Saturday, November 22, 2008


There are two things that drew me to Irish culture years before I began
researching genealogy: its music and its mythology. I'll most likely be
discussing the music in a future blogpost, so this post will focus on the
latter subject.

I've written before about the oldest book in my bookcase, an edition
of King Arthur and His Knights that my parents purchased for me
when I was around 8 years old. It sparked an interest in history and
mythology that continues to this day. By the time I'd entered college
I'd read every book I could get my hands on about classical mythology
or medieval epics but I knew very little about Irish mythology. The
only encounter I'd had with it was a brief article on Strongbow and
Red Eva in a childrens' book of world mythology.

Then I found two books in the college bookstore: Irish Sagas edited by
Myles Dillon and The First Book of Irish Myths and Legends by Eoin
Neeson. Neeson retells four stories:

"The Fate of the Children of Tuireann" in which three brothers are
assigned eight impossible tasks by Lugh to atone for the killing of his
father Cian.

"The Wooing of Etain", the story of the Sidhe Lord Midhir and his lost
wife Etain.

"The Combat at the Ford", the tale of Cuchulain's epic battle with his
friend Ferdia, the champion of Connacht.

"Deidre and the Sons of Usna" which is about the doomed lovers Deidre
and Naisi, one of the great love stories of medieval literature.

Professor Dillon's book is a collection of lectures on Irish epics such as the
"Fionghal Ronain" (How Ronan Killed His Son).a tale of a wicked stepmother
and her doomed stepson, and "Tain Bo Cuailnge"(The Cattle Raid of Cooley)
in which the teenaged Cuchulain withstands the army of Connacht.

I was hooked. There weren't many books easily found on Irish mythology
at the time but my search led me to Joseph Campbell's books. And now with
the advent of the computer age there are hundreds of websites and entries on
the internet.

The Irish epic myths are beautifully lyrical works and reflect, I think, that
love of language that runs through all of Irish literature and song. So while
I love Irish music, my first love of Irish culture was for its mythology.

Read the story of Etain or Deidre, and I think you'll see why.

Written for the 10th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture.


Lori Thornton said...

You've been tagged in the "8 Things About Me-Me."

Becky said...

Hi Bill, we're playing tag again, and you're it! (I didn't realize that Lori had already tagged you!)