By Helen Riddell
THE riddle of West Cork’s broken homes has finally been solved. The disappearance – or part destruction – of the fairy houses from a forest in Beara – and earlier the ones in Rineen near Union Hall – is down to State forestry board Coillte.
Children in Beara were left in tears recently following the sudden disappearance of several fairy houses which had appeared in Dunboy Woods, near Castletownbere.
It followed a similar overnight disappearance of similar homes at Rineen Woods, just weeks earlier.
Nearly seventeen houses in total, along with miniature stepping stones outside each door, and paintings of woodland creatures, had seen young and old alike flocking to Beara to see the magical woodland fairy trail.
And when they were demolished, with parts littering the trail, nobody knew why, or where the rest of them had gone.
However, it now appears that Coillte were the culprits, citing ‘damage to trees’, forest ‘littering’ and fears of ‘potential injury’ to visitors. They also told The Southern Star that there had been ‘a lot of complaints’ about the homes at Rineen Woods.
Their excuse has left the locals bewildered, and upset at the damage caused to the homes, which were no doubt painstakingly built over many hours by the magical fairies of West Cork.
They were also returned in very poor condition, having been smashed into many pieces when they were taken out.
A Castletownbere resident, who claims she helped the fairies set up home in the woods, was upset to find the houses, and other decorations, had vanished overnight.
‘They put a smile on people’s faces, especially when there is so much doom and gloom in the world,’ said Liz Fenner.
‘And it was great to see children going out walking in the woods with their families instead of being sat in front of a TV or computer,’ added her sister Ann Byrne.
Some of the broken homes were returned to the family in a bucket, and the rest are still missing.
Liz said Coillte told her that the homes ‘weren’t safe’ and were ‘damaging’ the trees.
‘I have young children myself, and all the houses were at ground level to prevent children from climbing trees. They were on the pathways to prevent children from wandering off the forest trail. In fact, on their website Coillte encourage people to explore the woods, and they even refer to woods as Ireland’s biggest outdoor playground,’ said an angry Liz.
Castletownbere resident, Joanne Hendrick, who works in a restaurant in the town, and brought her own young son to visit the fairy houses, feels the removal of the doors is also affecting local business.
‘I work in The Coffee House in Castletownbere and on Sunday last a family from Glengarriff called in as they had decided to spend their Sunday visiting the fairies in Dunboy. However, they were left disappointed when they found the fairies were gone, with just a few doors left discarded on the trail. So now, not only have we disappointed children, but it’s also affected potential trade to the town.”
A local woman who contacted the Southern Star, said her children were devastated when they saw destruction in Dunboy. She added that the Coillte policy appeared ‘heartless’ and cruel, given that so many little children had found such joy in these ‘harmless’ homes.
When contacted by The Southern Star, a spokesperson for Coillte said that while they acknowledge the installation of fairy houses is appealing to many younger visitors, they had concerns about their unauthorised installation in some forests.
‘Where fairy doors and houses have appeared without permission, they have often been nailed or screwed into trees, leaving them at risk of disease. Over time the doors also deteriorate quickly in poor weather and attract additional items in the form of gifts that blow off the trails, littering the forest. Furthermore, fairy doors have a very limited lifespan and over a short period of time leave exposed rusting nails and screws, giving rise to potential injury to visitors and animals. In line with Leave No Trace principles, Coillte encourage visitors not to leave behind anything that might detract from another’s enjoyment of the facilities provided. Again, while Coillte recognise that these installations are well-intentioned, the fairy doors have led to the issues as outlined.’
The spokesperson said no compensation claims had been launched against Coillte regarding their forest walks in West Cork, but added that there were ‘a lot of complaints’ from the public about Rineen Woods’ fairy homes.
Some of the complaints referred to the ‘build-up of litter around them’, said the spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Liz is now hoping that an alternative venue in Beara can be found for the fairies to set up home in. ‘It was nice to see the smile on people’s faces as they visited the fairy houses in Dunboy, and it is so important to keep the magic alive for children in today’s world,’ she said.