By Dr. Hortense H. Hebrides, Folklore Press, 1972

It is thought that fairies first left Tir na nog, the land of external youth about 65 million years ago to help heal the earth from the devastating effects of the asteroid impact that plunged the world into darkness and chaos. It is believed that the origin of the four fairy clans: air, water, fire and tree fairies can be traced to this time. Several early accounts by German settlers to this region mention Holzeibel or wood wives as being commonplace in the Delaware Valley at that time. Another account describes a fairy wishing well or pool near modern day Conshohocken, a name derived from the Lenape word Chottschinschu'hak'ing (big bowl ground place). Wood wives are water fairies well known for their affinity for pools and wells and their ability to grant wishes to lucky visitors. Wood wives also prefer sacred groves of old trees, where they often resided with moss or wood folk—tree fairies that weave clothes from moss and prefer to live in small huts made from sticks, bark and other forest gifts. 

One interesting account by the Welsh settler Anarawd Cadwalader describes an encounter with a band of Tylwyth Teg while lost in the forest near present day Gwynedd. He describes happening upon a clearing in which a dozen little people danced around a large black stone. They invited him to dance and later reached under the stone and pulled out strange gold coins. This account conforms with Welsh stories of fairy treasure stones common among the fire clans who lived along the River Taff.

Just as happened elsewhere in the world, when Europeans colonized this region in the 17th century, most feared these tiny magical creatures and worked to drive them away by destroying their houses and circles. Though it is likely that many fairies returned to Tir na nog during Amanna dorcha (the dark times), as this period was called, others retreated to the forests, rivers and the night, using magic and trickery to keep humans from discovering them. To this day, much of what we call coincidence and luck is really just fairy magic and trickery at play. 

A major turning point in our understanding of 18th century fairy history in this region was the discovery in 1966 of the Turas Táibléad. This famous discovery by young Tonya Miller on the banks of Wissahickon Creek is undoubtably familiar to all. What may be less known is the story this stone tablet tells. During Amanna dorcha, a large band of wood folk and several wood wives hiding in the Pocono mountains decided to build reed rafts to float down the Delaware River and eventually out to sea in hopes of returning to Tir na nog. 

As luck would have it, a great storm rose up as they reached the mouth of Schuylkill River blowing them up river to the Wissahickon Creek carrying the exhausted refugees to the shore just below you. For many years, the fairies thrived here undiscovered, but as the city grew, the village fell into decline.  Fairies need trees and clean water to live, and ample supplies of sticks, cones and bark to build their tiny houses. Worried by the decline of this fairy community, young volunteers are rebuilding their houses, planting trees, cleaning up the creek and happily, within a short time, the fairies have returned to this fairy village. 

You can help by visiting the Gnome Depot at Morris Arboretum and helping build houses out of the materials provided. Please do not take any branches, leaves or moss from living trees. Trees are sacred to the fairies and harming them will drive the fairies away.  Tapadh leat agus Siúl i síocháin (Thank you and walk in peace).