For the generations of Irish past, belief in the existence of a supernatural realm inhabited by ancient races and spirits was commonplace. This acknowledgement of "the Otherworld" manifested in a myriad of customs and traditions, many of which have undoubtedly been lost with the passage of time. Nevertheless, we can still be thankful for the wealth of material that has survived largely thanks to the efforts of folkorists, storytellers and musicians.
Music plays a particularly important part in Irish culture and it in we find echoed the concerns of the rural Irish with the fairies or Aos Sí - the "people of the mounds", inhabitants of an enchanted (yet also treacherous) realm normally invisible to mortals.
Néillidh "Neily" Boyle (1889-1961) was a fiddler of wide renown, with a playing style described in terms ranging from "extraordinary" right through to "psychotic". Born in the USA to Donegal immigrants, he began playing the fiddle upon their return to Ireland when he was eight years old. An articulate and outspoken character, he only ever agreed to the recording of his music upon the condition that he was allowed to espouse his views on the state of contemporary Irish music which he described disparagingly as "jungle music". Neily played what he termed "the enchanted music of Ireland". He attributed much of his style to childhood recollections of his mothers lilting, but became somewhat notorious for the claim that his talent was also of an Otherworldly provenance:
"It's a gift that was given to the Irish people. The fairies used to play for them. Well, I was one night along with the fairies, and I heard two of the greatest fiddlers ever I heard. They were holding a wedding this night. They thought here I was lost, in this house. I was out for the whole night and I never had such a night in my life, at a fairies' wedding. And they put me drunk. And...I came home here in the morning, and all hands were surprised when I came in. And it was such embellishments of the Irish music I never heard. I was introduced tot he fairies by a friend, who met me. He named the fiddlers and all and I remember the names well. One of them was Séamus Mhaitiú and the other was Cnapán an Chnoic (The Stout Lad from the Hill), that was the names. They were two of the greatest fiddlers that were alive in this country in their day. And of course, I was introduced to the fiddlers and I learned a lot from them - never before did I hear such fiddle playing on this world, as I heard them fiddlers play. They played such wonderful embellishments - they said it was the enchanted music of Ireland that was long ago buried, buried since the days of the bards, and the days of the bards, and the days of the old pipers. But thanks be to God, they gave me the...they bestowed a lot of their knowledege, and...I've practiced since a lot of their styles and I have got that secret"
[transcript from The Otherworld : Music & Song From Irish Tradition / Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann 2012}
In Irish folklore the fairies are often the source of much fear and trepidation, representing a powerful - and sometimes deadly - force that the Irish peasantry took pains to appease. Fairy abduction (particularly of children) was a common fear, as was being afflicted by the Evil Eye or fairy-stroke.
In the case of musicians however (Boyle was only one of many to claim their skills were the result of relationships with non-human entities) the interactions are often more beneficial in nature, resulting in the production of much loved songs and a realisation of prodigous talent.