LIXNAW, Ireland — All is not well in the cottage at the edge of the Ballynageragh bog.
The simple home lies on the outskirts of this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village in west Ireland’s County Kerry.
During the last two decades, no fewer than five inhabitants of the tiny white public-owned building died suddenly in tragic and unusual circumstances.
The unsettling events have tapped into a culture of legend and supernatural belief that continues to color life here.
One man dozed off with a lit cigarette and succumbed to smoke inhalation. Another hanged himself shortly after moving from the house. One inhabitant died in a car accident, and a fourth was stabbed to death while traveling in Wales.
Then in November 2013, neighbors found the body of Susan Dunne, 62, in one of the cottage’s bedrooms.
She had moved in 18 months earlier with her autistic teenage son, who stands accused of her murder. Patrick Dunne, 19, is being held in a Dublin mental hospital until his trial in April.
Dunne’s murder was the last straw. Villagers buttonholed Kerry County Councillor Robert Beasley during local election campaigns in May to say they wanted the county-owned house destroyed.
Although Beasley says he raised the motion at council meetings, several factors have delayed a decision about the cottage’s fate.
Among them, no action will be taken until the county has arranged with Susan Dunne’s family to remove her belongings, which remain in the house.
But for all those who want the house leveled, there are also many who argue that the deaths were just a coincidence that doesn’t justify the demolition of a perfectly good dwelling.
Ireland’s devastating financial collapse in 2008 and prolonged recession forced the local authorities to slash budgets. As a result, County Kerry has been slow to replenish its public housing stock. Waiting lists are long.
Some would be happy to live with the cottage’s bloody legacy as long as they have a roof over their heads, locals say.
“There’s a lot of people who would love to have it,” says Paddy Quilter, proprietor of Quilter’s pub in Lixnaw. “All this bullshit about knocking it down — ah.”
Quilter says he doesn’t believe in ghosts. A clutch of locals drinking at the bar nod in agreement. But all are familiar with the host of legends, superstitions and fairies that once populated late-night tales in rural Ireland — and that still have real-world implications for many people.
“In the old days, they called it piseog,” Quilter says, a Gaelic term (pronounced pi-shawg) meaning superstition, voodoo or anything suggesting a supernatural power at hand. “There were a lot of piseogs and ghosts before electricity came in.”
It’s a word someone might use to explain an unusual or unsettling phenomenon — the mysterious deaths of five residents of a single cottage, for example.
Industrialization weakened Ireland’s belief in the fairy world but didn’t stamp it out completely, says Criostoir Mac Carthaigh, an archivist at the National Folklore Collection in Dublin.
As a result, he says, many people adopt a better-safe-than-sorry stance. Some farmers continue their forebears’ habits of not plowing certain parts of a field said to be favored by fairies, while disavowing belief in the supernatural themselves.
“Even down to today, there’s kind of a residual belief and it’s not articulated, it’s not spoken about,” Mac Carthaigh says. “’Leave well enough alone,’ is a phrase you sometimes hear people say.”
Sometimes it goes farther than that.
In 1999, the National Roads Authority was notified that a proposed bypass in western Ireland would destroy a hawthorn bush that played an important role in fairy military history. (You read that correctly.)
Irish fairies are no Disneyfied pixies. They hold grudges. Destroying the bush could result in violent fairy retribution — faulty brakes, mangled cars, death.
The government rerouted the highway and built a protective fence around the bush as an offering to the spirits.
The fairies’ main lobbyist in the human world in that case was Eddie Lenihan, a grizzle-bearded folklorist in western Ireland’s County Clare.
He began his career as a "seanchaithe," or traditional storyteller, when he was completing field research for a masters degree in linguistics and found himself more interested in the stories old folks told than the accents they told them in.
Lenihan says he’s contacted almost weekly by people who want to placate fairies on their property or suss out their feelings about upcoming construction.
His questions about the Lixnaw cottage have nothing to do with council budgets or housing demand.
“Was the house built in a place where it shouldn’t be?” he wonders. “Is there a fairy fort [a remnant of an early Christian structure] nearby?”
“It might be built on a fairy path or a funeral path, which would be a problem,” he adds. “It’d be lunacy to be on one of those. According to the old people, if you’re on a fairy path, you’ll never have peace or luck in a house like that.”
No fairy paths are evident near the cottage today. The low-slung structure, abandoned for almost a year now, stands at the end of a dirt drive blocked by a rusting gate.
Overgrown hedges encircle the property. As storm clouds closed in on a recent windy afternoon, the branches rustled with an insistent sound, like the footsteps of someone or something approaching.
The house next door is for sale.