The Legend of Oisín and the Fabled Island of Tír na nÓg - A Tale of Paradise, Love, and Loss

The fabled paradise island of Tír na nÓg is said to be located off of the west coast of Ireland. Tír na nÓg is known as the land of perpetual youth. It is also named the Island of the Living, the island of Life, Brasil's Island, The Land of Promise, and the Land of Youth, among others.

The story of Tír na nÓg is one of a land where time stands still. In legend, those on the island are said to never age, and they never grow old. It is said to be a land where there is no illness, and no sorrow. In stories the island is covered in blooming flowers which never die, orchards of fruit trees, and forests dripping with honey. Days are filled with sports and mead. The climate is temperate, neither too hot nor too cold. Everyone who lives on the island is beautiful and young. They never suffer from pain nor illness, and they live a life of perpetual happiness. To live in the island paradise of Tír na nÓg was desired by all. However, reaching the island proved impossible. It was said that one would have to cross a stretch of water, and then travel beneath the waves for some time. At that point, the island would emerge.

In the center of the lore about the fabled paradise is the story of Oisín. Oisín (pronounced uh-SHEEN) was a great warrior, and was revered as a fine athlete, and a very gifted poet. He was the son of the mythical Fionn Mac Cumhaill (also known as Finn MacCool). Fionn was the leader of a group (known as the Fianna) who guarded the King of Ireland. Oisín and the Fianna would explore the green hills of Ireland daily, hunting and protecting the King. Oisín was very happy with his life with the men.

Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna.

The story goes that one day, while traveling through the hills hunting, Oisín saw a majestic white horse. Riding the white horse was a beautiful maiden. The maiden was the most alluring woman Oisín had ever seen, and he was captivated by her. She had a godly appearance, with long golden hair and a pale blue dress covered in stars. A golden light surrounded her.


She approached the Fianna on her horse. As she came closer, she told them her name was Niamh. She was the daughter of the king of the mystical land of Tír Na nÓg. She had heard of a great warrior named Oisín, and she came to take him back with her to Tír Na nÓg, the Land of Eternal Youth. She explained that Tír Na nÓg was a land where nobody ever aged, nobody felt sadness, and everyone lived in a perpetual state of happiness. She explained it was a place where laughter flowed through the air, the island was covered with fruit-tree orchards, and forest trees dripping with honey.

Oisín loved his father, and he did not want to leave him. But he felt drawn to Niamh and her promises of the Land of Eternal Youth. In the tale Oisín fell in love with Niamh instantly, and he agreed to return to Tír Na nÓg to live with her. He promised his father that he would return soon, and bade him farewell.

Oisín arrived in Tír Na nÓg and was very happy there with Niamh. Her description of the land had been true. Everyone was young, and beautiful, and happy. Upon meeting an older woman, Oisín was confused, as he thought everyone there was young. The old woman explained she had been older when she arrived, and that in Tír Na nÓg she would continue to get younger until she reached the age of a child.

Painting, Ossian's dream. 1813.

Oisín was happy living with Niamh at Tír Na nÓg, but he felt that something was missing. He felt a loneliness in his heart as he missed his father, the Fianna, and his homeland of Ireland. He asked Niamh if he could return to Ireland, but she resisted. Eventually Niamh saw how much Oisín missed his homeland and his father, and she agreed to allow him to return to visit them. She sent Oisín on her white horse, instructing him to remain on the horse. Should his feet touch the land, he would never be able to return to Tír Na nÓg again.


Oisín headed home, anxious to see his family, but when he returned, everything was different. The Fianna was no longer there, and his family home was crumbling away and covered in ivy. He was desperate to find something, anything that he would recognize. But he did not recognize this land, and he decided to return to Tír Na nÓg.

Legend says that as he headed back, he came across several old men who were struggling to move a rock. He spoke with them about his father and the Fianna, but the old men told Oisín that his father, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and the Fianna were not real, and that they were just legends. As Oisín leaned in to help them move the rock, he fell from Niamh’s majestic white horse. Just as Niamh had warned him, the moment he touched the ground, he instantly aged 300 years. What Oisín did not know was that while he felt he had only been away at Tír Na nÓg for a short time, 300 years had actually elapsed back in Ireland. Time did not exist in Tír Na nÓg, as Niamh had warned him. Now an old, blind man, Oisín tried to locate his father, and was devastated to learn that Fionn had died many years prior.

He shared the stories of his father, the Fianna, and Tír Na nÓg to St. Patrick before dying of old age.

To this day, the story of Oisín and Tír Na nÓg remains a powerful and endearing Irish legend. Tír Na nÓg remains a symbol of elusive paradise – an island of youth where everyone is happy and no one ever ages, but the tale also the tragic story of a man who wanted to return home, but was too late.

Featured image: Ossian (Oisín) on the Bank of the Lora, Invoking the Gods to the Strains of a Harp, 1801.


Tír Na nÓg - Ireland of the Welcomes . Available from:

The Legend of Oisín and Tír na nOg – Sheila O’Flanagan. Available from:

Story of Oisín and Tir Na N-Og – Education Scotland. Available from:

Tír Na nÓg - Shee Eire . Available from:

By M R Reese

Dawn Buchanan

The fabled paradise island of Tír na nÓg is said to be located off of the west coast of Ireland. Tír na nÓg is known as the land of perpetual youth. It is also named the Island of the Living, the island of Life, Brasil's Island, The Land of Promise, and the Land of Youth, among others.

The story of Tír na nÓg is one of a land where time stands still. In legend, those on the island are said to never age, and they never grow old. It is said to be a land where there is no illness, and no sorrow. In stories the island is covered in blooming flowers which never die, orchards of fruit trees, and forests dripping with honey.

Days are filled with sports and mead. The climate is temperate, neither too hot nor too cold. Everyone who lives on the island is beautiful and young. They never suffer from pain nor illness, and they live a life of perpetual happiness.

How many of you knew the tale of Tir Na Nog "The land of youth"?

I have very little knowledge of irish mitologhy (and the writter of ToTR usually add more Norse references and names) so i was surprise with this tale, it was something i never read.

So as the title say, how many of you already knew? from were did you heard about? or maybe is it new? and how do you think it will affect in the game story knowing how poor Oisín ended.

I remember looking up Tir Na Nog because of Tales of the Rays. 'u') I always enjoy looking up mythology stuff so it was pretty interesting! I only heard of Mag Mell from Irish mythology, but I never dug as far to learn about Tir Na Nog. I hope at the story's end and past all their current hardships, Tir Na Nog will truly be a land of paradise for all the Tales Of characters there.

Fadó Fadó

BRIGID (born c 451/Died c 521/28)
Brigid “the poetess” (or ‘the exalted one’) was well-known in pagan Celtic Europe – as a Goddess – also referred to as Dana. She was the greatest of the de Danann goddesses the mother of the Irish gods. Daughter of the Dagda, and associated with fertility and blessing one of three sisters of the same name whose purpose and function combined into one over the centuries.
She was associated with the arts and with poetry, with metalwork, with healing, the earth and its cycles. Brigid of Kildare (the church of the Oak), who became Saint Brigit, was similarly eclectic and, most likely, a thorn in the side of the early church. She ‘took the veil’ or entered the religious life on the Hill of Uisnech. According to Thomas Cahill this sacred site was Ireland’s primeval navel and the mythical center of its cosmic mandala (Cahill 1995:173). The site of her monastery was under an oak tree, also considered sacred by the druids.

Her monastery was impressive, ‘a great metropolis, within whose outskirts – which Saint Brigid marked out with a clearly defined boundary – no earthly adversary is feared, nor any incursion of enemies. For the city is the safest place of refuge among all the towns of the whole land of the Irish, with all their fugitives. It is a place where the treasures of kings are looked after, and it is reckoned to be supreme in good order’ (Cahill 1995:178).
Imbolc – the festival of the fertility goddess Brigid – is also dedicated to Saint Brigit.

In Christian tradition the 1st of February is St. Brigid’s Day. The St. Brigid’s cross, a symbol of Ireland, is traditionally made at this time. It is usually made from rushes and hung in the kitchen of homes to protect the house from fire – which was a major concern at a time when houses were predominantly roofed with thatch. In pagan Celtic tradition this day was known as Imbolc. It was one of the four quarter days in the pagan year, marking the beginning of Spring and the lambing season. Im bolc in Irish means ‘in stomach’ referring to the pregnant ewes.

At this time of the year of the year the rising sun illuminates the chamber at the Mound of the Hostages in Tara. The Mound of the Hostages is a Neolithic passage tomb c. 5000 years old (contemporary with Newgrange). The construction of the passage in this fashion is indicative of the importance of Imbolc in the pagan calendar.
Brigid’s tribe, the Tuatha De Danann tribe were defeated by the Milesian invasion of Ireland. Those that survived either returned to Tír na nÓg or to an alternate dimension, becoming the People of the Sidhe later nicknamed the fairies.

Amhairghin, or Amergin as usually spelt in English, was one of the leaders of the “Men of Míl”, the first human arrivals in Ireland who battled the Tuatha De Danann. This is Amergin’s Challenge, the first poem, according to legend, uttered by a mortal in Ireland, with some liberties taken in translation.

Amergin’s Challenge I am a wind across the sea

Photo: Norma Scheibe

I am a flood across the plain
I am the roar of the tides
I am a stag* of seven (pair) tines
I am a dewdrop let fall by the sun
I am the fierceness of boars*
I am a hawk, my nest on a cliff
I am a height of poetry (magical skill)
I am the most beautiful among flowers
I am the salmon* of wisdom
Who (but I) is both the tree and the lightning strikes it
Who is the dark secret of the dolmen not yet hewn
I am the queen of every hive
I am the fire on every hill
I am the shield over every head
I am the spear of battle
I am the ninth* wave of eternal return
I am the grave of every vain hope
Who knows the path of the sun, the periods of the moon
Who gathers the divisions, enthralls the sea,
sets in order the mountains. the rivers, the peoples,

The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales by Seán Ó Tuathail © 1993 John Kellnhauser

Oisin in the Land of Tír na nÓg

(an adaptation c. – EO’D)

Bhi Fionn, Oisín agus na Fianna ag Fiach la. Thainig cailín álainn ag marcaíocht ar capall bán.
“Carbh as duit a chailín álainn ?” arsa Oisín .
“As Tir na nOg,” a deir sí.
“An dtiocfaidh tu liom ann?”
Translation – Fionn, Oisín and the Fianna were out hunting one day. There came a beautiful girl, riding a white horse. “Where are you from, beautiful girl?” asked Oisín . “From the Land of Youth”, she said. “Will you come with me?”

Morning Mist
Photo: Norma Scheibe

Tír na nÓg, or The Land of Youth, was a magical island, situated off the West coast of Ireland. It was an Eden, a garden of paradise. A place that knew neither hunger or thirst, or pain, or even the passing of time, for time stood still on Tír na nÓg.

The island was very difficult to locate. It could appear or disappear at will, and even sink beneath the sea, according to the whim of its inhabitants.

These were the Shee, an ancient race whose great beauty was equalled only by their supernatural powers. The Shee often visited Ireland and walked among its people, working or living with them as the humour struck them. It sometimes happened that a member of the Shee fell in love with a mortal and brought them back to Tír na nÓg with them, or at least attempted to. One such spirit, Fand, tried to coax Cúchulainn, the adult Setanta, to her native home but he refused, held captive by the charms of his earthly wife, Emer. Oisín of the Fianna visited Tír na nÓg for one year, against the wishes of his father, Fionn.

The Fianna were an ancient warrior tribe of Ireland, and to become a member of their ranks was no easy task. In order to join them a young man had to learn the histories of its ancient traditions, they had to prove themselves in battle, they had to run through a forest at full speed, leaping branches as high as their forehead, ducking under others as low as their knee, without breaking stride, snapping a twig or bending a leaf. Oisín was, as his father before him, a true leader among their tribe – and handsome too, a fact that was not lost on the young woman of the Shee. This meeting was not by accident.

Photo: Norma Scheibe

Fionn could tell she was not mortal. His son, however, was captivated by the woman’s beauty and, from the expression on her face it was clear the attraction was more than reciprocated.

“Carbh as duit a chailín áilinn?” he asked.
“Where are you from, beautiful girl?”
“As Tír na nÓg,” a deir sí.
“From Tír na nÓg,” she replied.
“Will you come with me to my land, Oh Oisín of my heart?”
“No Oisín !”, cried Fionn with terror in his heart.
“Do not listen to her. She is not of us. It will not bode well for you. Stay with those who know you and love you, the foster brothers you played with all through childhood, the men who guided you to adulthood, the Fianna who have taught you the way of the warrior.”
Fionn grasped the reins of his son’s horse, pulling his child closer to him.
“My son”, he whispered urgently.
“There are many women, mortal women, that will gladly take you as their husband. not pay her heed not leave us.”
But even as he spoke Fionn knew his words were in vain. His child was bewitched. Oisín , for his part, saw the grief etched on the noble brow of his father and he sought compromise. Oisín offered a geasa, a sacred promise that could never be broken, no matter what. He promised his father that he would return to Ireland in one short year, to visit once more with his family. Such was the power of Oisín ‘s geasa his father had no choice but to agree even though it meant losing his son. So it came to pass.
Oisín , son of Fionn, warrior of the Fianna, pledged to the High King Cormac Mac Art, of the line of Conn, from the Royal Residence of Tara, bade farewell to family and friends and mounted the white horse of Tír na nÓg behind the beautiful woman of the Shee.

The white horse of Tír na nÓg reared madly and plunged into the direction from which it had come, into the West. It moved at an amazing speed as it thundered through the forest, leaping over fallen trees and boughs, skirting rivers and dodging the gnarled and twisting roots of the forest floor without pause or hesitation. Familiar places whirled by and great distance was covered without falter or stumble – such was the grace and power of the white horse of Tír na nÓg.

“Ar aghaidh! Ar aghaidh”, “Onward Onward!” cried the beautiful woman of the Shee and Oisín could hear the wild laughter in her voice as she spurred her horse to an even faster pace. The animal obeyed, scarcely breaking a sweat. As for Oisín . All that was real to him now was the beautiful woman in his arms and the wild scent of her perfume in his head.

The landscape became a blur and it was not long before the high rocky coast of Ireland’s Western shore, rose before them. Cliffs as old as time itself, battered and torn for millennia by the wild, foamy waters of the Atlantic. But even then the horse did not pause. Instead, it leaped straight from their summit and hurled downwards toward the jagged rocks below.

Now Oisín was a brave man, and a fearless one. He was Fianna. But our brave young hero instinctively flinched and braced himself for the impact of their bodies on the rocks. But that horse, that marvellous white horse of Tír na nÓg halted mere inches from those blades of granite. In a whirl of spray it danced upon the surface of the foamy waters and turned once more for home.

On they rode, into the heart of the setting sun, upon a path of liquid gold. Creatures, one stranger than the other, rose from the waters of the ocean and watched them pass. Day turned to night and still they travelled, until time was lost to Oisín . The young warrior was intoxicated by the soft, smooth skin of his new love’s cheek against his neck and the sweet warmth of her body in his embrace.

Finally, they reached the shores of Tír na nÓg.

Well, what can one say, or how is it possible to describe perfection? The Celtic land of Tír na nÓg was one such place. Day turned into night and into day again but Oisín was scarcely aware of its passing. That woman, that beautiful woman of the Shee had her prize, her lover and she never failed to express that love constantly.

But, as is the human condition, eventually Oisín began to get restless. The young warrior slowly tired of the beauty that surrounded him and yearned once more for home. He thought of the warm strength of his father, the calm gentle face of his mother, the foster brothers he had left behind. He remembered the wild energetic games on the great bawn outside the palace, the music and parties within, the poets that moved body and soul with the power of their words, the bond, the camaraderie of this people, the Fianna.

That beautiful woman of the Shee sensed his longing and knew the time had come for Oisín to return to Ireland. She did not object to this for she wanted a willing partner, not a captive slave. She even offered him her white horse, to carry her lover safely home. At the same time, she took no risk. She put Oisín under geasa to her and had him make a promise that could not be broken, under any circumstances, that he would not set foot on the soil of Ireland all the while he was there. Oisín willingly promised not to dismount from the white horse of Tír na nÓg. Despite his longing for home and family, his heart was true to this woman.

So it was. Oisín , son of Fionn, warrior of the Fianna, pledge to the High King Cormac Mac Art, of the line of Conn, from the Royal Residence of Tara, mounted the white horse of Tír na nÓg and returned to his native land.

It was not long before he reached the high rocky cliffs of Ireland’s western shore. Oisín felt his heart beat in his breast with joy. He was home!

But that joy was short-lived, for as he travelled it seemed that all around him the country had changed. Huge fields of rolling pasture had taken the place of forest. Walls, wells and bridges littered the countryside. Houses he had played in as a child and visited as a man were in a sorry state of decay. A number looked like they had been abandoned for decades. Strange people walked the land, in stranger clothing. Buildings of a new and peculiar type were set atop hills and sites he knew to be sacred. How was this allowed? How was it possible?

The young man felt panic. “This could not be Ireland, my Ireland,” he muttered. “I will ride to Tara, seat of my King and find out what is happening and…if anyone has usurped our land I will wage war against them.”

Within minutes the Royal Seat of Tara lay before him – and it was a sight that nearly wrenched his strong young heart asunder. Tara was naught but a mound of rubble. Cattle were grazing were the great hall once stood, its roof long gone, its paint, tapestries and canvas washed away by decades of an unrelenting climate.

Ahead of him ar an mbóthar, on the road, Oisín saw a group of men attempting to shift a huge boulder from the ground. He recognised it immediately as the great lintel that hung over the castle entrance. A lintel put in place by one man, many years ago. Yet here before him a group of dozens were unable to move it an inch. The young man came forward and offered to help – they were sure to know what happened to his king.

The men stepped back on his approach, and bowed. “Surely”, they thought, “He must be a prince or nobleman from a foreign shore, come to Ireland to learn in one of her priestly academies”. Oisín rode forward on the white horse of Tír na nÓg but, remembering his geasa, he did not dismount from its back. Instead, he leant from the saddle, grasped a portion of that huge rock and flicked it many yards away. The men were astounded. One felt bold enough to speak.

“Where are you from?”
“I am of Ireland,” came the reply.
“I am Oisín , of the Fianna.”
“The Fianna!” gasped the man. “They’ve been dead these three hundred years or more, if ever they lived.”

Oisín glared at this stranger, disbelieving.

Could it be? Was it possible? Could one short year in Tír na nÓg count for three hundred or more in the land of Ireland? He had to question these men further. Oisín swung urgently on the horse’s back, pulling hard on the reins as he did so. But the effort of lifting that huge rock had taken its toll on the harness. The girth or belly band of the saddle had been damaged. This added stress snapped it completely and both saddle and rider tumbled to the ground at the feet of the men.

Now a man as young and as proud and as vital as Oisín would scarcely have felt such a fall. Yet, he felt strangely week as he tried to rise. It was as though the soil beneath him was leeching the very strength from his bones.

“Féach! Féach in anam Dé”
“Look! Féach, in the name of God!” cried one of the men, crossing himself as he spoke.
“Féach ar an fear!” “Look at the man!”
He need not have spoken, for all eyes were on Oisín . Each of the years he had missed while in Tír na nÓg had come to revisit him as soon as his body touched the soil of Ireland. Within minutes he was an old, old man.

One of the strangers rushed forward to help the stricken warrior. He cradled him in his arms, and, producing a small flask of water from his side he prayed over him as he spilled the contents across Oisín ‘s brow. And as he did, Oisín , son of Fionn, warrior of the Fianna, pledged to the High King Cormac Mac Art, of the line of Conn, from the Royal Residence of Tara, drew his last breath and died. In the arms of a stranger.

The wild white horse of Tír na nÓg screamed madly and spun in the direction from which it had come, into the west. Surefooted and agile it was no longer, but it persevered on its homeward journey until at last the golden sands of Tír na nÓg lay before it on a distant shore. And on that shore stood a woman, a beautiful woman, a princess of the Shee. Gazing into the horizon. Heedless of the cool waves lapping at her ankles and wetting the hem of her dress. And when she saw the white horse of Tír na nÓg cross towards her, wet and exhausted, bearing neither her lover or its harness, she fell to her knees and screamed her anguish to the dark, restless sky.

When Oisín fell from his horse it did not matter – not to the princess of the Shee, for though his mortal body would have died, his soul, still youthful could return safely to the arms of his lover. But once the sacred waters of a Christian culture touched his brow, her lover’s soul was lost to her forever.

So it was. Tír na nÓg sank beneath the waves, never to return. It’s time was past.

Legend has it that on calm days fishermen casting their nets on the waters of the Atlantic can see the houses and buildings of Tír na nÓg far beneath them on the ocean floor, and on stormy nights the manes of the white horse of Tír na nÓg can be seen to breach the waves as they frolic in the ocean beneath while across the wind comes the cry of a woman.
A beautiful woman.
A princess of the Shee.
Still calling for her lover,
Oisín .

The Long Black Hand

by Richard Cronnolly.
Richard Cronnolly was born in Ballinderreen Co Galway in 1828. He joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police and spent his spare time in the Record Office where he studied old documents. Without any assistance, financial or otherwise, he found a publisher willing to give the result of his researches to the world. He was working against time, and died in the moment of success at the age of thirty five. He left behind him a work that is remarkable. The Long Black Hand, a recitative poem, which tells of the slaying of malicious spirit who made life miserable for the people of Ballinderreen a few hundred years ago.

In olden days when Sheamus reigned
And plenty crowned the land,
A spirit was seen in old Killeen,
T’was called the Long Black Hand.

No traveller every passed that way
from setting sun ’til dawn,
But was by this malicious elf
Half murdered on the bawn.

The church wherein he lay was built
By Colman, son of Duagh.
T’was three long miles from old Tyrone
And two short miles from Clough.

Now Clough belonged to Andrew Lynch,
A man of large estate,
But yet he felt dissatisfied
This elf being near his seat.

Ten thousand pounds he would lay down
And fifty hides of land
To any knight on Irish soil
Who’d slay the Long Black Hand.

And with that too his daughter, Kate,
A maid divinely fair
Whose golden tresses loosely hung
Adown her shoulders fair.

A lovelier maid you could not find
If you searched this island o’er,
And she was styled, as records tell,
The “Rose of Ballymore.”

The offer large, the gift was great,
As hero might demand
To undertake for gold, or love,
To slay the Long Black Hand.

But still the elf was left at ease
For six long years or more,
‘Til Lynch’s friends a visit paid
To him at Ballymore.

And with them too there also came
A bold and valiant knight,
Who vowed to God he’d have revenge
On Killeen’s churchyard sprite.

‘Twas young O’Heyne from InseGuair,
For so the youth was called,
As Annals say he scarcely was
Full twenty summers old.

But yet he did not courage lack,
To face that hellish foe,
Who shed his father’s precious blood
And prove his overthrow.

The guests all round the table sat,
And wine went round and round,
While Andrew Lynch’s health was drunk
To which he did respond.

My gentle sirs and valiant knights,
Why should I life resign,
When each of you has pledged my health
And drank to me in wine.

And yet I feel I cannot live
I know the end is near
This churchyard spirite will surely put
An end to my career

I cannot find a champion bold,
Or knight throughout the land
Who’ll undertake for love or gold
To slay the Long Black Hand.

The old man then resumed his seat,
The tears rolled down his cheeks
They knew the cause for all his grief,
But not a soul would speak.

One would at the other gaze,
But none would raise the strain,
‘Till young O’Heyne at last arose,
And broke the silent chain.

Saying “Now kind sir, for me provide,
A steed both swift and strong,
And I’ll be off to Killeen’s Church
And search the ruins along.

And if the Long Black Hand is there,
I’ll die or revenge take
Upon that murdering hellish elf,
For my dear father’s sake.”

His sword he grasped in his right hand,
And mounted Lynch’s steed
And off to Kileen’s Church he went,
To fall, if fate decreed.

Arriving at the Abbey gate
“Art thou within?” he cried.
“I am and will be soon with you,”
The Long Black Hand replied.

On hearing such unearthly sound,
His gallant steed took fright,
His retrogressing pace to check
He pulled with all his might.

But curb or rein could not prevail
But lo! What makes him stand?
The elf has seized him by the tail,
That hellish Long Black Hand.

Our valiant Knight well knew the cause
And with one backward stroke
He cut the Long Black Hand across
When thus the demon spoke.

“Another cut my valiant Knight
If I survive you’ll rue.”
“Oh no” our valiant Knight replied.
“I think that one will do.”

He posted off without delay,
And soon arrived at home
And stabling there his dapple grey,
Whose sides were white with foam.

In haste he joined the festive train,
In Lynch’s genial hall
Where rival wooers were base enough
To pray for his downfall.

Now young O’Heyne and Andrew Lynch
Went out to see the grey
And ordering out his stalwart grooms
To him with oats and hay.

But Paladore was now no more
Old Andrew Lynch’s pride
And some would say that to his tail
The Long Black Hand was tied.

Now Andrew Lynch addressed the guests
Our hero claimed his bride
And by McDunal’s holy curb
The Nuptial knot was tied

In peace they lived, in peace they sleep
Amid tombs of ample space
Within long Killeen’s lonely walls
That lonesome haunted place.

The Capricornian 17th May, 1890

Folk-tales for Little Folk.

Long ago, out of a hill in Leinster there used to emerge, as far as his middle, a plump, sleek, terrible steed, a Pooka, who spoke in human voice to each person about November day, and he was accustomed to give intelligent and proper answers to such as consulted him concerning all that would befall them, until the November of next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill until the coming of Patrick and the holy clergy.’

In some places the Pooka came out in the form of the Neck of Scandinavia, or Water-Kelpie of Scotland. About the Martinmas time the Pooka used to appear near the sea or a fresh water lough in the form of a horse. He went tearing about at a great rate. If any one were bold enough to go between him and the water, be could be caught and bridled, and then made a splendid steed. If at any time, however, he came in sight of water, he made for it. Were any one on his back, then it was all the worse for the rider, for the Pooka would plunge in, and tear him to pieces at the bottom.

As a man riding on a Pooka horse could not go far in Ireland without seeing deep water, not many would use them. A boundary rider out west might: have one for some considerable time without seeing as much water as would drown him.

Here is a story about the Pooka, translated literally from the Irish of the Leabhar Sgeulaiyheachta, by Douglas Hyde.

In the old times there was a half fool living in Dunmore, in the county Galway, and although he was excessively fond of music, he was unable to learn more than one tune, and that was the ‘Black Rogue.’ He used to get a good deal of money from the gentlemen, for they used to get sport out of him.

One night the piper was coming home from a house where there had been a dance, and he half drunk, when he came to a little bridge that was up by his mother’s house he squeezed the pipes on, and began playing the ‘Black Rogue’ (an rogaire dubh). The Pooka came behind him, and flung him up on his own back. There were long horns on the Pooka, and the piper got a good grip of them, and then he said
‘Destruction on you, you nasty beast, let me home. I have a ten-penny piece in my pocket for my mother, and she wants snuff.’
‘Never mind your mother,’ said the Pooka,‘But keep your hold. If you fall, you will break your neck and your pipes.’ Then the Pooka said to him,’Play up for me the Shan Van Vocht’ (an tsean bhean bhocht).’
‘I don’t know it,’ said the piper.
‘Never mind whether you do or you don’t, said the Pooka.’
‘Play up, and i’ll make you know.’
The piper put wind in his bag, and he played such music as made himself wonder.
‘Upon my word, you’re a fine music master,’ says the piper/
‘But tell me where you’re bringing me.’
‘There’s a great feast in the house of the Banshee, on the top of Croagh Patrick to-night,’ says the Pooka,
‘I’m bringing you there to play music, and, take my word, you’ll get the price of your trouble.’
‘By my word, you’ll save me a journey then,’ says the piper.

‘Father William put a journey to Croagh Patrick on me, because I stole tbe white gander from him last Martinmass.’
The Pooka rushed him across hills and bogs and rough places, till he brought him to the top of Croagh Patrick. Then the Pooka struck three blows with his foot, and a great door opened, and they passed in together, into a fine room. The piper saw a golden table in the middle of the room, and hundreds of old women (cailleacha) sitting round about it. The old women rose up, and. said,
‘A hundred thousand welcomes to you, you Pooka of November (na Samhna). Who is this you have with you ?’’
‘The best piper in Ireland,’ says the Pooka.
One of the old women struck a blow on the ground, and a door opened in the side of the wall, and what should the piper see coming out but the white gander which he had stolen from Father William.
‘Myself and my mother ate every taste of that gander, only one wing, and I gave that to Moy-rua. It was she told the priest I stole his gander.’ The gander cleaned the table, and carried it away, and the Pooka said,
‘Play up music for these ladies.’ The piper flayed up, and the old women began dancing, and they were dancing till they wore tired. Then the Pooka said to pay the piper, and every old woman drew out a gold piece, and gave it to him.
‘By the tooth of Patrick,’ said he,
‘I’m as rich as the son of a lord.
‘Come with me,’ says the Pooka,
‘And I’ll bring you home.’
They went out. then, and just as he was going to ride on the Pooka, the gander came up to him, and gave him a new get of pipes. The Pooka was not long until he brought him to Dunmore, and he threw the piper off at the little bridge, and then be told him to go home, and savs to him,
‘You have two things now that you have never had before, you have sense and music (ciall agus ceol).’

The piper went home and knocked at his mother’s door, saying,
‘Let me in, I’m as rich as a lord, and I’m the best piper in Ireland.’
‘You’re drunk,’ said the mother.
‘No, indeed,’ said the piper,
‘I haven’t drunk a drop.’
The mother let him in and he gave her the the cold pieces.
‘Wait now,’ says he,
’Til you hear the music i’ll play.’
He buckled on the pipes, but instead of music, there came a sound as if all the geese and ganders in Ireland were screeching together. He wakened the neighbours, and they were all mocking him until he put on the old pipes, and then he played melodious music for them. After that he told them all he had gone through that night.

The next morning when his mother went to look at the gold pieces, there was nothing there but the leaves of a plant. The piper went to the priest, and told him his story, but the priest would not believe a word from him, until he put the pipes on him, and then the screeching of the geese and ganders began.
‘Leave my sight, you thief’ says the priest. But nothing would do the piper till he would put the pipes on him to show the priest that bis story was true. He buckled on the old pipes, and he played melodious music, and from that day till the day of his death, there was never a piper in the county Galway as good as he.

Áengus mac Óg
Victorian era
Wikimedia commons

CUCHULAIN OF MUIRTHEMNE – Lady Augusta Gregory 1902

ANGUS, son of the Dagda, was asleep in his bed one night, and in his dreams came a woman. She was breathtaking. The most beautiful he had ever seen in Ireland. He put out his hand to take hers, but she vanished on the moment, and in the morning when he awoke there were no trace or tidings of her.
He got no rest that day thinking of her.
The next night he saw her again. This time she brought a harp in her hand and played upon it the sweetest music he ever heard. She sang to him, so his dreams were sweet. Deep was his sleep thereafter. The same thing happened every, night for a year. She came to his bedside and played but she would be gone before he could speak with her. And at the end of that year she came no more.

The Harp of Erin
Thomas Buchanan Read (1822-1872)
Cincinnati Art Museum

Angus began to pine away with love of her. He would take no food, but lay upon the bed. No one knew what it was ailed him. All the physicians of Ireland came together, but they could not put a name on his sickness or find a cure.
But at last Fergne, the physician of Conn, was brought to him and as soon as he looked at Angus he knew it was not on his body the sickness was, but on his mind. Fergne sent every one away out of the room, and spoke to the young man:
“I think it is for the love of some woman that you are wasting away like this.”
“Yes,” said Angus. And he told him of the woman with the most beautiful appearance of any woman in Ireland. He described how she came and played the harp to him through the night, and how she vanished away.
Fergne went and spoke with Boann, Angus’s mother. He bade her to search all through Ireland to find the woman Angus had seen in his sleep. This she did, but no woman of that appearance could be found.
At the end of the year, Boann sent for Fergne to come again, and said: “We have not got any help from our search up to this.”
“Send for the Dagda, that he may come and speak to his son,” said Fergne. This she did. When the Dagda arrived, he said:
“What have I been called for?”

A Naiad with a Nymph
John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917)
Wikimedia Commons

“To give an advice to your son,” said Fergne, “and to help him, for he is lying sick on account of a woman that appeared to him in his sleep, and she cannot be found. It would be a pity for him to die.”
“What use will it be, I to speak to him?” said the Dagda, ”
My knowledge is no higher than your own.”
“You are the king of all the Sidhe of Ireland,” replied Fergne.
“Go to Bodb, the king of the Sidhe of Munster. Ask his help. He has a name for knowledge all through Ireland.”
And so it came to pass. Messengers were sent to Bodb, at his house in Sidhe Femain. His help was sought.
“The search will be made,” said Bodb, “if it lasts me a year.”
At the end of a year he sent this message to the Dagda.

Undine – 1872
John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917)
Wikimedia Commons

“I have searched all Ireland and found a woman of the same form and appearance you describe. She rests at Loch Beul Draguin, the Harp of Cliach. Send Angus to come with us, till he sees if it is the same woman that appeared to him in his dream.”
Angus set out in his chariot to Sidhe Femain, and Bodb bade him welcome, and made a great feast for him, that lasted three days and three nights. And at the end of that time he said: “Come out now with me, and see if this is the same woman that came to you.”
So they set out together till they came to the sea, and there they saw three times fifty young women. The one they were looking for was among them. She was far beyond them all. There was a silver chain between every two of them, but about her was a necklace of shining gold. And Bodb said, “Do you see that woman you were looking for?” “I see her, indeed,” said Angus.
“Who is she?”
“She is Caer Ormaith, daughter of Ethal Anbual, from Sidhe Uaman, in the province of Connaught. But you cannot bring her away with you this time,” said Bodb. “We must talk with your parents.”
And so they went to his father, the Dagda, and his mother, Boann, at Brugh na Boinne, and they told how they had seen the girl, and had heard her name, and her father’s name. And Boab said “The best thing to do is to go to Ailell and Maeve, for it is in their district she lives, and ask their help.”
So the Dagda set out until he came into the province of Connaught, and sixty chariots with him and Ailell and Maeve made a great feast for him. And after they had been feasting and drinking for the length of a week, Ailell asked the reason of their journey. And the Dagda said: “It is by reason of a young girl in your district, for my son has sickness upon him on account of her, and I am come to ask if you will give her to him.”
“Who is she?” said Ailell.
“She is Caer Ormaith, daughter of Ethal Anbual.”
“We have no power over her that we could give her to him,” said Ailell and Maeve.
“Then” said the Dagda,
“Call her father here to you.”
So Ailell sent his steward to Ethal Anbual to bid him speak with Ailell and with Maeve.”
“I will not go,” said Ethal “I will not give my daughter to the son of the Dagda.”
The steward went back and told this to Ailell. “He will not come,” he said, “he knows the reason you want him for.”
Then there was anger on Ailell and on the Dagda, and they went out, and their armed men with them, and they destroyed the whole place of Ethal Anbual, and he was brought before them. And Ailell said to him: “Give your daughter now to the son of the Dagda.” “That is what I cannot do,” he said, “for there is a power over her that is greater than mine.” “What power is that?” said Ailell. “It is an enchantment,” he said, “She is the shape of a bird for one year, and in her own shape the next year. She will be in the shape of a swan next month at Loch Beul Draguin, and three fifties of beautiful birds will be along with her. If you will go there, you will see her.”
Ethal was set free, and he made friends again with Ailell and Maeve and the Dagda went home and told Angus all that had happened, and he said: “Go to Loch Beul Draguin, and call her to you there.”
So when the time came, Angus Og went to the loch, and he saw the three times fifty white birds there, with their silver chains about their necks. And Angus stood in a man’s shape at the edge of the loch, and he called: “Come and speak with me, O Caer!”
“Who is calling me?” said Caer. “Angus calls you,” he said “and if you come, I swear by my word, I will not hinder you from going into the loch again.” “I will come,” she said. So she came to him, and he laid his two hands on her, and then, to hold to his word, he took the shape of a swan on himself, and they went into the loch together, and they went around it three times. And then they spread their wings and rose up from the loch, and went in that shape till they were at Brugh na Boinne. And as they were going, the music they made was so sweet that all the people that heard it fell asleep for three days and three nights.
And Caer stopped there with him ever afterwards, and from that time there was friendship between Angus Og and Ailell and Maeve. And it was on account of that friendship, Angus gave them his help at the time of the war for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne.

Take the fair face of woman – oil on canvas
Sophie Gengembre Anderson (1823 – 1903)

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry
Edited and Selected by W.B.Yeats (1888) London/New York
Walter Scott. (abridged)
The Trooping Fairies
The Irish word for fairy is sheehogue [sidheóg], a diminutive of “shee” in banshee. Fairies are daoine sidhe (fairy people). They are fallen angels – not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost. “The Book of Armagh calls them Gods of the Earth.
They are the Tuatha De Danān, who, when no longer worshipped and fed with offerings, dwindled away. They went by other names also – the slooa-shee [sheagh sidhe] (the fairy host), or Marcra shee (the fairy cavalcade). Their chiefs were old Danā

n heroes, and the places they gathered were Danan burying-places.

There is much evidence to prove them fallen angels, including their nature, their caprice, their way of being good to the good and evil to the evil, having every charm but conscience–consistency . They were beings so quickly offended one could not speak much about them at all, and never call them anything but the “gentry”, or daoine maithe, which in English means good people. Their needs were not great and they were generous, keeping misfortune away if you left a little milk for them on the window-sill over night. Folklore tells most about them, how they fell, and yet were not lost, because their evil was wholly without malice.

Poets, mystic and occult writers, in all ages and countries, have declared that behind the visible are chains on chains of conscious beings, who are not of heaven but of the earth, who have no inherent form but change according to their whim, or the mind that sees them. You cannot lift your hand without influencing and being influenced by them. The visible world is merely their skin. It is in dreams we go amongst them, and play with them, and combat with them. They are, perhaps, human souls in the crucible – these creatures of whim.

Do not think the shee are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them. Their chief occupations are feasting, fighting, and making love, and playing the most beautiful music. Near the village of Ballisodare is a little woman who lived amongst them seven years. When she came home she had no toes–she had danced them off.

They have three great festivals in the year–May Eve, Midsummer Eve, November Eve. On May Eve, every seventh year, they fight all round, but mostly on the “Plain-a-Bawn” (wherever that is), for the harvest, for the best ears of grain belong to them. An old man told me he saw them fight once they tore the thatch off a house in the midst of it all. Had anyone else been near they would merely have seen a great wind whirling everything into the air as it passed. When the wind makes the straws and leaves whirl as it passes, that is the shee.

On Midsummer Eve, when the bonfires are lighted on every hill in honour of St. John, they are at their gayest, and sometimes steal away beautiful mortals to be their brides.
On November Eve they are at their gloomiest, for according to the old reckoning, this is the first night of winter. It is on this night they dance with the ghosts, and the pooka is abroad. After November Eve the blackberries are no longer wholesome, for the pooka has spoiled them. It is on this night the witches make their spells, and girls set a table with food in the name of the devil, that the fetch of their future lover may come through the window and eat of it.

When they are angry they paralyse men and cattle with their darts.
When they are gay they sing. Many a poor girl has heard them, and pined away and died, for love of that singing. Plenty of the old beautiful tunes of Ireland are only their music, caught up by eavesdroppers. No wise peasant would hum “The Pretty Girl milking the Cow” near a fairy rath, for the shee are jealous, and do not like to hear their songs on clumsy mortal lips. Carolan, the last of the Irish bards, slept on a rath, and ever after the fairy tunes ran in his head, and made him the great man he was.
Do they die? Blake saw a fairy’s funeral but in Ireland we say they are immortal.

Celtic Wonder Tales
Ella Young (1910) – abridged
Dublin, Maunsel and Company

The Milesians reached Ireland on the first of May. They came in boats, with their wives and their children and all their treasures. There were many. It is said by some that they came from a land beyond the blueness of the sky and their ships left tracks among the stars that can still be seen on winter nights.
Their druid Amergin was the first to set foot on the Land and he chanted
I am The Wind That Blows, I am The Wave 0f The Sea,

I am The Sound its waters.
And then he spoke.
“We will go forward now, and when we reach the place where it seems good to rest we will light a fire and put Three Names of Power on the Land so that it may belong to us for ever.”
They went forward then and saw no one. But Brigit of Ireland was watching. She would allow no claim to the name of the land by the Milesians. It was hers to share, not to part with. So she took the shape of a woman that has known hardship and wrapping herself in a cloak of Sorrow she came to try them. Amergin saw her approach.
“O woman,” said Amergin, “why is there such heavy sorrow on you, and why do you make such a shrill keening?”
“I am keening lost possessions, and lost queen-ship, and a name cried down the wind of change and forgotten,” she replied.
“Whose name is cried down the wind?” asked Amergin.
“The name of Banba that was queen of this land,” said Brigit. Amergin was moved by her grief.
“Her name shall not be whirled into forgetfulness. I will put it on this land: it shall be called Banba.”
And so it was. Amergin gave away the First Name of Power on the Land.

And so the Milesians went on from that place, leaving the woman, and memory of her behind them. But as they moved, so did she. Brigit took the shape of a fierce beautiful queen that has lost a battle, and came again to try them. Amergin saw her approach.
“O Queen,” said Amergin, “may all the roads of the world be pleasant to you!”
“O King,” she replied, “all the roads of the world are hard when those who were wont to go in chariots walk barefoot on them.”
“O Queen,” said Amergin, “I would fain better your fortune.”
“Grant me then a queen’s asking.”
“Name your asking,” replied Amergin.
Brigit bowed and answered, “I am Eriu, wife of Mac Grian, Son of the Sun, and I would have my name fastened on this land for ever.”
Amergin could not refuse her request.”I will put your name on this land: it shall be called Eriu,” he replied, saluting her honour.
So Amergin gave away the Second Name of Power.

Again the Milesians went on from that place, as did Brigit. She took the form of an old wrinkled crone bent double with age, and came again to try them. She was gathering sticks, and the bundle was heavy.
“O woman,” said Amergin, “it is hard to see you lifting a bundle when age has bent you so low already. I would fain better your fortune.”
Brigit raised herself, and said:–
“Though I am an old crone now, bent and withered, I was once a great queen, and I will take nothing less than a queen’s asking from you.”
“What is your asking? ” said Amergin.

“Let my name be on this land: I am Fiola,” she replied.
Moved with pity at her current state, Amergin promised thus
“I will put your name on this land: it shall be called Fiola.”
So Amergin gave away the Third Name Name of Power – and Brigit finally left them to themselves. That night the Milesians made a fire for themselves, and when the smoke of it rose against the sky, Ogma, Nuada, and the Dagda, ancient Gods of Brigit’s realm, came to try them. Nuada spoke first – to a small group at the edge of the camp.
“What people are you? ” he asked, “and from what country have you come?”
“We are the sons of Milesius,” they answered. Gesturing to Amergin they said “he himself is the son of a god – of Beltu, the Haughty Father. We are come from Moy More, the Great Plain that is beyond the horizon of the world.” Amergin saw and heard, and moved forward to greet the strangers.
“How got you knowledge of Ireland?” asked Ogma.
“O Champion,” answered Amergin, “from the centre of the Great Plain there rises a tower of crystal. Its top pierces the heavens, and from the ramparts of it the wisest one among us got sight of this land. When he saw it his heart was filled with longing, and when he told us of it our hearts too were filled with longing. Therefore we set out to seek that land, and behold we have come to it. We have come to Inisfail, the Island of Destiny.”

“And ye have come to it,” said the Dagda, scarcely able to contain his anger. “And ye have come – like thieves in the night without proclamation without weapon-challenge. Ye have lighted a fire here, as if this were a no-man’s land. Judge ye if this be hero conduct.”
“Your words have the bitterness of truth in them,” said Amergin. “Say now what you would have us do.”
“You are a druid and a leader among your people,” said Nuada. “Give judgment, therefore, between yourselves and us.”

“I will give judgment,” said Amergin “I judge it right that we should return to our ships and go out the distance of nine waves from the land. Use all your power against us, and we will use all our power against you. We will take the Island of Destiny by the strength of our hands, or die fighting for it!”
“It is a good judgment,” said Ogma, “Get back to your ships! We will gather our battle-chiefs for the fight.”
Ogma, Nuada, and the Dagda, went away then from the Milesians.
The Milesians began to put out the fire they. had kindled, and as they were quenching the embers, Brigit returned. She threw her mantle of power about her and came to the Milesians in her own shape. When Amergin saw her he knew that she was the Mighty Mother, and he cried out:
“O Ashless Flame, put a blessing on us now, that our luck may not be extinguished with these embers.”
“O Druid,” said Brigit, “if you had wisdom you would know that before the First Fire is extinguished the name-blessing should be pronounced over it.”
“O Mother of All Wisdom, I know it, but the name-blessing is gone from me. I met three queens as I came hither, and each one asked the name-gift of me. They were queens discrowned: I could not put refusal on them.”
Brigit began to laugh then, and she cried:
“O Amergin, you are not counted a fool, yet it seems to me that if you had much wit you would know the eyes of Brigit under any cloak in the world. It was I, myself, who asked the name-gift from you three times, and got it. Do not ask a fourth blessing from me now, for I have blessed you three times already.”

She stooped and lifted a half-quenched ember from the fire. She blew on it till it became a golden flame–till it became a star. She tossed it from one hand to the other as a child tosses a ball. She went away laughing.

The Milesians went back to their ships. They put the distance of nine waves between themselves and the land. The Tuatha De Danaan loosed the Fomor on them, and a mighty tempest broke about their ships. Great waves leaped over them and huge abysses of water engulfed them. The utmost power of the Milesians could not bring the ships a hair’s breadth nearer to the shore. A terrible wind beat on them. Ireland disappeared. Then Amergin cried out:
“O Land, that has drawn us hither, help us! Show us the noble fellowship of thy trees: we will be comrades to them. Show us the shining companies of thy rivers: we will put a blessing on every fish that swims in them. Show us thy hero-hearted mountains: we will light fires of rejoicing for them. O Land, help us! help us! help us!”
Ireland heard him, and sent help. The darkness cleared away and the wind was stilled.
Then Amergin said:
“O Sea, help us! O mighty fruitful Sea! I call on every wave that ever touched the land. O Sea, help us!”
The sea heard him, and the three waves that go round Ireland–the wave of Thoth, the wave of Rury and the long slow white foaming wave of Cleena. The three waves came and lifted the ships to the shore. The Milesians landed.
The Tuatha De Danaan came down to make trial of their battle-strength. Hard was the contest between them. The Milesians held their own against the gods. When they saw that the Milesians could hold their own, the Tuatha De Danaan drew themselves out of the fight. They laughed and cried to the Milesians:
“Good heroes are ye, and worthy to win the earth: we put our blessing on you.”
Nuada shook the bell-branch, and the glory that the Tuatha De Danaan had in Tir-na-nOg before they ever set themselves to the shaping of the earth – came back to them. Such was their beauty that the Milesians veiled their eyes before them.
“Do not veil your eyes!” said Nuada, “we will draw the Cloak of invisibility about us. We give you Ireland: but, since our hands have fashioned it, we will not utterly leave the country. We will be in the white mist that clings to the mountains we will be the quiet that broods on the lakes we will be the joy-shout of the rivers we will be the secret wisdom of the woods. Long after your descendants have forgotten us, they will hear our music on sunny raths and see our great white horses lift their heads from the mountain-tarns and shake the night-dew from their crested manes: in the end they will know that all the beauty in the world comes back to us, and their battles are only echoes of ours. Lift up your faces, Children of Milesius, Children of Beltu the Haughty Father, and greet the land that belongs to you!”
The Milesians lifted up their heads. No glory blinded them, for the Tuatha De Danaan had drawn the cloak of invisibility about themselves. They saw the sunlight on the grass like emerald fire they saw the blueness of the sky and the solemn darkness of the pine trees they heard the myriad sound of shaken branches and running water, and behind it echoed the laughter of Brigit.

Queen Maev – 1911
Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951)
Creative commons


In Ireland the position of women, even from the earliest times, seems to have been comparatively good. They were never the drudges or mere chattels of their lord and master. True, what was considered the lowest work and task or grinding corn was performed by the women slaves, or bond women but then, on the other hand, they took part in the government and the learned professions.

Women took an active part in warfare – the schools of the Amazons Aoife and Scathach in Scotland were famous, and those champions who wished to excel all others went to study under these female warriors. The mother of King Conor Mac Nessa was a woman warrior, and wandered through Ireland executing deeds of valour, and queens frequently went into battle beside their husbands.

This practice lasted down even as late as the seventh century, when St. Adamnan put an end to compulsory military service for women.

In all families except those of the very poor the best part of the house was set apart for the women. It was called the ‘Grianán’ which means ‘Sunny Chamber’, Grian being the Irish for sun. Here the women lived, worked, or studied, and here the men came to visit the ladies when they were weary of their stiff rooms and here they played chess and enjoyed music.

The Grianáns were made as pretty and bright as possible they were frequently thatched with bird’s feathers, sometimes entirely white, but that was according to individual taste. In the description of the beautiful Grianán built by Cairbre, King of Kerry, for his daughter Crede, it had green door-posts and a carved silver lintel. The thatch was brown and crimson, and the porch was thatched with birds’ feathers, beautifully arranged in strips of blue and yellow.

The Grianáns were not only artistic outside, but inside they were hung with beautifully embroidered hangings, and there were couches inlaid with silver and gold, and cushions with beautiful covers. Such were the surroundings in which the women of ancient Ireland lived and moved.

In the absence of alarm clocks the girls of that period were awakened in the mornings by a woman servant playing sweet music similarly at night she was lulled sleep by the music of slumber.

Emer rebuking Cuchulainn
1905 illustration by H.R. Millar
Wikimedia commons

They took great care of their personal appearance, and were renowned for their beautiful hair, which they usually wore in two or more long plaits. These plaits were not confined by a ribbon, but by a flexible gold ornament, many examples of which may be seen in the Dublin Museum. Women also wore a gold ornament on their head, gold collars, bracelets, waist ornaments etc. There were at least fifteen different types of brooch, worn by both men and women to keep their cloak in place.

Even in those days Ireland was famous for fine linen, and it was largely employed for wearing apparel. The women wore a loose overdress of fine wool or silk, richly embroidered and fastened on the left side by eyelet holes and a lace. The dress was held at the waist by a hoop of twisted gold or a belt of leather, often richly chased and studded with stones. Over this was worn a cloak, richly embroidered or trimmed with fur, or made entirely of skins. On their feet they wore sandals or shoes of fine leather. A king is described as wearing ‘two shoes of a network of gold with golden buckles.’

Even the men deemed it a disgrace to have red hands and unkempt nails, and there were skilled manicurists among the women servants. Deirdre, lamenting for her dead husband, said

“I sleep no more, no more do I crimson my nails, no more shall joy come into my mind.”

Much of this information comes from old manuscripts. The bards were often very exact in their details, and when they were describing a feast or a meeting between two chiefs they would describe what the king wore and what the queen wore as if they were writing for a society paper. It is thanks to them that we can construct for ourselves an accurate picture of those times. The following, for example, is a description from an old Tale of Princess Etain:

“She stood on the edge of the well combing her hair with a bright comb of silver adorned with gold. The hue of her hair was like the red gold after burnishing. It was plaited in two locks and a bead at the point of each lock. She wore a mantle folded and purple, and in the mantle silver fringes arranged and a brooch of the finest gold. A kirtle long and hooded of green silk with red embroidery of gold was seen beneath it. Marvellous clasps of gold and silver in the kirle on the breast and her shoulders on every side.

Macha curses the men of Ulster.
Illustration: Stephen Reid
in Eleanor Hull’s
The Boy’s Cuchulainn 1904

The sun kept shining on her so that the glistening of the gold against the sun from the green silk was seen of all. There she was undoing her hair to wash it. White as the snow of one night were her two hands, and red as the foxglove her two clear fair cheeks. Blue as a hyacinthe her eyes. Red as a rowanberry her lips, the bright radiance of the moon was in her noble face, soft womanly dignity in her voice, her step was stately and slow as the gait of a queen. Verily of the world’s women she was the dearest, and the most perfect that the eyes of man had every beheld.”

While taking care of their appearance they were far from being animated ‘fashion plates’. They strove to excel in baking, cooking and weaving. Often girls were sent for a while to the house of a chief who entertained largely, or whose wife was a noted housekeeper.

They were also famous for their skill in embroidering and many manuscripts note this. Emer, wife of Cuchulainn was ‘beautiful, with a noble beauty she was wise in learning, skilled in the arts of home and embroidered better than any of the women in Ireland.”

When the Misses Yeats, sisters of the poet, started their school of needlework and embroidery (which has since won prizes in the great exhibitions of Europe and attracted universal admiration in Madison Square Garden, New York) they called their school Dun Emer.

The girls of ancient Ireland were independent they not only adorned their home and fireside, but they entered the professions. There were women doctors held in high esteem, and learned in the knowledge of herbs and healing plants and the bandaging of wounds. For rheumatism, for example, they prescribed vapor baths, the remains of some are to be found in Ireland still.

There were also women lawyers and women learned in Druidical lore and many women studied not to practice but merely because it interested them. Emer was very highly educated and when Cuchulainn came to woo her they spoke together in a mysterious language understood by the learned in order that the other girls sitting near might not understand.


There was a strict rule regarding marriage that the elder sister was always married before the younger, and even a king was not allowed to take the younger girl off if he preferred her. The King of Leinster wanted the marry the younger daughter of Tuathal, the High King (c 130 B.C.). He was not allowed to do so and out of the dispute a war arose. He lost and was forced to pay a heavy tribute to the High King at Tara. The tribute was called the Boru. After some years the kings neglected to levy it. Brian, who fought at Clontarf, revived the custom and it is from that he gets his name – Brian Boru or Brian of the Tributes.

Even after marriage the women enjoyed a large share of independence and had the right to own their own separate property.

Cuchulainn was the hero and champion of the Red Branch Knights. He often said he would wed no one who was not his equal in age, race and feature, who was wise and gentle, and skilled in embroidery. For these reasons he wanted to marry Emer, daughter of Forgael – for she possessed the six womanly gifts

1. The gift of modest behaviour

3. The gift of sweet speech

Cuchulain called his charioteer to prepare his chariot with his two famous steeds, one grey and the other jet black, and off he went courting.

Emer and her sister were sitting on the grassy mound in front of the house and around them were their foster sisters, the daughters of farmers to whom Emer was teaching embroidery. Cuchulain came over to them and talked to Emer a long time. She said she was not anxious to marry, and advised him to take her sister. He was not to be put off. Then she told him that it was by great deeds of daring he could hope to win her love and that if he came back in a year a fully taught warrior she would marry him.

A Druidess
Alexandre Cabanel
19th Century
Wikimedia commons

Cuchulain went away for a year to Scotland to seek glory under the tuition of the great warrior queen, Sathach, but the thought of Emer was strong in his heart, and after a year he returned to Ireland. Meanwhile Emer’s father had made a match for her with Lughaidh, a king of Munster. A great feast was prepared, and Emer and Lughaidh were seated side by side. Then Emer told him that she loved Cuchulain and that no honourable man would force her to be his wife, and so Lughaidh withdrew.

Nevertheless, the path was still not made smooth for Cuchalain. Forail did not desire him for a son-in-law, and when he heard that he had returned to Ireland he and his sons fortified their dwelling, so that for a whole year Cuchulain did not get a glimpse of Emer.

Then at last he jumped his famous hero-leap over three walls of the dun and after a tremendous fight succeeded in carrying her off. He brought her to his home at Emain Macha.

by halfwise Sun Feb 14, 2021 9:08 pm

by Pettytyrant101 Sat Feb 20, 2021 2:13 pm

The word 'sidhe' which I translated as 'burial mound', is only half the meaning. It refers both to a physical burial mound, but also to the otherworld version of it at the same time. It implies both states at once.
By the time language came to name these people the idea of the people in the otherworld between life and death in the mounds was so ingrained that their word for burial mound and that otherworld within it were one and the same in meaning.
Its a nice little conformation in the language of what the folklore of the people who used the word in its original context was regards the mounds.
I think Tolkien would have approved. >>

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The Celtic Otherworld, in the myths and folktales from ancient Ireland, can be reached inside a hill, or through the depths of a lake, or across the sea. Oisín is taken by the sea to the Land of Youth, Tír na nÓg, by Niamh, the daughter of the king of that country, and he returns to Ireland a few weeks later only to find that many hundreds of years have passed in his absence. Ώ] In another Irish legend, Connla is given an apple by a mysterious woman and a month later, is visited by her again. She urges him to come with her to her country: "Come into my shining ship. though the bright sun is going down, we shall reach to that country before night. There is no living race in it but women and girls only." Connla went into her boat, and was never seen again. ΐ]

As recounted in the 12th-century The Voyage of Bran in the Old Irish Book of the Dun Cow, Bran mac Febail is visited by a mysterious woman urging him to sail to the Land of Women. Α] She is carrying an apple bough, like the sibyl carrying a bough who escorts Aeneas down into the underworld in Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid. Β] This mysterious woman urges Bran to set sail for the Land of Women, and on his return Bran, too, finds that many hundreds of years have passed in Ireland during his absence. In another tale from the Book of the Dun Cow, the voyager Máel Dúin sails a mysterious ocean, landing at one time on an Otherworldly island of glass in which a lady lives with a magical, grail-like pail, and another time on the Island of Women. Γ]

Genres and Geographies: Cultural Decolonization in Mike Newell's Into the West

Copyright © 1999 by Stanley Orr, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

In the film, Travellers must choose between assimilation, urban poverty, and nomadic wandering throughout the Irish countryside, where they are continually harassed. Newell's treatment of the Travellers might recall Joe Comerford's 1982 film Traveller , which portrays the group as "both the forgotten victims of progress" and as "a metaphor for the dispossessed nationalist people of the North" (McLoone 162). In the same spirit, Newell clearly upholds these Travellers as guardians of the beleaguered Celtic tradition. Though conspicuously American in his leather jacket and cowboy-boots, Papa Reilly also wears a Celtic-pattern tattoo on the back of his hand (an illuminated "M" in memory of his departed wife Mary). The Travellers' resistance to colonization is very much apparent in the sequence in which Papa celebrates his reunion with the Travellers by participating in a traditional dance. A medium-shot tableau of the dance juxtaposes the dancers against a small television screen in the lower right corner of the frame. As I suggest below, the TV screen, along with the cinematic, operates in the film as the tool of cultural imperialism. In this shot, however, only a few of the Travellers watch TV the majority turn to indigenous popular culture: broadcasts from metropolitan centers are present, but comprise only a small part of Irish Traveller life. A more obvious intrusion occurs as Inspector Bolger (Brendan Gleeson) pursues his "investigation" into the Traveller camp. Bolger castigates Reilly for "dancing like an animal" -- he has clearly subscribed to Anglo-imperial notions of Irish identity as inferior and "sub-human." But the Travellers here tellingly face him down to resume their dance, and, in a larger sense, their defiant lifestyle.

As William Hart's Romantic account suggests, savagery is, in the idiom of western imperialism, a short-hand for non-compliance. Synge would celebrate the "rebellious" Irish west in plays such as Playboy of the Western World (1907), in which a young prodigal assumes mythic, heroic proportions as he arrives in the coast of Mayo amidst stories that he has killed his father. The drama was certainly inspired by Synge's experiences in the west. Throughout The Aran Islands (1907), Synge captures the Irish perception of its western region as "the last Fortress of the Celt" (Hart 79), as a metonymic symbol of a people and a culture intact after successive waves of Roman, Christian, and English colonization.

Tito and Ossie fully enact the reverse journey common to postcolonial narratives: they have "hijacked" the outward-bound narrative of the American Western only to accomplish a homecoming, a voyage into the "spiritual reality" of the Irish west. By the conclusion of the film, Tito and Ossie surpass "terrain" altogether Ossie rides his horse into the western ocean, into the legendary "Tír na nÓg" itself.

In a lyrical sub-marine sequence, and a counterpoint to Riders , Ossie is saved from drowning by Tír na nÓg, who has metamorphosed into the supernatural figure of his departed mother.

Boehmer's assessment returns us to Into the West , itself a postcolonial text which yet retains the "genderings" endemic to imperial culture. Women are scarce in this "boy's film," and the two notable exceptions to this rule hardly disturb its masculine ethos. Mary Reilly certainly constitutes a central presence throughout the narrative: in the first movements she appears negatively as the domestic center whose disappearance dramatically destabilizes the Reilly household. When she duly "materializes," she appears not as a complex or realistic human figure, but rather as a spiritual other, an "icon of national values," a "custodian of tradition," and a symbol of "the integrity of the past." Mary is implicitly succeeded as Papa's wife by Kathleen, who, though perhaps more "tangible" and assertive than Mary (she refuses to be dismissed as a tracker) , yet occupies a circumscribed domestic role. Into the West is therefore possessed of a phallocentric perspective which ultimately limits its anti-colonial critique. It is as if this film, like so many earlier postcolonial texts, represents that "aggressive masculinity" which appears in the wake of an imperialism bent on maintaining power through the feminization of an entire colonized people (Boehmer 224).

Works Cited

Boehmer, Elleke. Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors . Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Hart, William E. "Introduction." Synge, John Millington. The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea . Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1966.

Heaney, Seamus. "Digging." Norton Anthology of British Literature . Vol 2. Eds. M.H. Abrams et al . New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1993.

McLoone, Martin. "National Cinema and Cultural Identity: Ireland and Europe." Border Crossing: Film in Ireland, Britain, and Europe . Eds. John Hill, Martin McLoone, and Paul Hainsworth. Institute of Irish Studies British Film Institute, 1994. 146-73.

Newell, Mike, dir. Into the West . Perf. Rúaidhrí Conroy, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Gabriel Byrne, Ellen Barkin. Parallel Films, 1992.

Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation . London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Ryan, Simon. "Inscribing the Emptiness: Cartography, exploration and the construction of Australia. " Eds. Chris Tiffin and Alan Lawson. De-Scribing Empire: Post-Colonialism and Textuality . London and New York: Routledge, 1994. 115-130.

Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America . New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.

Synge, John Millington . The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea . Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1966.

Valerie Coghlan (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Coghlan, Valerie. "Ireland." In International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, edited by Peter Hunt, pp. 695-98. London, England: Routledge, 1996.

Siobhán Parkinson (essay date March-April 2001)

SOURCE: Parkinson, Siobhán. "A View from the Other Island: Children's Books in Ireland." Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 2 (March-April 2001): 173-78.

[In the following essay, Parkinson discusses recent developments in Irish children's literature which have shifted the genre away from its long-standing Anglo-centric roots towards greater representation by Irish-born writers.]

In my country, at the first hint that one is a children's writer, otherwise thoughtful and sometimes even moderately cynical adults will launch into lauds. Words like wonderful and great will be used, whether or not such adjectives are remotely justified by one's work—the mere fact of doing it is, apparently, praiseworthy in itself, rather in the way that giving money to the poor is, or being kind to the infirm. One will be told at length, with much sorrowful shaking of the head and as if the speaker is the first person to have had this piercing (and wildly inaccurate) insight, how dreadful it was "when we were children—nothing but Enid Blyton."

There is in fact an honorable tradition in Ireland of writing for children, going right back to Maria Edgeworth. (Perhaps honorable is not quite the word—or, on second thought, perhaps it is rather too accurate.) Indeed, though its status as a children's book is questionable, we might even go back as far as Gulliver's Travels. Still (for all sorts of reasons, political, economic, and cultural), the Irish tradition of writing for children is quite a thin one, certainly by comparison with that of our nearest neighbor. When people say "nothing but Enid Blyton," what they mean is that, with some exceptions (notably Patricia Lynch), there was very little writing for children here between the foundation of the state (1922) and the current so-called flowering of Irish writing and publishing for children. Most Irish adults, even those now only in their thirties, relied very heavily in childhood on whatever was being written for and read by children in Britain. We all grew up not only on Enid Blyton but also on William and Jennings, Paddington and Pooh, Greyfriars and the Chalet School, Biggles and the Borrowers. It was not exclusively a British diet, to be sure: we had access to a certain little house on the prairie, and we had heroines like Pollyanna, Anne, and Caddie we had the March sisters, too, and the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins (the last deliberately imported from America in the mid-century, as Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature Declan Kiberd has said, in order to divert Irish children from perfidious British influence). But by and large, the world we read about was a British one.

It might be expected that the sheer volume of English fiction we read would have tended to suggest, even in vehemently-differentiated-from-England, Catholic nationalist Ireland, that England represented the norm. And it's true that we accepted this world of nannies and nursery teas, boarding schools and (field) hockey matches, vicarages and village fetes words—like poorly, pillar-box, Father Christmas, and apple pie—that an Irish child would be unlikely to use or even to hear much (it's always apple tart in this country, whether or not it has a top crust) place names like Maidstone and Piccadilly Circus and things like anchovy toast, Guy Fawkes Day, the Tube, Yorkshire pudding, and Hadrian's Wall.

We did accept all this, but not as the norm. We knew it was alien, exotic even. What happened in books was not what happened in experience, not because the books were fantasies, but because the experience they described was somebody else's. We didn't think of it like that, of course. It was just what went on "in books."

Being, as far as we were concerned, a mythical place, the England of our childhood reading was perhaps more enchanting for us than it was for the children for whom it was a reality. It was even a little disappointing to grow up and find that the Tube, for example, actually exists. I still find walking around London rather disconcerting: I cannot bring myself fully to believe that it wasn't all invented by E. Nesbit. Indeed, to find that London is real is almost as surprising as it might be to discover that Narnia is the next station after Mornington Crescent.

Since the 1980s, though, we have a steadily growing range of books written by Irish writers, set in Irish contexts, featuring Irish characters, and published in Ireland for Irish children, some of them in the Irish (Gaelic) language. Now, in addition to continuing easy access to British children's literature, Irish children have the option of reading about their own experience and their own country, and this can only be counted a Good Thing.

Nowhere is this more salient than in the area of historical fiction, and it is hardly a coincidence that the first wave of the recent resurgence of Irish children's literature contained a high proportion of fictional accounts of events in Irish history. One reason for this burst of Irish historical novels for children is surely that historical fiction is easily identifiable as the area in which Irish children's need for a literature of their own is most acute and indeed, historical fiction is the area in which Irish children's authors have been most sure-footed in their writing and in which Irish children have been best served by their writers.

Martin Waddell (a.k.a. Catherine Sefton), who is Northern Irish, claims to feel left out of the Irish children's book world. In fact he is much respected in the Republic, and it is not his Northern Irishness that tends to set him somewhat apart. When we talk about this recent flowering of Irish children's books, Waddell is sometimes overlooked, not because he is regarded as not-Irish, but because he has been flowering away all along. Moreover, and this is more important, he is published principally in Britain, rather than in Ireland, and it is this, along with his international reputation, that removes him slightly from the general Irish children's book scene, where international recognition is slow and the home market is the main focus of attention.

This perceived outsideness of Waddell and of Sam McBratney, who is also Northern Irish and also published mainly outside Ireland (and those facts are surely related), points up an essential feature of the current wave of Irish children's writing: it may not be entirely fair to say that the phenomenon has been publisher-driven, but it is certainly true that the growth and success of Irish publishers and their commitment to developing their children's lists has been crucial. Without the activities of a corps of Irish publishing houses publishing for children and marketing and publicizing Irish children's books, it is very likely that there would have been no "flowering" of Irish children's literature in the past decade or two.

The success in recent years of Irish children's publishing is due partly to the efforts of the publishers and writers themselves, partly to Arts Council and other government support (royalties for creative artists are tax-free), and largely to the growth in both the Irish economy and the Irish sense of self-esteem, particularly in cultural areas. It is one marker of the coming-of-age of a nation which, not all that long ago, exercised such draconian censorship that many of its writers fled its shores and over which loomed the shadow of a richer, stronger neighboring country that was a world center for English-language publishing.

If a certain level of economic stability and national self-confidence is a necessary condition for the existence of a thriving children's book culture, the activity of the children's book community is vital for its sustenance. Children's Books Ireland, an association of people professionally or personally interested in children's books, is the most general and accessible organization devoted to promoting children's books in this country. It publishes a twice- / thrice-yearly reviewing journal and runs seminars and similar events. CBI is of particular value to children's writers as a forum where they can meet, socialize, and exchange information. It comes in for criticism at times, but CBI remains at the heart of activity and thinking in the area of children's books in this country.

Part of CBI's work is the organization of the annual Bisto Book of the Year Award (£1500), with ancillary merit awards (£500 each). Along with the Reading Association of Ireland Award (which also has an ancillary merit award and is biennial and non-monetary), the Bisto serves to focus the thinking of those interested in children's books on the notoriously slippery concept of standards. As is the way with awards, not everyone agrees with the decisions of the judging panels, but both awards get it roughly right most of the time (at least if we extend our consideration to the shortlists rather than concentrating exclusively on the winners), and there is no doubt that the awards have played an important role in the setting and maintaining of standards in Irish children's publishing.

The main problem surrounding these awards is lack of media coverage and lack of debate. The shortlists are announced regularly regularly they are completely ignored. The winners may be mentioned in the press, or the authors' photographs published (the most recent Bisto winner even made it onto TV), but the books themselves are almost never discussed. Children's book people the world over will no doubt recognize this pattern, but the case is surely worse here than is general: utter silence on the subject of the shortlists a brief notification (sometimes) of the winners and a single, controversial article some years ago challenging the choice of winner, by a journalist whose motivation seemed to be largely extraliterary.

Indeed, CBI's own magazine, Children's Books in Ireland, serves us not much better in this regard. The shortlist is published in advance (sometimes barely in advance) of the announcement of the award, but the magazine publishes neither any consideration of the shortlist's deficiencies and omissions, nor any assessment of the books shortlisted, nor any speculation on the likely winners, nor any reaction to the choice of winners—none of the sort of coverage that is normal with regard to literary awards.

This seems to me to be a serious state of affairs. If children's books are forced to continue to exist in a ghetto, where coverage of awards is practically nonexistent and reviewing is, on the one hand, polite (as, with honorable exceptions, it tends to be in Children's Books in Ireland) and, on the other, both sparse and superficial (as, again with honorable exceptions, it tends to be in the general media), then this flowering of Irish children's books that we are all so busy admiring is in danger of running to seed. What, after all, is a flowering? Does it consist in a large number of books being published? Or has it something to do with quality? And who declares a flowering to be that, and not just a takeover by weeds?

Authors need considered responses to their books, and supplying these is surely one important function of the reviewing process. The composite reviews that the newspapers are so fond of, consisting largely of instant plot summaries of several titles, come into a category not far removed from advertising and serve a marketing function only (though there are reviewers who manage to say a lot in a paragraph).

I can think of several Irish children's writers who were well regarded not many years ago and who no longer write for children. Writers move on to other things, of course that is to be expected, and there are new authors coming up to take their place all the time but perhaps the loss of more than a few of our best children's writers is one warning signal that everything is not entirely rosy in the garden. Whether this has to do with lack of recognition, lack of finance, or disillusionment with publishers, we can only speculate.

Another warning signal is that, although the number of Irish publishing houses establishing children's lists is growing, one of our two largest publishers of Irish children's books, Poolbeg, seems to have withdrawn sharply from this area of publishing, leaving a single publisher, O'Brien Press (my own publisher, incidentally), dominating the market in Irish children's books. Other publishers active to varying degrees in children's books include Blackwater, The Children's Press, Mentor, Mercier, Wolfhound Press, and several Irish-language publishers. Wolfhound is O'Brien's closest rival, but publishes considerably fewer children's books annually. O'Brien is a fine publisher with an excellent children's list, but it is not good, either for children's books in general or for the publisher itself, for any one publisher to be pushed into such a position of dominance.

Another threat to the health of Irish children's publishing is the recent trend for Irish writers of children's books to look to Britain for publishing opportunities. It is difficult for Irish publishers to compete with the advances and markets that British publishers can offer (it is notoriously difficult for Irish publishers to penetrate the British market, which is already oversupplied with titles conversely, it is difficult to do deals with British publishers, who are reluctant to separate their territory, which they perceive as including Ireland, into British and Irish components), and it is unreasonable to expect writers to turn down these opportunities. But there is a danger, however remote, that Irish publishers—all small and independent—could eventually be forced out of children's books.

Perhaps a more likely outcome is the development of a two-tier system, where the "best" Irish children's books are published in Britain—that is to say, the books considered "best" by large, market-driven British publishing houses—leaving books of a distinctively local appeal, and perhaps the books of new Irish writers, to the Irish publishers. This might seem an ideal compromise, for Irish publishers are bound to benefit if authors on their lists become big names in the British market but in the long run Irish publishers, confined to a particular, more locally appealing type of children's book, might not have the range to build credible children's lists.

No child growing up in this country today is offered "nothing but Enid Blyton"—even if we take Blyton to stand for the whole of British children's books. And Irish children's publishing is visibly thriving. But there are threats and pressures, and even gardens in full flower—in fact, especially ones in full flower—need assiduous tending.

Ciara Ní Bhroin (essay date 2005)

SOURCE: Ní Bhroin, Ciara. "Championing Irish Literature." Bookbird 43, no. 2 (2005): 13-21.

[In the following essay, Ní Bhroin relates the pioneering role that Lady Augusta Gregory's Cuchulainn of Muirthemne played in the development of the Irish Literary Revival and the genre of Irish children's literature in general.]

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852–1932) was a leading member, along with the poet W. B. Yeats, of the Irish Literary Revival. She took a passionate interest in the Irish language, collected folktales, wrote several plays and was a founder member of the Abbey Theatre. In 1902, she published Cuchulainn of Muirthemne, a translation of the ancient Irish myth of Cuchulainn into a poetic vernacular English, intended for use in Irish schools. Now mainly of antiquarian or academic interest, Cuchulainn of Muirthemne was nevertheless a seminal book of the Revival and a rare instance of the innovative influence of Irish children's literature on that for adults.

In his influential essay 'On National Culture' Frantz Fanon (1961) argues that national consciousness is a precursor to international consciousness and that both should be informed by a humanist philosophy based on consciousness of social and political needs. Central to his theory of decolonisation is that 'the building of a nation is of necessity accompanied by the discovery and encouragement of universalizing values'. 'Far from keeping aloof from other nations', he argues, 'it is national liberation which leads the nation to play its part on the stage of history.'

In relation to the stage of international literature, it is certainly true that Ireland's greatest contribution was produced at a time of national awakening, a time that has come to be known as the Irish Literary Revival. An increasingly crisis-ridden Home Rule campaign had caused disillusionment with parliamentary politics in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century and led to the birth of local self-help initiatives (Mathews 2003). In tandem with activity in other areas was an increased cultural activity, much of which aimed at transcending the sectarian and political division of the time through evoking a shared glorious and heroic ancient past. Charles Stewart Parnell's charismatic leadership and tragic demise in 1891 no doubt inspired the cult of the tragic hero which permeates the literature of the Revival and is embodied in the archetypal image of Cuchulainn.

Transformative and Subversive Translation

A member of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, Lady Gregory was uncharacteristic of her class in her passion-ate nationalism. Cuchulainn of Muirthemne was written primarily to repudiate statements made by Drs Atkinson and Mahaffy of Trinity College in response to the demands of the distinguished Gaelic scholar, Douglas Hyde, that Irish language and literature be taught in secondary schools. They claimed that Irish literature lacked imagination and idealism, was generally either silly or obscene and should therefore not be introduced into the school system (O'Connor 1984 Kiberd 2000). Determined to defend the integrity of Irish literature and to prove Atkinson and Mahaffy wrong, Lady Gregory undertook the task of translating transcripts of the Cuchulainn tales recorded by Eugene O'Curry and collating them with other manuscripts, primarily those of Stokes, De Jubainville and Kuno Meyer.

Finding that the different versions lacked coherence, Gregory selected sections from many manuscripts, inserting a few sentences of her own to impose unity on the work as a whole. The result of her labours, Cuchulainn of Muirthemne, is characterised not only by the qualities of imagination and idealism, but also by the 'Kiltartanese' dialect (Hiberno-English as spoken in Lady Gregory's home area of Kiltartan, County Galway) in which it is written. This, more than anything else, distinguishes Cuchulainn of Muirthemne from previous translations into English of ancient Irish sagas and transforms the act of translation itself.

For other Anglo-Irish writers, such as Charlotte Brooke, Samuel Ferguson and Standish O'Grady, translation was an act of unification, a means of uniting Anglo-Irish and native Irish through a shared ancient culture and of enhancing esteem and partnership between Ireland and England within the context of Empire. Matthew Arnold's (1919) theories on the complementary natures of Celt and Saxon lent weight to a vision of union that accommodated and indeed encouraged Celtic difference. Though they embraced ancient Irish culture, the underlying motives of Brooke, Ferguson and O'Grady—the preservation of their own class and the naturalising of landlord-tenant relationships—were not very different from those of writers such as Maria Edgeworth, who rejected native tradition in favour of modern imperial progress. Indeed, Cairns and Richards (1988) describe the explicit identification of many Ascendancy intellectuals with Irish culture as a deliberate strategy amounting to 'little less than an act of cultural appropriation', an attempt to shape and control the emerging discourse in the interests of their own class.

Lady Gregory's translation of the Cuchulainn saga was subversive in a number of ways. Firstly, it was a deliberate challenge to the Trinity College professors who wished to denigrate Irish culture, an attempt to subvert the ideological control of the Trinity College establishment, which upheld the imperial values of a privileged class. To those who held the imperialist's contempt for the native culture and equally to those who enthusiastically sought to absorb its 'otherness' into imperialist hegemony, Lady Gregory intended to pose a challenge. She wished to validate native Irish culture through use of epic mythology and to show that this rich heritage was not the preserve of scholars and academics, but could be enjoyed by the masses through a living and distinctively Irish literature.

Lady Gregory's inclusiveness, her desire to make epic material available to the peasantry and to children—a powerless and often marginalised audience—was a direct contradiction of those, like Standish O'Grady, who urged writers 'to leave the heroic cycles alone and not to bring them down to the crowd' (Kiberd 2000). In her 'Dedication of the Irish Edition to the People of Kiltartan', she very deliberately addresses a native audience, a small local community, in an act that is the very antithesis of the provincialism which looks to the imperial capital. While distancing herself from the Trinity College establishment, she closely identifies herself with the local community in a manner similar to that of the oral storyteller.

However, Lady Gregory's description of herself in the book under discussion as 'a woman of the house, that has to be minding the place, and listening to complaints, and dividing her share of food' highlights the difficulty of the Ascendancy intellectual who wishes to identify with the native peasantry. Fanon has described the precarious position of the native intellectual wishing to reconnect with the peasantry, but alienated by an assimilative colonial education. The position of the Anglo-Irish intellectual, who was both settler and native, was doubly precarious, however. Any attempt by Lady Gregory to identify with the peasant perspective, particularly her use of dialect, involved the risk of unconsciously appearing patronising. Nevertheless, her desire to do so, however precarious, deserves acknowledgement, as does her use of dialect as an empowering means of self-expression. Indeed, what is most subversive about Cuchulainn of Muirthemne is the way in which it reshapes the imperial language.

Reshaping the Imperial Language

In his preface to Gregory's Cuchulainn, W. B. Yeats writes of the difficulty he had experienced in writing stories of medieval Irish life with no language available to him but 'raw, modern English'. The search for a fitting language to express ancient Irish experience and a new awakening Irish consciousness was the challenge facing Irish writers in the English language. Fanon (1961) has drawn attention to the problem facing the native artist trying to create an authentic cultural work using the imperial language and derived forms: 'He contents himself with stamping these instruments with a hall-mark which he wishes to be national, but which is strangely reminiscent of exoticism.' Ironically, emphasising the otherness of Irish writing, through use of dialect and through a stress on ancient spirituality, fed into imperial notions of Irish exceptionalism, as expounded by the theories of Matthew Arnold in particular. Yet such an emphasis seemed necessary in order to establish Irish distinctiveness and therefore justify the claim to a separate national identity.

Lady Gregory was hugely influenced in her choice of idiom by the prose translations in Douglas Hyde's Love Songs of Connacht (1893). Recognising the literary potential of a distinctively Irish rendering of the English language, Lady Gregory tried to evolve a style deriving partly from the speech of the local community of Kiltartan and partly from her knowledge of the Irish language and her experience of translation. The resulting idiom had the advantage of seeming truer to the original transcripts than previous translations, closer to the native oral tradition and similar to a living, though transitional dialect of peasants who still thought in Irish. While Standish O'Grady related the epics in a formal, apocalyptic style, using elegant Victorian English and little dialogue, Lady Gregory's aristocratic heroes and heroines speak in a peasant idiom, yet with ancient nobility. This is particularly effective in the laments throughout the book, those of Deirdre, Ferb and Emer and Cuchulainn's laments on the deaths of Ferdiad and of his son Conlaoch. The idiom captures the raw personal grief and elegiac dignity of the caoineadh (lament).

In radically altering the English language to give a new voice to awakening national consciousness, translations such as those of Hyde and Lady Gregory 'mark a transition from translation as an act of exegesis to translation as an agent of aesthetic and political renewal. Translations no longer simply bore witness to the past they were to actively shape a future' (Cronin 1996).

Decolonising the Future

The association of myth with the sacred and of epic with the heroic made Lady Gregory's choice of form alone an effective answer to any allegations of lowness of tone or lack of idealism in Irish literature. Irish mythology evoked an ancient Gaelic civilisation equal to that of Greece or Rome, with the added advantage of being relatively unknown to the modern world and therefore wonderfully new and unused. While literary critics of the time such as John Eglinton (1899) questioned the relevance to a modern literature of legends 'which cannot be transplanted into the world of modern sympathies', Fanon (1961) has shown that the reclamation of the past through myth is vital to the process of decolonisation. In delving into the pre-colonial past, the writer uncovers 'beyond the misery of today … some very beautiful and splendid era', whose existence 'rehabilitates the nation' and 'serves as a justification for the hope of a future national culture'. The past, therefore, is recovered with an eye to the future.

That Cuchulainn of Muirthemne was written for children is doubly significant: raising the consciousness of the young is a powerful way of shaping the future of a nation. In his study of Levi-Strauss's structural analysis of myth, Edmund Leach (1974) emphasises the important role of myth in conveying the ancient collective wisdom of a society to its junior members. As a vehicle of continuity between the ancestors and descendants of a race or nation, myth is a powerful antidote to the disruptive force of colonialism.

Furthermore, as a source of national 'rehabilitation' or salvation, myth is endowed with sacred significance. Terence Brown (1991) writes that

Cultural nationalism invests the records of the past with the spiritual charge of the sacred. Archaic texts are not simply archaeological remnants they are chapters in the sacred book of the people.

This is evident in Yeats's preface to Cuchulainn of Muirthemne, in which repeated references to the Bible, along with numerous classical allusions, emphasise the book's symbolic significance. Indeed, his close association of the people, the land and the sacred has echoes of the Old Testament in particular. Just as Abraham led the chosen people to the Promised Land, and Moses delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, the Revival writers aspired to reconnect the Irish people with their ancient past and with their native land, in order to awaken the national soul.

Cuchulainn as National Soul

The ultimate personification of national soul was Cuchulainn. Lady Gregory's Cuchulainn is characterised most notably by youth and vigour, but also by beauty, bravery and loyalty. He is semi-divine, son of the sun-god, Lugh, and of a human mother, Dechtire, and has access to the supernatural aid of the sidhe (fairy people) in times of trouble. Such qualities made him the ideal icon to regenerate a disillusioned and emasculated Ireland, traditionally figured as a poor old widow. Cuchulainn's supernatural conception and the wonderful boyhood deeds by which he earns his name anticipate his subsequent heroism. Indeed, he is still a boy when Cathbad the druid tells him, in Gregory's translation, that 'all the men in the whole world will some day have the name of Cuchulainn in their mouths'.

Cathbad's prophecy of great fame and early death establishes Cuchulainn as tragic hero on the very day he takes up arms. He is outrageously glorious in battle, defending Ulster single-handedly against the forces of Maeve and Ailell. In love, too, he is successful, wooing and winning the beautiful Emer through riddles and dangerous feats. Desirable to women and having numerous lovers, Cuchulainn's sexual vigour is directly antithetical to the prudish moral code that led to the denunciation of Parnell, whose relationship with a divorcée was considered scandalous.

The extent to which Lady Gregory herself subscribed to Victorian sensibilities in sanitising much of the sexual material of the saga is debatable. Indeed, P J Mathews (2003) argues that 'in some respects … Lady Gregory can be accused of internalising the colonial critiques of Mahaffy and Atkinson'. Undoubtedly, Lady Gregory did not want to leave her book open to any charges of 'indecency' or 'lowness of tone', an indication of the pressure felt by Irish writers following the Atkinson/Mahaffy controversy to prove the inherent purity and morality of Irish writing. That Cuchulainn of Muirthemne was intended for use in schools was also a major consideration—an early instance of the dilemma continually facing writers of children's literature and arising from the tension between the authenticity of a literary text and its perceived appropriateness to a juvenile audience.

As with all tragic heroes, Cuchulainn's sorrows are as great as his joys. His heart-rending battle with his boyhood friend, Ferdiad, is all the more tragic to the modern reader in the light of the Irish civil war, which broke out only twenty years after Cuchulainn of Muirthemne was first published. Most tragic of all is the unwitting killing of his son, Conlaoch, which is the subject of Yeats's play, On Baile's Strand (1904). The powerful image of Cuchulainn fighting the waves became for Yeats a symbol of the individual's struggle for heroism in a modern world.

Cuchulainn's death is in keeping with his life. Tying himself to a pillar in order to die fighting in an upright position, Cuchulainn is the ultimate Irish image of heroic self-sacrifice (see photo, p. 16). His short but intensely lived life exemplifies what Yeats (1902) writes of myths in general:

The great virtues, the great joys, the great privations come in the myths, and, as it were, take mankind between their naked arms, and without putting off their divinity.

Cuchulainn for Children

Declan Kiberd (2000) points out that all treatments of the Cuchulainn story are explorations of contemporary issues by means of a narrative set in the remote past. For Standish O'Grady, Cuchulainn served as an inspiring example of nobility to the Ascendancy class, while Yeats saw in him an inspiration to each individual to awaken an inner heroism. The Irish revolutionary Patrick Pearse saw in the young Cuchulainn a shining example for the youth of Ireland in particular and, more specifically, a means of inculcating patriotic fervour in his students at St Enda's boys' school. The obvious parallels with the Christian story, explored explicitly in Pearse's portrayal of Cuchulainn, lent weight to the cult of heroic self-sacrifice which inspired the revolutionaries of 1916.

Lady Gregory's portrayal, which omits some of the more grotesque accounts of Cuchulainn's occult powers, emphasises the hero's humanity. Without diminishing his heroism, she managed to create a character with whom modern readers could more easily identify. Moreover, since her intention was to demonstrate the idealism of Irish literature, it possibly seemed better to omit accounts of Cuchulainn's distortions, explaining instead that his appearance changed to that of a god.

Subsequent treatments of Cuchulainn in children's literature emphasise not only his humanity, but, unsurprisingly, his boyhood heroism. Indeed, many focus exclusively on Cuchulainn's boyhood deeds and in particular on how he got his name (by killing a dog, whose role as guard-dog he subsequently had to take on, thus becoming 'Cú Chulainn', the hound of Culann).

Symbol of Celtic Regeneration

All treatments of Cuchulainn, whatever their specific emphases, portray him as a symbol of regeneration. Furthermore, his heroic qualities rendered him the very antithesis of modern British philistinism and promoted an image of the romantic and noble Celtic spirit, at odds with a tawdry and essentially reductive modern world. Cuchulainn embodies what Arnold (1919) describes as the 'Titanism of the Celt, his passionate, turbulent, indomitable reaction against the despotism of fact', ironically the very quality which, according to Arnold, made the Celt unsuccessful in the material world and incapable of self-government. In promoting Arnold's image of the romantic Celt through a figure such as Cuchulainn, Revival writers were defining Irish national identity in discursive terms set by the colonial context.

Irishness thus became the antithesis of Britishness. Since an increasingly industrialised and urbanised Britain was seen to epitomise modernity, Ireland was conceived of as rural, spiritual and traditional. Irish cultural nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, therefore, was profoundly reactionary, and its apparent antimodern cast drew censure, not only from critics like John Eglinton, but also from Irish writers such as George Moore and James Joyce. However, Fanon (1961) argues that this reactionary stage is part of the process of decolonisation. Through the reclamation of a pre-colonial native culture, the writer reconnects with the native population and accords their shared past the value denied it by the colonial power. Essentialism, in such a context, becomes a strategic step in the resistance of imperial hegemony.

For writers such as Lady Gregory and Yeats, myth was the key to imaginative repossession of the past as an inspiration for the future. Equally important, it was the key to emotional reconnection with local places and landmarks and, by implication, to imaginary repossession of the land. Yeats (1902) urges the Irish people to keep Cuchulainn and his friends 'much in our hearts' and says that 'If we will but tell these stories to our children the Land will begin again to be a Holy Land'.

Irish Mythology and Children's Literature

Lady Gregory was one of the first of many writers to 'tell these stories' to Irish children in the English language but the promise of the Literary Revival was unfortunately not achieved in relation to Irish children's literature, which was characterised by its national orientation rather than its literary innovation. It was not until the 1980s, with the growth of an indigenous publishing industry for children's books, that a renaissance occurred in Irish children's literature. Nevertheless, the Revival marked the beginning of a fascination with myths, legends and folktales which remains prevalent in Irish children's literature today.

However, as Robert Dunbar (1996) points out, this inheritance

in the hands of the less gifted writer … has proved to be more of an encumbrance than an inspiration. This is a genre which too easily lends itself to clichés and stereotypes, both linguistic and thematic.

Cormac Mac Raois (1997), himself a writer of Irish fantasy for children, has questioned—with echoes of Yeats's reservations regarding Lady Gregory's exclusion of some sexual passages from Cuchulainn of Muirthemne—the appropriateness of retelling for children myths originally intended for adults, when sanitisation compromises authenticity: 'In the further toning down required for children's versions there is a risk of presenting a narrative of unappealing blandness.' Certainly, the current outpouring of glossy 'Irish myths and legends' collections needs scrutiny. It arguably reflects the wider fashion of packaging Celtic culture as a marketable commodity—in other words, nativism for profit—rather than a need to reinvent and recreate our ancient past, and by implication ourselves.

Cuchulainn of Muirthemne was a seminal book in translating tradition at a key moment in Ireland's decolonisation and in laying the foundations for a national children's literature in the English language, which is today gaining increased international exposure. Today, the notion of Irish exceptionalism in children's literature is giving way to the exploration of Irish experience as representative of human experience. An increasingly global Anglo-American culture, however, raises new questions about national identity and cultural diversity in the new millennium. Perhaps we should bear in mind Fanon's (1961) argument that

It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture.


Arnold, Matthew (1919) On the Study of Celtic Literature and Other Essays London: Dent.

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (1998) Key Concepts in Postcolonial Studies London: Routledge.

Brown, Terence (1991) 'Cultural Nationalism' in Seamus Deane (ed) The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing II: 188-93, Derry: Field Day Publications.

Cairns, David and Shaun Richards (1988) Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Culture Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Cronin, Michael (1996) Translating Ireland Cork: Cork University Press.

Dunbar, Robert (1996) 'Fantasy' in Valerie Coghlan and Celia Keenan (eds) The Big Guide to Children's Books pp 40-45, Dublin: Irish Children's Book Trust.

Eglinton, John (1899) 'National Drama and Contemporary Life' in Literary Ideals in Ireland, republished in Seamus Deane (ed) The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing II, pp 959-60, Derry: Field Day Publications 1991.

Fanon, Frantz (1961) 'On National Culture' in The Wretched of the Earth London: Penguin 2001, originally published in France (in 1961) by Francois Maspéro as Les damnés de la terre.

Gregory, Lady Augusta (1902) Cuchulainn of Muirthemne London: John Murray, republished Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1970.

Kiberd, Declan (2000) Irish Classics London: Vintage.

Leach, Edmund (1974) Levi-Strauss London: Fontana/Collins.

Mac Raois, Cormac (1997) 'Old Tales for New People: Irish Mythology Retold for Children' The Lion and the Unicorn 21: 330-40.

Mathews, P J (2003) Revival: The Abbey Theatre, Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League, and the Cooperative Movement Cork: Cork University Press.

O'Connor, Ulick (1984) Celtic Dawn: A Portrait of the Irish Literary Renaissance London: Hamish Hamilton.

Said, Edward (1990) 'Yeats and Decolonisation' in Dennis Walder (ed) Literature in the Modern World pp 34-41, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yeats, William Butler (1902) Preface to Lady Augusta Gregory Cuchulainn of Muirthemne London: John Murray, republished Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1970.

Celia Keenan (essay date 2006)

SOURCE: Keenan, Celia. "Ireland." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Volume 2, edited by Jack Zipes, pp. 296-99. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2006.

[In the following essay, Keenan offers an overview of Irish children's poetry and fiction, commenting that, "[t]hough territorial, political, and religious divisions are reflected in Irish literature for children, it does not make literary sense to consider the literature only in that light."]

The whole island of Ireland is considered in this article, though since 1922 the former British colony has been divided politically into independent Ireland and Northern Ireland, which has remained part of the United Kingdom and is a society divided along both religious and political lines. Though territorial, political, and religious divisions are reflected in Irish literature for children, it does not make literary sense to consider the literature only in that light.


The 9th-century Old Irish poem "Pangur Bán" (White Pangur) figures in translation in many contemporary Irish anthologies for children or edited by Irish anthologists, including The Rattle Bag (1982), edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, and Rusty Nails and Astronauts (1999), edited by Robert Dunbar and Gabriel Fitzmaurice. This charming poem about a scholar and his pet cat is probably the earliest example of Irish children's literature, and exemplifies its complex world. It is not known who wrote it, for whom it was written, when it was written, how it appears in manuscript, where it was written, or what other texts surround it. It is, however, indisputably a children's poem—more accessible and immediately resonant to young readers and much less oppressively didactic than works with similar themes such as Isaac Watts's "Against Idleness and Mischief."

In spite of "Pangur Bán" and the later Anglo-Irish examples of Oliver Goldsmith's playful verse such as "Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog" and the 19th-century Donegal poet William Allingham's evocative poems such as "The Fairies," contemporary Irish writing for young people is surprisingly thin in poetry. Mathew Sweeney's verses reenact young adult cynicism in Fatso in the Red Suit (1995). Gabriel Rosenstock, an Irish-language poet, has written a large number of humorous and thought-provoking poems in a variety of forms for young people. Pulitzer Prize—winning poet Paul Muldoon, who has an international reputation for his adult poetry, also published two books of poetry for children, The Last Thesaurus (1995) and The Noctuary of Narcissus Batt (1997), both notable for the variety and playfulness of their form and the sophistication and inventiveness of their language.


Irish children's fiction has less ancient roots than Irish children's poetry, but it is more substantial and continuous—though no less resistant to clear definition. Gulliver's Travels (1726) is a good example: Swift's savage and ultimately despairing work was not written for children, nor is it, in its unabridged form, suitable for them. By contrast, Goody Two Shoes (1765), presumed to have been written by Oliver Goldsmith, is clearly intended for children. Both these works take their place in an Irish canon. The conscious educational and political intentions of Maria Edgeworth characterize her children's fiction in the first half of the 19th century, a period dominated by Irish writers who, unlike those of America, Britain, and Continental Europe, are now of merely academic interest. Conflicting Unionist and nationalist ideologies are pitted against each other as the century moves on.

There was no golden age of Irish children's literature in that most miserable century in Irish history, with the Great Famine at its center. Frances Browne created modest literary fairy tales in the mid century. However, between 1888 and 1892 Oscar Wilde followed the example of Hans Christian Andersen by creating literary fairy tales that charmed children and continue to worry adults. These have not yet received the full critical attention they deserve. Given their Irish, socialist, Catholic, masochistic, and homoerotic possibilities, they are arguably richer and more complex than Wilde's richest adult works. Wilde's stories profoundly affected the founding father of modern Irish militant nationalism, the passionate educationalist and writer Patrick Pearse. His stories in Irish, Íosagán agus Scéalta Eile (Iosagan and Other Stories, 1907), echo almost all of Wilde's themes and many of his images, but are more spare and simple in language. The influence of Wilde's stories, in particular of "The Selfish Giant," is also evident in the work of the Belfast-born writer C. S. Lewis, creator of Narnia, the land "where it is always Winter and never Christmas."

Since the 19th century, Irish myth, legend, and folklore have continued to underpin much of what is written for children, and continue to be published with unabated popularity. Ella Young, Padraic Colum, Sinead de Valera, Liam MacUistín, Michael Scott, and Marie Heaney have been major contributors. The best-known illustrator of contemporary retellings is undoubtedly P. J. Lynch. Colmán Ó Raghallaigh and the Cartoon Saloon have published a stunning graphic novel in the Irish language, An Tóraíocht (The Hunt for Diarmuid and Gráinne, 2002). This modern version of a classic story speaks to the 21st century in its brutal and tragic power.

In the first half of the 20th century, an essentialist vision of a traditional Ireland finds its strongest expression in the fiction of Patricia Lynch. Subsequently Éilis Dillon enshrined the west of Ireland and Gaelic culture as proper bridges between traditional and modern societies, but in a literary landscape peopled by boy heroes and untouched by contemporary feminist thinking.

The Northern Ireland "Troubles" erupted in the late 1960s, and subsequently much children's literature illustrated the folly of sectarianism and extremism. The consistently best writing on this topic has come from within Northern Ireland itself, from three writers in particular: Martin Waddell, Sam McBratney, and Maeve Friel. Waddell's The Beat of a Drum presents a challenging and authentic view of a Loyalist community. McBratney in The Chieftains Daughter and Friel in Distant Voices view the present through the lens of the remote historical past.

The 1990s saw a rapid expansion in publishing for children in Ireland, which in the 2000s seems to be declining: some publishers have abandoned children's publishing, the number of books published has dropped dramatically, and state support for children's publishing has waned. It can only be hoped that writers whose work came to the fore in that period, including Marita Conlon-McKenna, Aubrey Flegg, Tom McCaughren, Mark O'Sullivan, Ré Ó'Laighléis, Siobhán Parkinson, and Gerard Whelan, can continue to write for children. British publishers have adopted a significant number of authors and illustrators who were initially published in Ireland, including Mary Arrigan, Eoin Colfer, Margaret Cruikshank, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Maeve Friel, Kate Thompson, and Niamh Sharkey. This can be seen as a welcome development for writers as it offers them better rewards however, the effects of globalization can be clearly seen in that their subsequent work is less obviously Irish both thematically and in its frame of reference. On a more positive note, the interrelated threads of writing in Irish and English are perhaps stronger in the 21st century than in earlier times, and awareness of children's literature continues to grow—as instanced in the activities of a range of societies such as Children's Books in Ireland and the recently formed Irish Society for the Study of Children's Literature.


Anderson, Celia Catlett, and Robert Dunbar, guest eds. The Lion and the Unicorn 21.3 (September 1997). Special issue on Irish children's literature.

Coghlan, Valerie, and Celia Keenan, eds. The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books. Dublin, Ireland: The Irish Children's Books Trust, 1996.

Coghlan, Valerie, and Celia Keenan, eds. The Big Guide 2: Irish Children's Books. Dublin, Ireland: Children's Books Ireland, 2000.

Inis, formerly Children's Books in Ireland, issue No. 1, 1989, ongoing.

Keenan, Celia, and Mary Shine Thompson, eds. Studies in Children's Literature, 1500–2000. Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts, 2004.

Miscellaneous Tracks

Dragoons - A heavily armed cavalryman in Celtic Mythology.

Red Knight - A warrior who was the guardian of Ulster during the days of Conchobar Mac Nessa (King Of Ulster). Cúchulainn was the most accepted of all Red Knights in Celtic mythology.

Take-Flight - he act of a winged species preparing to fly.

Red Branch Cycle - Known as the Ulster Cycle as well. This is the great heroic cycle of Irish mythology. As far back as the Irish tradition goes, there is an enormous institute of &ldquoknighthood&rdquo within the Red Branch Cycle.

Ross The Red - Founder of the Red Branch Cycle, who wed Maga, daughter of the god Aonghus Óg. Ross The Red designed their banner, which had a yellow lion on a green field of silk.

Watch the video: The myth of Oisín and the land of eternal youth - Iseult Gillespie (January 2022).