Irish Folk Tales: Myths and Folklore of Ireland



Book: Irish Folk Tales: Myths and Folklore of Ireland

Author: Jeremiah Curtin

Publisher: Pantheon, fifth edition republished in 1985

ISBN-13: 978-0394746371

ISBN-10: 0394746376

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up

Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Curtin, Jeremiah.  Irish Folk Tales: Myths and Folklore of Ireland (originally published in 1892-93 by the New York Sun; reprinted in 1941-1942 by Bealoideas, journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, Dublin, Ireland; republished as a book in 1960 by The Talbot Press Ltd., 89 Talbot St., Dublin, Ireland).  Jeremiah Curtin (September 6, 1835–December 14, 1906) was an American translator and folklorist.  Born in Detroit, MI, Curtin spent his early life in what is now, Greendale, WI, and later graduated from Harvard College in 1863. In 1864 he went to Russia, where he worked as both a translator and for the U.S. legation. He left Russia in 1877, stayed a year in London, and returned to the United States, where he worked for the Bureau of Ethnology.  In addition to publishing collections of fairy tales, folklore and writings about his travels, Curtin translated a number of volumes by Henryk Sienkiewicz, most famously and profitably, Quo Vadis (1897).

Curtin visited Ireland in 1887 to collect folklore from various Irish story tellers.  During his life, he published three outstanding collections of Irish tales, entitled Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland (1890), Hero-Tales of Ireland (1894), and Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World (1895).  This particular volume, Irish Folk Tales, contains sixteen additional tales that were contributed to the New York Sun and appearing in the Sunday supplements.  They were republished in 1941-42 in Bealoideas, the journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, and then as a book for the Folklore Society by the Talbot Press in 1944.  My copy is the fourth printing of 1960.  These folk tales represent hundreds of years of the collective Irish imagination which will transport readers to a world where everything is alive and anything can happen, with vivid descriptions of battles with giants, dead men who come back to life, humans imprisoned in animals’ bodies, heroes with incredible strength, and more.

I enjoy folklore, but I found these stories a bit hard to follow at times.  They are definitely not for young children.  Besides a couple of references to smoking a pipe and drinking wine and beer, most of them are quite wild and fantastic; some are rather gross, with a lot of severing heads and gushing blood, and even grotesque, with at least one of those severed heads talking.  A few of them involve out of wedlock births, one is about the devil, and another has a king marrying his twelve sons to his twelve daughters.  For example in the very first one, a king who  is married and has three sons is whisked away to a strange island where he has a son by another woman, but when he returns home he finds that what he thought were his three sons were actually fathered by the king’s pig sticker, gardener, and driver.  Older teens and adults who really like folk tales or who are fond of all things Irish might like this book, but I doubt if it will appeal to most people.

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