkable habit of disappearing into the undergrowth so that you doubt your own eyes.

A White Plume Moth close-up as it rests on a blade of grass. This moth is so white it appears to emit light as it flies through the twilight evening.
A White Plume Moth close-up as it rests on a blade of grass. This moth is so white it appears to emit light as it flies through the twilight evening.