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Treasures Of Irish Folklore by Colm Duggan
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Treasures Of Irish Folklore

by Colm Duggan

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Published in the early 1980s, this oversize picture book was originally Colm Duggan's degree project at the National College of Art and Design, in Dublin, and contains fifteen poems and tales, taken from the Irish folk tradition. Here the reader will discover:

Pangur Bán, an Old Irish poem, in which a medieval monk compares his activities with those of his cat. Duggan thanks one "Mel Cameron" in connection to this poem, in his acknowledgments at the front of the book, leading me to conclude that he is the translator...

The Stone of Truth, in which dishonest Paidir makes three attempts to rid his village of the sacred stone, upon which St. Patrick was said to have knelt, and which forced anyone standing upon it to speak the truth.

Midir and Etain, in which the fairy prince Midir falls in love with the beautiful Etain, causing his betrothed, the vengeful Fuamnach, to curse his love. Transformed into a butterfly, Etain is blown from place to place, until she is swallowed by the mortal Queen Grainne, and reborn as the Princess Niamh. Midir, still searching for his lost love, eventually finds her in this new shape, only to learn that she is to marry Donal, High King of Ireland. Needless to say, this is not the end, as Midir challenges the king to a game of chess, with a kiss from Niamh as the prize...

There are many variants of this tale, some of which end with Midir's triumph, and some of which conclude with his defeat. In Duggan's retelling, Midir and Niamh escape together as swans, and are not pursued by the High King (sometimes also known as Eochu Airem). No mention is made of Midir's heritage, as the son of the Dagda, or his connection to the Tuatha Dé Danann. Also of interest is the fact that Midir and Donal are said to play chess, rather than the more traditional Celtic board game, fidhcheall.

The Raven, the Blood and the Snow, which some readers may know as The King of Ireland's Son, in which a prince, having killed a raven in the snow, vows to find a maiden with hair as black as its feathers, skin as white as the snow, and lips as red as its blood. Setting out upon his quest, young Prince Cormac is soon joined by a strange little man in red, who helps him to defeat three giants, and win the hand of Una, the Cruel Princess of the East. This well-known story is rich in motifs that will be familiar to any folklore enthusiast. From the "three colors" - so reminiscent of Snow White - to the all-important assistance of the "grateful dead," this is a fascinating, and very intricate adventure tale...

The Bird of the Golden Land, in which a king with three sons decides to give his kingdom to the one who can bring him the famed "Bird of the Golden Land." Caoimhaoin, Macha and Lorcan begin by working together, but it is the youngest (and smallest) of the three who is actually able to enter the Golden Land, where he is assisted by a magical, talking donkey...

The Prince and the Mermaid, in which Prince Ferdia falls in love with a beautiful mermaid, and, by stealing her shawl, forces her to become his wife. Needless to say, this bodes ill for him, in the long run, and he eventually loses all he holds most dear. I suspect that this tale-type, so similar to Scots selkie-lore, is meant to emphasize the irresistible enchantment of the feminine, but for me, it simply highlights that attempting to enslave that which you "love" never ends well...

The Hag's Leather Bag, in which two young sisters, Orla and Aideen, each set out to find work after an old hag steals their mother's money bag. Orla leaves with a full loaf of bread and no mother's blessing, while Aideen leaves with half a loaf and the blessing. Naturally, they meet with very different fates, in this story that emphasizes both the importance of a mother's blessing, and the value of kindness and generosity.

The Bee, the Harp, the Mouse and the Bumclock, in which young Fergal trades all three of his mother's cows for an enchanted bee who plays the harp, and a dancing mouse and bumclock. With this unlikely investment, Fergal wins the hand of a princess, and changes his fortune. I recently encountered this tale in Naomi Adler's Play Me A Story: Nine Tales About Musical Instruments, where it was titled Fairy Music, and included a cricket, rather than a "bumclock" - a term I had never encountered before, but which apparently is a Scots word for beetle. Who knew? Perhaps this term found its way to the northern Ireland of Mr. Duggan's youth?

The Cap and the Red Silken Scarf, in which clever Seamus captures a leprechaun, and forces him to disclose the location of his gold, only to discover that his adversary is cleverer than he. This was another familiar tale, and a variant can be found in Bairbre McCarthy's The Keeper of the Crock of Gold: Irish Leprechaun Tales, as Conor McHugh and the Leprechaun.

A Weasel's Wealth, a chilling tale in which farmer Pádraig O'Kelly finds his fortune going up, and then down, when he acquires a weasel/hag's gold, but neglects his promise to her...

The First Cat and Mouse, in which an old Druid rewards a kind miller, and punishes his stingy assistant, bringing the first cat and mouse into the world...

The Cat, a brief tale in which Bán the cat and Finn the dog have a race, to determine which will have the privilege of living indoors... This reminded me a bit of the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, although the scene where Finn is beaten made me rather heartsick.

Lough Allen's Little People, in which a careless young woman forgets to cover the fairy spring, causing a flood that inundates her village, and creates Lough Allen.

The Pooka, in which a stubborn farmer named Tom Dorney faces off against the pooka in his swamp, but discovers that the vengeful spirit has a longer memory than he...

And finally, King of the Birds, in which the lowly wren steals a ride with eagle, thereby managing to fly the highest, and be declared "King of the Birds."

I enjoyed this collection, particularly those tales I had already encountered, as I always welcome the chance to compare variants. Duggan's black and white drawings were quite appealing, although his color plates were less to my liking. They seemed far too much like a certain style of fantasy art - Boris Vallejo does Ireland, if you will. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Jul 11, 2013 |
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A collection of fifteen short tales, each portraying a different facet of Irish folklore.
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