More Irish Testimony, Part II

[This is taken from W.Y. Evans Wentz's The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.]



Our next witness is Bridget O’Conner, a near neighbour to Patrick Waters, in Cloontipruckilish. When I approached her neat little cottage she was cutting sweet-pea blossoms with a pair of scissors, and as I stopped to tell her how pretty a garden she had, she searched out the finest white bloom she could find and gave it to me. After we had talked a little while about America and Ireland, she said I must come in and rest a few minutes, and so I did; and it was not long before we were talking about fairies : -

The Irish Legend of the Dead.-‘

Old Peggy Gillin, dead these thirty years, who lived a mile beyond Grange, used to cure people with a secret herb shown to her by her brother, dead of a fairy-stroke. He was drowned and taken by the fairies, in the big drowning here during the herring season. She would pull the herb herself and prepare it by mixing spring water with it. Peggy could always talk with her dead relatives and friends, and continually with her brother, and she would tell everybody that they were with the fairies. Her daughter, Mary Short, who inherited some of her mother’s power, died here about three or four years ago.

‘I remember, too, about Mary Leonard and her daughter, Nancy Waters. Both of them are dead now. The daughter  was the first to die, as it happened, and in child-birth, When she was gone, her mother used to wail and cry in an awful manner; and one day the daughter appeared to her in the garden, and said, “The more you wail for me, the more I am in torment. Pray for me, but do not wail.”’

A Midwife Story.-‘

A country nurse was requested by a strange man on horseback to go with him to exercise her profession; and she went with him to a castle she didn’t know. When the baby was born, every woman in the place where the event happened put her finger in a basin of water and rubbed her eyes, and so the nurse put her finger in and rubbed it on one of her eyes. She went home and thought no more about it. But one day she was at the fair in Grange and saw some of the same women who were in the castle when the baby was born; though, as she noticed, she only could see them with the one eye she had wet with the water from the basin. The nurse spoke to the women, and they wanted. to know how she recognized them; and she, in reply, said it was with the one eye, and asked, “How is the baby?” “Well,” said one of the fairy women; “and what eye do you see us with? “ “With the left eye,” answered the nurse. Then the fairy woman blew her breath against the nurse’s left eye, and said, “You’ll never see me again.” And the nurse was always blind in the left eye after that.’


The Cams or Mount Temple country, about three miles from Grange, County Sligo, has already been mentioned by witnesses as a ‘gentry’ haunt, and so now we shall hear what one of its oldest and most intelligent native inhabitants says of it. John McCann had been referred to, by Patrick Waters, as one who knows much about the ‘gentry’ at first hand, and we can be sure that what he offers us is thoroughly reliable evidence. For many years, John McCann, born in 1830, by profession a carpenter and boat-builder, has been official mail-carrier to Innishmurray; and he knows quite as much about the strange little island and the mainland opposite it as any man living. His neat little cottage is on the shore of the bay opposite the beautiful fairy-haunted Darnish Island; and, as we sat within it beside a brilliant peat fire, and surrounded by all the family, this is what was told me :-

A ‘Gentry’ Medium.-‘

Ketty Rourk (or Queenan) could tell all that would happen - funerals, weddings, and so forth. Sure some spirits were coming to her. She said they were the gentry; that the gentry are everywhere; and that my drowned uncles and grandfather and other dead are among them. A drowned man named Pat Nicholson was her adviser. He used to live just a mile from here; and she knew him before he was drowned.’

Here we have, clearly enough, a case of ‘mediumship’, or of communication with the dead, as in modern Spiritualism. And the following story, which like this last has numerous Irish parallels, illustrates an ancient and world-wide animistic belief, that in sickness - as in dreams - the soul goes out of the body as at death, and meets the dead in their own fairy world.

The Clairvoyance of Mike Farrell.-‘

Mike Farrell, too, could tell all about the gentry, as he lay sick a long time. And he told about Father Brannan’s youth, and even the house in Roscommon in which the Father was born; and Father Brannan never said anything more against Mike after that. Mike surely saw the gentry; and he was with them during his illness for twelve months. He said they live in forts and at Alt Darby (“ the Big Rock “). After he got well, he went to America, at the time of the famine.’

The ‘Gentry’ Army.-‘

The gentry were believed to live up on this hill (Hill of the Brocket Stones, Cluach-a-brac), and from it they would come out like an army and march along the road to the strand. Very few persons could see them. They were thought to be like living people, but in different dress. They seemed like soldiers, yet it was known they were not living beings such as we are.’

The Seership of Dan Quinn.-‘

On Connor’s Island (about two miles southward from Cams by the mainland) my uncle, Dan Quinn, often used to see big crowds of the gentry come into his house and play music and dance. The house would be full of them, but they caused him no fear. Once on such an occasion, one of them came up to him as he lay in bed, and giving him a green leaf told him to put it in his mouth. When he did this, instantly he could not see the gentry, but could still hear their music. Uncle Dan always believed he recognized in some of the gentry his drowned friends. Only when he was alone would the gentry visit him. He was a silent old man, and so never talked much; but I know that this story is as true as can be, and that the gentry always took an interest in him.’


I was driving along the Ben Bulbin road, on the ocean side, with Michael Oates, who was on his way from his mountain-side home to the lowlands to cut hay; and as we looked up at the ancient mountain, so mysterious and silent in the shadows and fog of a calm early morning of summer, he told me about its invisible inhabitants :-

The ‘Gentry’ Huntsmen.-‘

I knew a man who saw the gentry hunting on the other side of the mountain. He saw hounds and horsemen cross the road and jump the hedge in front of him, and it was one o’clock at night. The next day he passed the place again, and looked for the tracks of the huntsmen, but saw not a trace of tracks at all.’

The ‘Taking’ of the Turf-Cutter.-

After I had heard about two boys who were drowned opposite Innishmurray, and who afterwards appeared as apparitions, for the gentry had them, this curious story was related :- ‘ A man was cutting turf out on the side of Ben Bulbin when a strange man came to him and said, “You have cut enough turf for to-day. You had better stop and go home.” The turf-cutter looked around in surprise, and in two seconds the strange man had disappeared; but he decided to go home. And as soon as he was home, such a feeling came over him that he could not tell whether he was alive or dead. Then he took to his bed and never rose again.’

Hearing the Gentry’ Music.-

At this Michael said to his companion in the cart with us, William Barber, ‘You tell how you heard the music’; and this followed :- ‘ One dark night, about one o’clock, myself and another young man were passing along the road up there round Ben Bulbin, when we heard the finest kind of music. All sorts of music seemed to be playing. We could see nothing at all, though we thought we heard voices like children’s. It was the music of the gentry we heard.’

My next friend to testify is Pat Ruddy, eighty years old, one of the most intelligent and prosperous farmers living beside Ben Bulbin. He greeted me in the true Irish way, but before we could come to talk about fairies his good wife induced me to enter another room where she had secretly prepared a great feast spread out on a fresh white cloth, while Pat and myself had been exchanging opinions about America and Ireland. When I returned to the kitchen the whole family were assembled round the blazing turf fire, and Pat was soon talking about the ‘gentry’

Seeing the ‘Gentry’ Army.-‘

Old people used to say the gentry were in the mountains; that is certain, but I never could be quite sure of it myself. One night, however, near midnight, I did have a sight: I set out from Bantrillick to come home, and near Ben Bulbin there was the greatest army you ever saw, five or six thousand of them in armour shining in the moonlight. A strange man rose out of the hedge and stopped me, for a minute, in the middle of the road. He looked into my face, and then let me go.’

An Ossianic Fragment.-‘

A man went away with the good people (or gentry), and returned to find the towniand all in ruins. As he came back riding on a horse of the good people, he saw some men in a quarry trying to move a big stone. He helped them with it, but his saddle-girth broke, and he fell to the ground. The horse ran away, and he was left there, an old man ‘


A schoolmaster, who is a native of the Ben Bulbin country, offers this testimony :- ‘ There is implicit belief here in the gentry, especially among the old people. They consider them the spirits of their departed relations and friends, who visit them in joy and in sorrow. On the death of a member of a family, they believe the spirits of their near relatives are present; they do not see them, but feel their presence. They even have a strong belief that the spirits show them the future in dreams; and say that cases of affliction are always foreshown in a dream.

‘The belief in changelings is not now generally prevalent; but in olden times a mother used to place a pair of iron tongs over the cradle before leaving the child alone, in order that the fairies should not change the child for a weakly one of their own. It was another custom to take a wisp of straw, and, lighting one end of it, make a fiery sign of the cross over a cradle before a babe could be placed in it.’


Let us now turn to the Rosses Point country, which, as we have already said, is one of the very famous places for seeing the’ gentry’, or, as educated Irish seers who make pilgrimages thither call them, the Slake. I have been told by more than one such seer that there on the hills and Greenlands (a great stretch of open country, treeless and grass-grown), and on the strand at Lower Rosses Point - called Wren Point by the country-folk - these beings can be seen and their wonderful music heard; and a well-known Irish artist has shown me many drawings, and paintings in oil, of these Sidhe people as he has often beheld them at those places and elsewhere in Ireland. They are described as a race of majestic appearance and marvellous beauty, in form human, yet in nature divine. The highest order of them seems to be a race of beings evolved to a superhuman plane of existence, such as the ancients called gods; and with this opinion, strange as it may seem in this age, all the educated Irish seers with whom I have been privileged to talk agree, though they go further, and say that these highest Sidhe races still inhabiting Ireland are the ever-young, immortal divine race known to the ancient men of Erin as the Tuatha De Danann.

Of all European lands I venture to say that Ireland is the most mystical, and, in the eyes of true Irishmen, as much the Magic Island of Gods and Initiates now as it was when the Sacred Fires flashed from its purple, heather-covered mountain-tops and mysterious round towers, and the Greater Mysteries drew to its hallowed shrines neophytes from the West as well as from the East, from India and Egypt as well as from Atlantis ; and Erin’s mystic-seeing sons still watch and wait for the relighting of the Fires and the restoration of the old Druidic Mysteries. Herein I but imperfectly echo the mystic message Ireland’s seers gave me, a pilgrim to their Sacred Isle. And until this mystic message is interpreted, men cannot discover the secret of Gaelic myth and song in olden or in modern times, they cannot drink at the ever-flowing fountain of Gaelic genius, the perennial source of inspiration which lies behind the new revival of literature and art in Ireland, nor understand the seeming reality of the fairy races.


Through the kindness of an Irish mystic, who is a seer, I am enabled to present here, in the form of a dialogue, very rare and very important evidence, which will serve to illustrate and to confirm what has just been said above about the mysticism of Ireland. To anthropologists this evidence may be of more than ordinary value when they know that it comes from one who is not only a cultured seer but who is also a man conspicuously successful in the practical life of a great city :-


Q.- Are all visions which you have had of the same character?

A.- ‘ I have always made a distinction between pictures seen in the memory of nature and visions of actual beings now existing in the inner world. We can make the same distinction in our world: I may close my eyes and see you as a vivid picture in memory, or I may look at you with my physical eyes and see your actual image. In seeing these beings of which I speak, the physical eyes may be open or closed: mystical beings in their own world and nature are never seen with the physical eyes.’


Q.- By the inner world do you mean the Celtic Otherworld?

A.- ‘ Yes; though there are many Otherworlds. The Tir-na-nog of the ancient Irish, in which the races of the Sidhe exist, may be described as a radiant archetype of this world, though this definition does not at all express its psychic nature. In TIr-na-nog one sees nothing save harmony and beautiful forms. There are other worlds in which we can see horrible shapes.’

Classification of the ‘Sidhe ‘.-

Q.- Do you in any way classify the Sidhe races to which you refer?

A.- ‘ The beings whom I call the Sidhe, I divide, as I have seen them, into two great classes: those which are shining, and those which are opalescent and seem lit up by a light within themselves. The shining beings appear to be lower in the hierarchies; the opalescent beings are more rarely seen, and appear to hold the positions of great chiefs or princes among the tribes of Dana.’

Conditions of Seership.-

Q.-Under what state or condition and where have you seen such beings?

A.- ‘ I have seen them most frequently after being away from a city or town for a few days. The whole west coast of Ireland from Donegal to Kerry seems charged with a magical power, and I find it easiest to see while I am there. I have always found it comparatively easy to see visions while at ancient monuments like New Grange and Dowth, because I think such places are naturally charged with psychical forces, and were for that reason made use of long ago as sacred places. I usually find it possible to throw myself into the mood of seeing; but sometimes visions have forced themselves upon me.’

The Shining Beings.-

Q.- Can you describe the shining beings?

A.- ‘ It is very difficult to give any intelligible description of them. The first time I saw them with great vividness I was lying on a hill-side alone in the west of Ireland, in County Sligo: I had been listening to music in the air, and to what seemed to be the sound of bells, and was trying to understand these aerial clashings in which wind seemed to break upon wind in an ever-changing musical silvery sound. Then the space before me grew luminous, and I began to see one beautiful being after another.’

The Opalescent Beings.-

Q.- Can you describe one of the opalescent beings?

A.- ‘ The first of these I saw I remember very clearly, and the manner of its appearance: there was at first a dazzle of light, and then I saw that this came from the heart of a tall figure with a body apparently shaped out of half-transparent or opalescent air, and throughout the body ran a radiant, electrical fire, to which the heart seemed the centre. Around the head of this being and through its waving luminous hair, which was blown all about the body like living strands of gold, there appeared flaming wing-like auras. From the being itself light seemed to stream outwards in every direction; and the effect left on me after the vision was one of extraordinary lightness, joyousness, or ecstasy.

‘At about this same period of my life I saw many of these great beings, and I then thought that I had visions of Aengus, Manannan, Lug, and other famous kings or princes among the Tuatba De Danann; but since then I have seen so many beings of a similar character that I now no longer would attribute to any one of them personal identity with particular beings of legend; though I believe that they correspond in a general way to the Tuatha De Danann or ancient Irish gods.’

Stature of the ‘Sidhe ‘.-

Q.-You speak of the opalescent beings as great beings; what stature do you assign to them, and to the shining beings?

A.-‘ The opalescent beings seem to be about fourteen feet in stature, though I do not know why I attribute to them such definite height, since I had nothing to compare them with; but I have always considered them as much taller than our race. The shining beings seem to be about our own stature or just a little taller. Peasant and other Irish seers do not usually speak of the Sidhe as being little, but as being tall: an old schoolmaster in the West of Ireland described them to me from his own visions as tall beautiful people, and he used some Gaelic words, which I took as meaning that they were shining with every colour.’

The worlds of the ‘Sidhe.’-

Q.-Do the two orders of Sidhe beings inhabit the same world?

A.-‘ The shining beings belong to the mid-world; while the opalescent beings belong to the heaven-world. There are three great worlds which we can see while we are still in the body: the earth-world, mid-world, and heavenworld,’

Nature of the ‘Sidhe.’-

Q.- Do you consider the life and state of these Sidhe beings superior to the life and state of men?

A.-‘ I could never decide. One can say that they themselves are certainly more beautiful than men are, and that their worlds seem more beautiful than our world.

‘Among the shining orders there does not seem to be any individualized life: thus if one of them raises his hands all raise their hands, and if one drinks from a fire-fountain all do; they seem to move and to have their real existence in a being higher than themselves, to which they are a kind of body. Theirs is, I think, a collective life, so unindividualized and so calm that I might have more varied thoughts in five hours than they would have in five years; and yet one feels an extraordinary purity and, exaltation about their life. Beauty of form with them has never been broken up by the passions which arise in the developed egotism of human beings. A hive of bees has been described as a single organism with disconnected cells; and some of these tribes of shining beings seem to be little more than one being manifesting itself in many beautiful forms. I speak this with reference to the shining beings only: I think that among the opalescent or Sidhe beings, in the heaven-world, there is an even closer spiritual unity, but also a greater individuality.’

Influence of the ‘Sidhe’ on Men.-

Q.- Do you consider any of these Sidhe beings inimical to humanity?

A.- ‘Certain kinds of the shining beings, whom I call wood beings, have never affected me with any evil influences I could recognize. But the water beings, also of the shining tribes, I always dread, because I felt whenever I came into contact with them a great drowsiness of mind and, I often thought, an actual drawing away of vitality.’

Water Beings Described.-

Q.- Can you describe one of these water beings?

A.- ‘In the world under the waters-under a lake in the West of Ireland in this case-I saw a blue and orange coloured king seated on a throne; and there seemed to be some fountain of mystical fire rising from under his throne, and he breathed this fire into himself as though it were his life. As I looked, I saw groups of pale beings, almost grey in colour, coming down one side of the throne by the fire-fountain. They placed their head and lips near the heart of the elemental king, and, then, as they touched him, they shot upwards, plumed and radiant, and passed on the other side, as though they had received a new life from this chief of their world.’

Wood Beings Described.-

Q.-Can you describe one of the wood beings?

A.-‘ The wood beings I have seen most often are of a shining silvery colour with a tinge of blue or pale violet, and with dark purple-coloured hair.’

Reproduction and Immortality of the Sidhe ‘.-

Q.-Do you consider the races of the Sidhe able to reproduce their kind; and are they immortal?

A.-‘ The higher kinds seem capable of breathing forth beings out of themselves, but I do not understand how they do so. I have seen some of them who contain elemental beings within themselves, and these they could send out and receive back within themselves again.

‘The immortality ascribed to them by the ancient Irish is only a relative immortality, their space of life being much greater than ours. In time, however, I believe that they grow old and then pass into new bodies just as men do, but whether by birth or by the growth of a new body I cannot say, since I have no certain knowledge about this.’

Sex among the ‘Sidhe ‘ -

Q.-Does sexual differentiation seem to prevail among the Sidhe races?

A.-‘ I have seen forms both male and female, and forms which did not suggest sex at all.’

‘Sidhe’ and Human Life.-

Q.- (1) is it possible, as the ancient Irish thought, that certain of the higher Sidhe beings have entered or could enter our plane of life by submitting to human birth?

(2) On the other hand, do you consider it possible for men in trance or at death to enter the Sid/ic world?

A.- (1) ‘I cannot say.’ (2) ‘Yes; both in trance and after death. I think any one who thought much of the Sidhe during his life and who saw them frequently and brooded on them would likely go to their world after death.’

Social Organization of the ‘Sidhe ‘.-

Q.- You refer to chieftain-like or prince-like beings, and to a king among water beings; is there therefore definite social organization among the various Sidhe orders and races, and if so, what is its nature?

A.- ‘I cannot say about a definite social organization. I have seen beings who seemed to command others, and who were held in reverence. This implies an organization, but whether it is instinctive like that of a hive of bees, or consciously organized like human society, I cannot say.’

Lower ‘Sidhe’ as Nature Elementals.-

Q.- You speak of the water-being king as an elemental king; do you suggest thereby a resemblance between lower Sidhe orders and what mediaeval mystics called elementals?

A.-‘ The lower orders of the Sidhe are, I think, the nature elementals of the mediaeval mystics.’

Nourishment of the Higher Sidhe ‘.-

Q.- The water beings as you have described them seem to be nourished and kept alive by something akin to electrical fluids; do the higher orders of the Sidhe seem to be similarly nourished?

A.- ‘ They seemed to me to draw their life out of the Soul of the World.’

Collective Visions of ‘Sidhe’ Beings.-

Q.-Have you had visions of the various Sidhe beings in company with other persons?

A.- ‘I have had such visions on several occasions.’ And this statement has been confirmed to me by three participants in such collective visions, who separately at different times have seen in company with our witness the same vision at the same moment. On another occasion, on the Greenlands at Rosses Point, County Sligo, the same Sidhe being was seen by our present witness and a friend with him, also possessing the faculty of seership, at a time when the two percipients were some little distance apart, and they hurried to each other to describe the being, not knowing that the explanation was mutually unnecessary. I have talked with both percipients so much, and know them so intimately that I am fully able to state that as percipients they fulfil all necessary pathological conditions required by psychologists in order to make their evidence acceptable.


In general, the rare evidence above recorded from the Irish seer could be paralleled by similar evidence from at least two other reliable Irish people, with whom also I have been privileged to discuss the Fairy-Faith. One is a member of the Royal Irish Academy, the other is the wife of a well-known Irish historian; and both of them testify to having likewise had collective visions of Sidhe beings in Ireland.

This is what Mr. William B. Yeats wrote to me, while this study was in progress, concerning the Celtic Fairy Kingdom :- ‘ I am certain that it exists, and will some day be studied as it was studied by Kirk.’


One of the most remarkable discoveries of our Celtic researches has been that the native population of the Rosses Point country, or, as we have called it, the Sidhe world, in most essentials, and, what is most important, by independent folk-testimony, substantiate the opinions and statements of the educated Irish mystics to whom we have just referred, as follows :-

John Conway’s Vision of the ‘Gentry ‘.- In Upper Rosses Point, Mrs. J. Conway told me this about the ‘gentry’ : - ‘John Conway, my husband, who was a pilot by profession, in watching for in-coming ships used to go up on the high hill among the Fairy Hills; and there he often saw the gentry going down the hill to the strand. One night in particular he recognized them as men and women of the gentry and they were as big as any living people. It was late at night about forty years ago.’

Ghosts and Fairies.- When first I introduced myself to Owen Conway, in his bachelor quarters, a cosy cottage at Upper Rosses Point, he said that Mr. W. B. Yeats and other men famous in Irish literature had visited him to hear about the fairies, and that though he knew very little about the fairies he nevertheless always likes to talk of them. Then Owen began to tell me about a man’s ghost which both he and Bran Reggan had seen at different times on the road to Sligo, then about a woman’s ghost which he and other people had often seen near where we were, and then about the exorcizing of a haunted house in Sligo some sixty years ago by Father McGowan, who as a result died soon afterwards, apparently having been killed by the exorcized spirits. Finally, I heard from him the following anecdotes about the fairies : -

A Stone Wall overthrown by ‘Fairy’ Agency.- ‘ Nothing is more certain than that there are fairies. The old folks always thought them the fallen angels. At the back of this house the fairies had their pass. My neighbour started to build a cow-shed, and one wall abutting on the pass was thrown down twice, and nothing but the fairies ever did it. The third time the wall was built it stood.’

Fairies passing through Stone Walls.- ‘ Where MacEwen’s house stands was a noted fairy place. Men in building the house saw fairies on horses coming across the spot, and the stone walls did not stop them at all.’

Seeing the ‘Gentry ‘.- ‘ A cousin of mine, who was a pilot, once went to the watch-house up there on the Point to take his brother’s place; and he saw ladies coming towards him as he crossed the Greenlands. At first he thought they were coming from a dance, but there was no dance going then, and, if there had been, no human beings dressed like them and moving as they were could have come from any part of the globe, and in so great a party, at that hour of the night. Then when they passed him and he saw how beautiful they were, he knew them for the gentry women.’

‘Michael Reddy (our next witness) saw the gentry down on the Greenlands in regimentals like an army, and in daylight. He was a young man at the time, and had been sent out to see if any cattle were astray.’

And this is what Michael Reddy, of Rosses Point, now a sailor on the ship Tartar, sailing from Sligo to neighbouring ports on the Irish coast, asserts in confirmation of Owen Conway’s statement about him :- ‘I saw the gentry on the strand (at Lower Rosses Point) about forty years ago. It was afternoon. I first saw one of them like an officer pointing at me what seemed a sword; and when I got on the Greenlands I saw a great company of gentry, like soldiers, in red, laughing and shouting. Their leader was a big man, and they were ordinary human size. As a result [of this vision] I took to my bed and lay there for weeks. Upon another occasion, late at night, I was with my mother milking cows, and we heard the gentry all round us talking, but could not see them.’

Going to the ‘Gentry ‘through Death, Dreams, or Trance.- John O’Conway, one of the most reliable citizens of Upper Rosses Point, offers the following testimony concerning the ‘gentry’ :- ‘In olden times the gentry were very numerous about forts and here on the Greenlands, but rarely seen. They appeared to be the same as any living men. When people died it was said the gentry took them, for they would afterwards appear among the gentry.’

‘We had a ploughman of good habits who came in one day too late for his morning’s work, and he in excuse very seriously said, “May be if you had travelled all night as much as I have you wouldn’t talk. I was away with the gentry, and save for a lady I couldn’t have been back now. I saw a long hall full of many people. Some of them I knew and some I did not know. The lady saved me by telling me to eat no food there, however enticing it might be.” ‘

‘A young man at Drumcliffe was taken [in a trance state], and was with the Daoine Maithe some time, and then got back. Another man, whom I knew well, was haunted by the gentry for a long time, and he often went off with them’ (apparently in a dream or trance state).

‘Sidhe’ Music.-

The story which now follows substantiates the testimony of cultured Irish seers that at Lower Rosses Point the music of the Sidhe can be heard :- ‘ Three women were gathering shell-fish, in the month of March, on the lowest point of the strand (Lower Rosses or Wren Point) when they heard the most beautiful music. They set to work to dance with it, and danced themselves sick. They then thanked the invisible musician and went home.’





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