Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tales From Old Ireland

Tales from Old Ireland was retold by Malachi Doyle and illustrated by Niamh Sharkey.  It was published in 2000 by Barefoot Books.

When looking for a collection of traditional tales, Tales from Old Ireland caught my eye because it is stories from Ireland  I have ancestors from Ireland and it is on my bucket list to visit Ireland, so I thought it would be interesting to read some traditional tales from my ancestors since I have never heard any from my family.

Doyle tells us in her introduction, "The Irish oral tradition is one of the richest in the world -- stories have been told around our firesides for thousands of years and tradition has never died.  Some of the myths and legends, folk and fairy tales told now are the same ones that were heard in the times of the early Celts, long before Christianity came to Ireland.  Others were written down by monks as early as the seventh century, but most were passed on solely by word of mouth.  In the nineteenth century, people began to collect and published the songs and stories that had survived, gathering them from the country people, mainly in the Irish language. When the Irish Folklore Commission was set up in the1930s, one of the ways it went about its job was to encourage schoolchildren to ask the oldest people in their area to tell them their stories.  The greatest collection of folklore in the word was thus assembled, and it is now held at University College, Dublin."

This book has a collection of seven stories -- (1) The Children of Lir, (2) Fair, Brown, and Trembling, (3) The Twelve Wild Geese, (4) Lusmore and the Fairies, (5) Son of an Otter, Son of a Wolf, (6) The Soul Cages, and (7) Oisin in Tir na nOg. 

The first two stories reminded me of Cinderella -- The Children of Lir because it has a jealous stepmother who hates her stepchildren.  There are four children; three boys and a girl, and their new step mother hates them from the second she sets her eyes on them. She tries to have someone kill them, but is refused, so instead she turns them into swans, cursing them with 900 years of confinement to the lakes.  They are able to speak and think, but cannot change back to their human form.  When their father finds out what his new wife has done, he curses her to be ugly for the rest of her life and visits his children at the lake as often as possible.  At the end of their 900 years, they are able to turn back into humans, "but they are 900 years old, so they die."  I didn't really get the message of this tale.  They never succeeded in trumping their stepmother or moving beyond their curse.

Fair, Brown and Trembling was more like Cinderella than The Children of Lir.  It was about three sisters -- the older two, Fair and Brown, are snobby and selfish, while the youngest, Trembling is caring and selfless.  Trembling cleans the house and makes all of the meals for her sisters and mother while the others demean her and take her for granted.  While the others go to church, Trembling has to stay home in her clothing of rags.  Her henwife came into the home and asked what Trembling would like to wear. When she described her perfect dress -- "a dress as white as the winter snow with emerald shoes for my feet" -- the henwife produces it and sent Trembling to church with the warning to not enter the church and not allow any of the men to catch up with her.  This was repeated three times, with three different outfits, until a man did catch up with her.  He knocked her shoe off and had to scour the town to find Trembling and marry her. 

Although the first two stories were my favorite, I did also like Lusmore and the Fairies.  This tale had an actual message, as it shows what happens to those who are kind versus those who are mean and rude.  Lusmore is a hunchbacked man who could hear the fairies singing -- "Monday, Tuesday, Monday Tuesday, Monday Tuesday, pause.  Monday, Tuesday,  Monday, Tuesday, Monday, Tuesday, pause." He  started to get annoyed with the fairies only singing the two days, so on their pause, he said, "Wednesday." The fairies were so grateful for his kind word and gentle demeanor that they brought him back to their home and magically took off his hump.  He was able to stand tall for the first time in his life.  When word got out, another man tried the same thing.  Now the fairies were singing "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday" and the man gruffly yelled "Thursday Friday!"  They were so upset with him for the way he spoke to them that they took him back to their home and added another hump to his back.  I feel as thought this tale teaches others that tone is also important.  What you say is not always as important as how you say it and it can change what people think of you.

I had never heard versions of many of these tales.  I found several of them weird, as they had people mating with animals and fish being more wise than people.  If you would like to read all of the tales, you can find the book at Worldcat

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