Monday, November 26, 2018

Tales of endless adventures (Following folktales around the world 93. - Republic of Ireland)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folktales of Ireland
Sean O'Sullivan
University of Chicago Press, 1968.

Yet another classic on any storyteller's bookshelf. It contains fifty-five stories, divided into thematic chapters (Animals and birds, Kings and warriors, Wizards and witches, etc.). It has a long and detailed Foreword and Introduction about the history of Irish folklore collection and storytelling. Each tale comes with detailed notes, sources, type numbers, as well as a glossary and a bibliography at the end of the book. As a 20th century folklore collection, the book is missing the well known big Irish legends, but it has plenty of amazing lesser known folk stories.


Many of the stories in the book are long, complex, multi-episode wonder tales. For example, I loved the story of Céatach, an apprentice magician who rescued his master's daughter from Steel Skull, ended up in Ireland, went through quests to keep her from the Fianna, died, and was brought back eventually by his crafty wife. This was also not the only story where the Fianna made an appearance. In one legend, we found out how the heroes of the Fianna got their magical abilities from a woman named Youth; in another, we got a backstory for the birth of Oscar, Oisín's son, and his adventures in finding his place among the heroes (this one also told about Goll Mac Morna defeating three witches). Nex to the Fians, Cú Chulainn also appeared in one tale, although more as a storyteller rather than a warrior.
One of the deepest, more complex stories in the book was that of The man who was rescued from hell. In it, a woman left her abusive husband, found a new home with her mother, fell in love with a cursed man, and went all the way to hell to save him, herself, and many other souls (including her ex-husband). Similarly hard-hitting was the story where a man visited the Queen of the Planets to ask some questions, and got to witness how she decides the fates of people in various gruesome ways. Among the historical legends, the most fascinating was about the friar who foretold Cromwell's invasion, and helped a man keep his Irish lands. In the end, Cromwell went to hell, obviously.
Among the fairy legends, my favorite was Seán Palmer's voyage to America with the fairies - the man visited his friends and relatives in New York and Boston within one night, and got home to Ireland by morning. Apart from fairies, a leprechaun was also mentioned - but here, instead of giving away treasure, it just laughed at the misfortunes of its captor. Of the stories about witches and wizards, the best one was that of the Black Art, in which a father realized his wife was a witch when he saw his little girl playing at sinking ships by magic...


The story of the Cold May night resembled the Welsh story of the Ancient of the World - an eagle set out to find the oldest living creature, and ended up realizing that Old Crow had been alive longer than anyone in the world. After Scotland I once again found a Man who had no story (but got one by the end of a wild magic-filled night), Heather ale (here the secret recipe belonged to the Danes, rather than the Picts), and a Cow that ate the piper (or so it appeared). Many of the fairy legends had familiar elements in them, such as the fairy midwife.
The story of the four-leafed shamrock resembled the Grimm tale fo the Rooster Beam, in which a clover allowed its owner to see through a magician's illusions.
Among tricksters we had the fox who outwitted animals and people alike (e.g. by pretending to be dead), but the most well-known was Daniel O'Connell, who picked up a lot of classic trickster motifs along the way - such as a "smell of money for the smell of food" type story.

Where to next?

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