LISTEN LIVE: Loading...



The Fairy Fort | Ep. 208

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever made mischief?

A little harmless mischief can be fun. My son recently put a whoopee cushion on my chair at the dinner table and we all had a good laugh about that one!

But in this week’s story, the mischief doesn’t come from a playful young boy; it comes from some impish fairies! And they don't just make mischief – they wreak havoc!

Our story is called “The Fairy Fort.” Versions of this tale come from Ireland, a country in northern Europe.

Voices in this story include: Evan Casey, Amory Sivertson, Chris Stinson, Taylor Richardson, and Alison Wright. Taylor Richardson stars in “The Gilded Age” on HBO Max. Emmy-nominated actress Alison Wright stars in “Snowpiercer” on TNT, as well as “The Americans” and “FEUD: Bette and Joan” on FX. Coming up, you grown-ups can watch for her in “FEUD: Capote’s Women.”

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

You can know when fairies are around by creating your own Fairy Bells!

  1. Find a smallish-sized stick.
  2. Get some string and/or yarn, and thread it with jingly bells and beads.
  3. Wrap your string around your stick, from end to end.
  4. Use more string to hang your stick somewhere outside your window.

Next time your fairy bells tinkle, you’ll know a mischievous fairy might be close!

Musical Spotlight: Irish Harp

Eric Shimelonis plays the Irish Harp, the national symbol of Ireland. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis plays the Irish Harp, the national symbol of Ireland. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

The Irish harp appears on Irish passports, Irish coins, and is the symbol of the Irish president. Before the modern Irish flag came along, the country flew a green flag with a harp on it.

The Irish harp is also known as the Celtic harp, the Gaelic harp, the clàrsach (in Scotland) and the cláirseach (in the modern Irish language). While the instrument’s earliest origins are lost to time, experts believe it dates back at least 1,000 years.

Traditionally, the Irish harp has strings made of wire (traditionally brass), and a resonating chamber carved from a single log (traditionally willow). In modern times, many Irish harps use gut or synthetic string, and rather than hollowing out the chamber from a single piece of wood, the soundbox is more likely to be made from several pieces of wood glued together.

Want to hear more of the Irish harp? You can hear Eric Shimelonis playing the Irish harp with the traditional Irish drum, the bodhran, in this beautiful Irish-inspired piece he composed for the play, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane.”


NARRATOR: Muriel and her younger brother Declan lived with their mother in a pale-yellow farmhouse in the countryside.

In the summer, when Muriel and Declan were off from school, every day began the same way. After a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, potatoes, and Mother’s famous soda bread, it was time for morning chores. Muriel went to the barn to milk the cows.

MURIEL: Nellie! Elsa! Time for your milking!

NARRATOR: Declan went to the pigpen to feed the pigs.

DECLAN: Good morning, you porkers! Ready for some yummy scraps?

NARRATOR: And Mother went to the henhouse to collect fresh eggs.

MOTHER: Good day, ladies! Whoo! It looks like you had a busy night!

NARRATOR: After chores, Mother went off to do her sewing, while Declan and Muriel enjoyed some free time before lunch. While Declan went outside to play, Muriel usually sat at the kitchen table… and practiced her harp.

NARRATOR: Muriel’s harp was made from gleaming rosewood, with dozens of strings stretching up and down its curvy frame. But it wasn’t a big tall harp, like the ones you see in an orchestra. It was much smaller: just the right size for holding in your lap as you plucked its strings.

NARRATOR: One summer day, after breakfast and morning chores, Muriel was at the kitchen table practicing a lively jig, when Declan came running in.

DECLAN: Muriel! Muriel!

MURIEL: Yes, little brother?

DECLAN: I was wondering… instead of practicing your harp this morning, how about you take a break and come outside with me? It’s high season for wildflowers; we can go to the meadow and pick bluebells for Mother! You know they’re her favorite flower.

MURIEL: Bluebells are Mother’s favorite, aren’t they? But I’ll have to pass; I’m trying to learn this jig and I need to keep practicing. You go out and enjoy yourself. But wait!

NARRATOR: Declan paused by the door.

DECLAN: What is it?

MURIEL: Can you promise me one thing? Can you promise me that you won’t pick any bluebells from the fairy fort?

DECLAN: The fairy fort? 

NARRATOR: Declan rolled his eyes.

DECLAN: Are you talking about the circular mound of earth surrounded by a ring of trees where the so-called fairies supposedly make their home?

MURIEL: “So-called fairies”?!? “Supposedly make their home”?!? Declan, you’ve heard Mother’s stories! Fairies are real! And so is their fort! And if you mess with it in any way, the fairies will use their magic and mischief to get revenge on you!

NARRATOR: Declan rolled his eyes again.

DECLAN: Look, Muriel. Just because I’m the little brother doesn’t mean you have to treat me like a baby! I know fairies aren’t real. They’re just a made-up idea. They don’t actually exist!

NARRATOR: Now Muriel rolled her eyes.

MURIEL: Well I may be the big sister, but I do believe in fairies. And I’m telling you, Declan: stay away from the fairy fort! You hear?

NARRATOR: But Declan didn’t answer. He had already dashed out the door and headed for the wide, rolling meadow, where the sun-splashed fields were exploding with wildflowers.

DECLAN: Oh my! Look at all these blossoms! Golden buttercups… red clover… purple columbine! But what’s this?

NARRATOR: Declan found himself staring at a ring of trees. As he peered through the branches, he noticed the trees stood around a grassy hill… with thousands of bluebells growing at the top.

DECLAN: Goodness me! I’ve never seen so many bluebells growing in one place! This is the perfect spot to pick bluebells for Mother! Of course, I know what Muriel would say if she saw this place: ‘circular mound of earth,’ ‘ring of trees,’ blah blah blah! But come on. Even if the fairy fort were real — which it isn’t — there are so many flowers here, the fairies will never notice if I pick a handful or two!

NARRATOR: So Declan made his way through the trees and up the hill, where he filled his basket with bluebells. Once he had gathered a nice bouquet, he returned to the pale-yellow farmhouse, where Muriel was still practicing her harp.

DECLAN: Big sister! Look!

NARRATOR: Muriel tucked her harp in her satchel and gazed at Declan’s bouquet.

MURIEL: My goodness, little brother! What lovely bluebells!

DECLAN: I could have picked dozens more; there must have been thousands of them growing on this funny round hill surrounded by a circle of trees! I can’t wait to show them to -

MURIEL: Hold on a second!

NARRATOR: Muriel held up her hand.

MURIEL: Did you say a “funny round hill surrounded by a circle of trees”? The bluebells were growing on a funny round hill surrounded by a circle of trees?

DECLAN: Well, yes…

MURIEL: Declan! What did I tell you? That was the fairy fort! You picked flowers from the fairy fort! I told you that you mustn’t —

DECLAN: Look, sister. I know what you told me! But I also know what I believe! Or what I don’t believe, rather. And I don’t believe in fairies! Or their fairy fort!

MURIEL: Well something tells me you’ll be believing in both those things before long. According to Mother’s stories, the fairies sleep during the day. Then at sundown they wake up and party all night long – with music, and dancing… But when the fairies wake up tonight, and discover some of their bluebells are missing, I suspect they won’t be throwing a party. I suspect they’ll be throwing a fit! And they’ll want revenge. On you!

NARRATOR: What do you think?

Will the fairies work their magic and mischief to get revenge on Declan?

Or is Declan right, and the fairies are nothing more than a fairy tale?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Fairy Fort.”

Before the break, Muriel worried that her little brother Declan had picked bluebells from the fairy fort: a circular mound of earth surrounded by a ring of trees.

Muriel feared that when the fairies awoke at sundown to throw their usual all-night party, they would discover the missing flowers and get revenge.

Declan, meanwhile, didn’t even believe in fairies. Little did he know that in a few short hours he’d be singing a different tune.

That night, at bedtime, Declan brushed his teeth, washed his face, then headed to his room. But the moment he lay down on his bed…


NARRATOR: …he jumped right off!

DECLAN: Ouch! Ouch! Oh!

NARRATOR: At the sound of Declan’s carrying-on, Muriel came bolting into the room.

MURIEL: Little brother! What’s wrong?

NARRATOR: Declan pointed a quivering finger at his bed.

DECLAN: I don’t know what happened, sister! All I know is I climbed into bed and felt like it was full of thorns! Like a blackberry bramble had somehow sprung right out from the mattress!

NARRATOR: Muriel peered at Declan’s mattress; she certainly didn’t see any blackberry brambles. Carefully, she swept her hand across the flannel sheets.

MURIEL: I don’t know, Declan. Your bed seems fine to me.

DECLAN: But it doesn’t feel fine! Something was stinging me! I swear!

MURIEL: Alright. Don’t worry. You can sleep in my room tonight.

NARRATOR: So Declan joined Muriel in her room. But the moment he lay down on her bed…?


NARRATOR: …he leaped right off!

DECLAN: The thorns, sister! They’re here, too! I can feel them stinging me!

NARRATOR: Muriel sat down on the mattress. She didn’t feel a thing!

MURIEL: I don’t understand what’s going on, Declan! You’re not trying to play a trick on me, are you?

DECLAN: Of course not!

MURIEL: Well then, I think someone is playing a trick on you! And a rather nasty trick, at that. Oh no!!!!

NARRATOR: Muriel’s eyes went wide. Declan’s did, too. Because he knew just what his sister was thinking.

DECLAN: Muriel! You don’t believe the fairies are doing this to me, do you? As revenge for picking their bluebells?

MURIEL: I can’t think of any other explanation!

NARRATOR: Declan swallowed hard. Suddenly, believing in fairies didn’t seem like such a babyish thing after all!

DECLAN: So… what do we do?

MURIEL: I don’t know. But I know someone who might!

NARRATOR: The siblings joined hands and raced to the kitchen, where Mother was sipping her evening cup of tea.

MOTHER: Muriel! Declan! What is it, dears? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost! 

NARRATOR: So the siblings told Mother all about the bluebells, the ring of trees around the circular hill, and the thorns Declan felt every time he lay down in bed. When they were finished, the wise woman let out a sigh.

MOTHER: Well children, I tried to warn you. What did I tell you about picking flowers from the fairy fort? But you’ve gone and done it, and now those mischievous sprites are most displeased. So displeased, they’ve cast a spell on our Declan here.

MURIEL: What can we do to break the spell, Mother?

MOTHER: The only way to break a fairy spell is to make peace with them. You must do something that will please them.

DECLAN: I know! I could return the bluebells I picked! That might please them!

MOTHER: It’ll take far more than that, I’m afraid.

MURIEL: Alright… So how about a gift, then? What if we bring them something they find pleasing?

MOTHER: Possible! Very possible. The question is… what?

NARRATOR: Declan scratched his head.

DECLAN: Riches? Silver coins, perhaps?

MOTHER: The fairies have no use for money.

MURIEL: Fancy food? We could bring it to their party!

MOTHER: Fairies don’t eat human food, love. But they do like to party. And dance… and play music

NARRATOR: At the mention of “music,” Muriel let out a gasp.

Because suddenly she knew how to please the fairies! Or at least, how to try

MURIEL: Listen, you two. There’s something I need to do. You both stay here in the house. And Declan, don’t try sleeping in any beds – just sit with Mother and wait for me to return.

NARRATOR: Muriel pulled on her boots, grabbed her satchel, and sprinted out the door. The moon and stars lit her way as she hurried into the meadow.

When she came to the ring of trees, she could see the fairy fort through the branches… and it was twinkling with lights and bursting with music!

MURIEL: Oh my! Mother was right: the fairies do know how to party. And what wonderful dance music they play! It’s no wonder they –

FAIRY 1: What are you doing here, human person???

NARRATOR: Muriel froze. A swarm of fairies came streaming from the mound, their tiny eyes blazing and their tiny faces scowling.

FAIRY 1: You’re the one whose brother stole our bluebells!

FAIRY 2: He came here to disturb our fort – and now you’ve come to disturb our party!

FAIRY 3: Now get out of here, human person, before we punish you – just like we did your brother!

NARRATOR: The fairies shot Muriel a withering glance, before flitting back into the fort.

Then the music struck up again and the fairies resumed their dancing.

Muriel felt her heart pound and her body shake. For a moment she thought she should just leave well enough alone and go home. But then, she thought of her brother. And when she heard a pause in the fairy’s music…

…as if the pint-sized musicians were taking a break, she saw her opportunity and decided to seize it.

MURIEL: Here goes nothing!

NARRATOR: With trembling hands she reached into her satchel and pulled out her harp. She knelt down, cradled it in her lap, and began… to play.

As note after note drifted through the air, the fairies began gliding out from the fort again. Only this time their eyes weren’t blazing and their faces weren’t scowling. Instead, their eyes were bright and their faces were beaming.

FAIRY 1: Such beautiful music you play, human person!

FAIRY 2: It’s the perfect music for our party!

FAIRY 3: We must dance!

NARRATOR: And so… they danced! They spun and twirled and whirled…pranced and swayed and jigged. And when Muriel’s music came to an end…

…the little sprites broke into a big round of applause.

FAIRY 1: Well played, human person!

FAIRY 2: You’ve made our party all the merrier!

FAIRY 3: How, pray tell, can we reward you?

NARRATOR: Muriel shook her head and smiled.

MURIEL: Oh, I don’t need any reward. All I ask is that you please help my little brother, and reverse your spell! 

NARRATOR: The fairies went into a huddle and exchanged some hushed words. Then they looked back at Muriel.

FAIRY 1: We shall grant your wish, human person, and reverse your brother’s spell.

FAIRY 2: But only if you promise to come back and play for us!

FAIRY 3: Our parties won’t be the same without you!

NARRATOR: Muriel felt a rush of relief - and gratitude.

MURIEL: I absolutely will come back and play for you! I promise I will! Thank you, fairies! Thank you.

NARRATOR: The pale-yellow farmhouse was quiet when Muriel got back. Tiptoeing upstairs, she was pleased to find Declan all snuggled up in his bed, fast asleep.

So the fairies made good on their promise. And after that fateful day – and night – Muriel made good on her promise, too. She returned to the fairy fort to play her harp for the fairies: those tiny creatures with an enormous love for magic, mischief… and music.

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



Listen Live