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1916: The Reverend Mr. Harris’ Long Walk

On a midsummer's day in 1916, the Reverend Mr. Harris was called to the bedside of an ailing man who lived about seven miles away. Mr. Harris was the rector of a parish in a location that was where the three counties in Ireland of Leitrim, Sligo, and Roscommon met; he was a practical and energetic man, and had been at the parish for a number of years before the following incident occurred.

        The ailing man lived seven miles away by road; but Mr. Harris knew of a path through the fields and hills that he used often that would cut four miles off the trip; and as it was already evening when he was summoned, Mr. Harris decided a pleasant walk along this path would be a good shortcut to the man's home. He set out just past 10 o'clock at night on foot, after telling his wife he should be back a little after midnight.

        About three-quarters of a mile from the rectory, the path cut across a seven-acre field with an ancient and weather-beaten thorn tree standing in the middle, which was locally said to be adopted by the fairy folk. Mr. Harris entered through the gate, and started across to where the path lead to a stile, a small staircase that stepped over the back part of the fenced in field. This was the only other way out of the field, which was surrounded by a thick thorn hedge with a deep ditch within it, excellent for keeping livestock from wandering.

        The trouble began when Mr. Harris reached the other side of the field: neither the stile nor the path was there. Realizing that he may have simply wandered off course in the evening air while distracted by his own thoughts, Mr. Harris turned and followed the edge of the hedge to locate the stile. The moon made the evening reasonably light, so he was able to look back and forth along the hedge... and could clearly see there was no stile. Mr. Harris knew at this point that something was strangely wrong, but he didn't feel he was in danger... rather, more like someone was playing with him in an annoying way. So he turned back to the gate, planning to just take a different route around the field. The gate was now missing also, as was any path that would lead to it!

        Mr. Harris turned and surveyed the entire field carefully; he could see the thorny hedge, and the great tree in the middle, but nowhere along the sides of the field was there a gate or a stile! Mr. Harris was not a man to surrender to the impossible easily, however, and he next walked around the entire circumferance of the field, inspecting each foot of the hedge for any signs of the path, stile, or gate... any eventually returned to where he started, having seen no evidence of any of the three. He continued his search for an unknown number of hours, never giving up, until -- most suddenly -- he found himself standing next to the stile. He looked across the field, and could now clearly see the gate again.

        Fearing the possibility of further such mischief if he braved the wilder hills along the path that night, Mr. Harris choose to return to the rectory and continue on to his appointment on bicycle... and by way of the road!

Reliable, Living Witnesses

        This tale is taken from Dermot Mac Manus' 1959 book, The Middle Kingdom. Mac Manus set out to write this book because he wanted to record the living belief and examples of fairy lore and activity that scholars were ignoring for no good reason; so the book was his attempt to record actual events that had happened and could be verified. As such, he included only tales (unless noted otherwise) that included at least one still-living central participant who was considered reliable and who was willing to stand by the account they gave. In many cases, Mac Manus collected the accounts from people who he had known personally for many years.

        This particular incident is given as an example of the proposed fairy trick known as the "stray sod," a magically enchanted piece of land that prevents people from walking across it straight, or that can trap a person into being unable to find the right way out.