So, you think you know a thing or two about Irish myth?
There’s yer man with the salmon of knowledge, whatsisface, and there’s that other one, Cuchulainn, he was definitely important. He killed a dog, but in a good way? And something about the Giant’s Causeway…? Definitely Oisín, the lad who went to Tir na nÓg on holiday and accidentally whiled away a thousand years without sending so much as a postcard. Oh! And those swan children, the really really ridiculously sad one. Wait, aren’t they all really sad?
What’s sad is this is where most of us are at when it comes to remembering Irish myth. We heard the stories as children, after all, and telling these tales exclusively to children is a bit like trying to explain Game of Thrones to a nine-year-old. First of all, you’d have to leave out most of it, and then, how would you make it make sense?
But that’s what happened to mythology, and not just here. We all got delusions of rationality, and decided we were far too scientific and logical to believe in talking swans or horses that walk on water (everybody knows there’s only one lad that walks on water!), and therefore they must be only suitable for children. And then we set about trying to make these stories suitable for children. And so they became pale shadows of themselves, stripped of gore and glory, with all the flirtation cut out and all the sexy bits elided, and all those interesting, confusing shades of grey washed out and turned into harsh black and white.
We’re not OK with that.
First of all, it’s not all heroes beating the shite out of each other from morning to night (though there is a bit of that). We have a whole set of King stories, tales of good governance and how to serve the people and not just feather your own nest. We might need a bit of that these days, don’t you think? We stopped telling those stories when we didn’t govern ourselves, but we’ve been doing that for a while now, so it’s about time we started to talk about Cormac Mac Art again, and Conaire Mór, and Mongan and their like, and tell each other what it takes to be a leader.
Then there are the stories of where we came from, of who we are. And we are… from everywhere. That’s right. The ancient tales of Ireland tell us that Irish people are Irish because they live in Ireland. The land was here first and wave after wave of people came to it, which you can read about in the Book of Invasions.
Those warriors have a bit more to them than you might have thought, too. The greatest of them trained by women, who were the greatest warriors of their day, and set to tasks that are beyond their abilities, tasks that they rise to anyway, though it breaks their hearts.
There is all this to discover and more, in Irish Myth! And Candlelit Tales are here to help you find your way through the twists of conflicting versions and the tangles of prose!