The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel

Full Title: Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel: Kingship and Narrative Artistry in a Mediaeval Irish Saga

Author:  Ralph O’Connor

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford

Published: May 5th 2013

ISBN: 9780199666133

Pages: Hardcover, 386. Including GlosCsary, Works Cited and Index

Cover of the Book


Irish saga literature represents the largest collection of vernacular narrative in existence from the early Middle Ages, using the tools of Christian literacy to retell myths and legends about the pagan past. This unique corpus remains marginal to standard histories of Western literature: its tales are widely read, but their literary artistry remains a puzzle to many even within Celtic studies. This book, the first monograph to offer a systematic literary analysis of any single native Irish tale, aims to show how one particularly celebrated saga ‘works’ as a story: the Middle Irish tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga (The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel), which James Carney called ‘the finest saga of the early period’. This epic tale tells how the legendary king Conaire was raised by a shadowy Otherworld to the kingship of Tara and, after a fatal error of judgement, was hounded by spectres to an untimely death at Da Derga’s Hostel at the hands of his own foster-brothers. By turns lyrical and laconic, and rich in native mythological imagery, the story is told with a dramatic intensity worthy of Greek tragedy, and the intricate symmetry of its narrative procedure recalls the visual patterning of illuminated manuscripts such as The Book of Kells. This book invites the reader to enjoy and understand this literary masterpiece, explaining its narrative artistry within its native, classical and biblical literary contexts. Against a historical backdrop of shifting ideologies of Christian kingship, it interprets the saga’s possible significance for contemporary audiences as a questioning exploration of the challenges and paradoxes of kingship.


Ralph O’Connor’s study is the most comprehensive study of “The Destruction of Derga’s Hostel” that I have read so far. The book only has 10 chapters and yet it manages to have a comprehensive analysis of the saga. 

The first chapter talks about the textual background of the story without being too boring to the layman but still having enough interesting information to hold the interest of someone who is more interested in manuscripts. Chapters 2 to 7, provide a close reading of the text and takes the reader through the life of Conaire from his birth to his death. Chapters 8 and 9 take a close look at the Biblical dimension of the story. It looks at the classical/Biblical versus vernacular influences. And finally, Chapter 10 looks at the reception of the text by its original audience, while at the same time giving a historical framework for contemporary ideas of kingship.

The book also has a glossary of jargon, Irish and Latin terms and has tables and figures to explain the complicated structure of the story. What I loved most is that each chapter has sections which can be read alone so you don’t feel like you have to read the whole chapter in one sitting to get the full picture of what the author is trying to say. Also, the way the author challenges assumptions and revisits questions asked by other scholars before. 

I liked how the author compared the usages of the geisi in the Irish sagas to the way that prophecies are used in Greek sagas. I love the way he looks at the assumption that just because something looks like it is Biblical on the surface then it has to be of Biblical influence.

All in all, I really enjoyed everything in this book and I highly recommend it.


Full title: Cath Maige Mucrama – The Battle of Mag Mucrama (Volume # 50)

Edited by: Máirín O Daly

Publisher: Irish Text Society

Published: First published in 1975, Reprinted 1997

ISBN: 1 870 16650 7

Pages: 157 pages, includes Introduction, Appendix, Notes, Index to Notes, Names of Persons, Names of Peoples, and Names of Places.

Pretty Green Book
Title Page
Table of Contents

REVIEW: As usual with these books I’m not going to review the content of the myth rather I’m going to comment on the Introduction and the way the book is put together.

The Introduction starts by telling the reader that none of the texts that will appear in the book is appearing for the first time.

The editor then goes on to tell the reader about the texts used and when they were edited and by who. The editor then tells us why the order of the texts in the book were put in that way.

The Introduction also introduces the names and personalities of the characters in the myths. I found this section interesting but be warned Irish is used so if you don’t have Irish this section will be a bit difficult.

Another thing discussed in the Introduction are the motifs found in the stories, there are 6 of them.

Next the language of the texts is discussed along with the Archaisms preserved in the texts. Again, no Irish is going to hinder your understanding of the analysis of the language of the texts.

Finally, the editorial method is discussed briefly.

The Cath Maige Mucrama starts on page 38 and ends on page 63. Scéla Éogain begins on page 64 and ends on page 73. Scéla Mosaulum begins on page 74 and ends on page 87. Cath Cinn Abrad begins on page 88 and ends on page 93. All the stories have one page in Irish (on the left) and its translation in English (on the right). The Appendix is in Irish and the notes on the stories stat on page 102. Names of Persons starts on page 152, Names of People on page 155, and finally Names of Places on page 156.

As usual the book was a joy to read. I got to review my Irish (even though I had to break out the dictionary a lot) and enjoy some good myths along the way.


Full Title: Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach (The Violent Death of Uisneach

Edited and Translated by: Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith

Published by: Irish Texts Society

Published: October 1993

ISBN: 1 870 16656 6

Pages: 219, including Appendix I, Appendix II, Index of Personal Names, Index of Place and Tribal Names, Bibliography, and Abbreviations.

The cover of the book. It is green with the symbol of Irish Texts Society.

Review: The book has 9 chapters which the editor calls sections. In the Introduction (Section 1) the editor says that the book aims to provide a critical edition of the Early Modern Irish prose tale Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach.

As usual when I talk about the Irish Texts Books I don’t usually talk about the stories or the analysis specifically because small as most of these books are the contain a boat load of information that anyone interested in Irish Mythology. This review is no different.

What is different about this book is that they have an analysis to the text but the editor also looks at the manuscripts and how they were or were not transmitted, and how all the manuscripts that contain the text date and relate to each other.

The editor makes a point of talking about the basis for this edition of the text, the method of transcription and then he gives you the Irish text of the story.

Next he gives you an edited version of the text which the reader of Modern Irish can recognize. But before that, he makes sure to tell you exactly what he did during his editing process to get the text presented. Then finally in Section 7 you get the Irish text of the story on the left and the English translation on the right. It starts on page 86 and ends on page 141.

Two text pages from the book. On the left the writing is in Irish and the right is in English.

The pages after the text and translation are notes on the text and translation, Appendix I, which is the text of Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach from the Manuscript RIA B IV 1 (MS 2), Appendix II, which is Keating’s Introduction and Epilogue from NLI G113, both in Irish, Index of Personal Names, and an Index of Place and Tribal Names.

I have to admit that I was a little bored with the analysis provided but at the same time I am glad it was there I would rather know what was done to the manuscript while bored than not know what was done to the manuscript I am reading. As usual I really like these little green books!

BOOK REVIEW: 2 books

Irish Text Society Books: The Book of Rights and Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

BOOK 1: Lebor Na Cert (The Book of Right)

Series: Volume XLVI

Edited by: Myles Dillon

Publisher: Irish Text Society

Published: First published 1962, Reprinted 1984, 1994, 2012

ISBN: 1 870 16646 9

Pages: 198, with 2 Appendices, Index of names and places, a map, and notes on it.

Review: There is no way I’m going to review The Book of Right of course but I will be discussing some points about it.

The book has 4 chapters: Introduction, Lebor Na Cert, Appendix A- Timna Chathaír Máir, and Appendix B – Tables of Stipends and Tributes.

The Introduction is VERY informative. It talks about what the Book of Rights is all about, and how it was written (its structure, prose and poems), who may or may not have written it, how old it really is, the value of the Book of Rights as a historical document, and how the book was edited, when and by whom and from which manuscripts. (Pages ix – xxv)

The chapter that contains the Book of Rights has both the Irish and the English translation. The Irish text is on the left page and its English translation is on the right. It has both prose and poems. The prose explains the poem to come after it. (Pages 1 – 147)

Appendix A is a chapter that contains The Testament of Cathaír Már. There is an explanation of what that is and then similar to the Book of Right there is an Irish and an English translation. (Pages 148 – 178)

Appendix B is literally a bunch of tables of stipends and tributes from Cashel, Connachta, Ailech, Ulaid, Temair, Lagin, Cruachain, and Mide. (Pages 179 – 189)

Lebor Na Cert (The Book of Rights)

BOOK 1: Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

Series: Subsidiary Series No. 25

Edited by Kevin Murray

Publisher: Irish Text Society

Published: 2013

ISBN: 1-870166-74-4

Pages: 126, with Bibliography and Index

Review: The book has 5 very interesting essays by Fergus Kelly, Thomas Charles-Edwards, Catherine Swift, Edel Bhreathnach, and Kevin Murray.

Essay 1 by Fergus Kelly is all about Myles Dillon the editor of the Book Of Rights. Kelly talks about his scholarship contributions and the importance of his work, and his reputation as a nativist.

Essay 2 by Thomas Charles-Edwards talks about the organization of Ireland in terms of clientship as seen through the lens of the Book of Rights. It is a detailed analysis of the different types of clientship found in the text.

Essay 3 by Cathrine Swift looks at the broader historical context of som of the customs and practices that are important to the Book of Rights. Especially customs involving taxes, trade and trespass. This essay was really interesting because it discusses the interactions of the Norse and the Irish population.

Edel Bhreathnach’s essay talks about the Testament of Cathaír Már. Especially the genealogical traditions of Leinster.

Finally, Kevin Murray’s essay builds on what Dillon did and looks at the language and date of the Book of Rights.

I can’t choose a favorite between the essays as each one has interesting information from a different perspective. If you read those two books together you will get a comprehensive understanding of the Book of Rights.

Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

BOOK REVIEW Language and Tradition in Ireland

Picture of the book cover.

Full Title: Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements

Editors: Maria Tymoczko and Colin Ireland

Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press and American Conference For Irish Studies

Published: 2003

ISBN: 9781558494275

Pages: 240 including Notes on Contributors and Index.

Synopsis: If language and culture are intimately connected, then cultures involving people who speak more than one language must have special characteristics, as well as particular social issues to negotiate. What are the challenges faced by a people with two or more languages as their heritage? How does that multiple heritage affect cultural forms, including literature and the arts? How does linguistic difference influence the conceptualization and writing of history? And if the meeting of languages within a people has involved contestation and power, how are those conflicts negotiated?

This volume uses the tools of critical theory to explore such questions with respect to the complex, multilingual history of Ireland. Avoiding the simplistic polarized oppositions popular with cultural nationalists, the contributors examine the nexus of language, tradition, and authority in Ireland that has created such a rich, multivalent culture.

Although the linguistic interface of Irish and English has dominated cultural negotiations in Ireland over the last five hundred years, the island has an even longer history of linguistic and cultural exchange. Arguing that tradition is never static, the essays in this volume challenge the concept of a monolithic cultural origin, while insisting on the importance of inherited discourses in the continuity of culture through time and across linguistic difference. The chapters cover a broad range of topics from early Irish narratives and Latin hagiography to literary works by such writers as Yeats, Joyce, Friel, Montague, and McGahern, as well as other cultural forms, including traditional Irish music. Several chapters address issues of politics and power, from the role of interpreters in the relations between linguistic communities in Ireland to the politicization of language in Northern Ireland since the 1980s. Taken together, the essays illuminate scholarly domains as varied as postcolonial theory, the relationship between language and nation, the nature of tradition, and Irish literature of all periods.

In addition to the editors, contributors include Michael Cronin, Joanne Findon, Helen Fulton, Declan Kiberd, Jeremy Lowe, Gordon McCoy and Camille O’Reilly, Catherine McKenna, Coilin Owens, Thomas Dillon Redshaw, and Sally K. Sommers Smith.”

Review: I’m honestly not sure what I should write about this book. I bought it thinking it was one thing but it turned out to be something totally different and that is not the fault of the book but my own fault. So I’m going to write this from just of the perspective of reading the book not what I thought it was going to be about.

There are 11 essays in this book, and of these 11 I was only interested in 5. And of these 5 only 3 made any sense to me because I at least knew the material they were talking about.

The first of the three essays was actually the introduction. It was a discussion of the core issues of this volume, a little history, definitions of words like tradition and how it is used in the book and asking some good questions about language and culture.

Essay number 2 that I was interested in was about gender and power in Serglige Con Culainn and The Only Jealousy of Emer. I found this essay really informative and the discussion was an honest one about how the changes Yeats made diluted the power of women in the tale.

Finally essay number 3 was about the Tain Bo Cuailnge and the dramatization of violence and death. And a great discussion of how this tale wasn’t a simple straight forward heroic tale.

Because I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the material that the book discusses I honestly did not find this book interesting as a whole but the few essays that did interest me were really good and made me think seriously and sometimes even look at certain tales with a new fresh eye. So from that respect I enjoyed what little I knew from the book. Again this is not the book’s fault it is purely my own.

BOOK REVIEW The Strange World of Human Sacrifice

Full Title: The Strange World of Human Sacrifice

Series: Studies in History and Anthropology of Religion 01

Editor: Jan N. Bremmer

Publisher: Peeters

Published: 2007

ISBN: 978-90-429-1843-6

Pages: 268 including Index of names, subjects and passages that starts on page 259


**description from



Human Sacrifice: A Brief Introduction: this introductory essay sets up the rest of the book very well. It gives a brief introduction into what this book is about, a little introduction to each essay and the controversies surrounding Human Sacrifice.

Aztec Human Sacrifice as Expiation

– Human Sacrifice in Medieval Irish Literature: I was very interested in reading this essay and though it was a little limited in what it discussed because of space constraints it was still an informative read.

– Myth and Ritual in Greek Human Sacrifice: Lykaon, Polyxena, and the case of the Rhodian Criminal

– The Early Christians and Human Sacrifice

– Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel: The Status Quaestionis.

– Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt

– Retainer Sacrifice in Egypt and in Nubia

– Human Sacrifice in India in Vedic Times and Before

– Human Sacrifice (Purusamedha), Construction Sacrifice and the Origin of the Idea of the “Man of the Homestead” (Vāstupurusa)

– Human Sacrifice Among the Konds

– Human Sacrifice in Japan

– Human Sacrifice and Self-sacrifice in China: A Century of Revelation

The book pretty much circumvented the globe with its study of human sacrifices. It was really interesting to read about the differences and similarities for the reasons behind human sacrifices. This book held my interest until the very last minute.

If you are looking for a book about human sacrifice but not focused fully on the Celts then this is a great resource to have.

BOOK REVIEW Sacred Histories: A Festschrift for Maire Herbert

Full Title: Sacred Histories: A Festschrift for Maire Herbert

Editors: John Carey, Kevin Murray, and Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Copyright: November 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1846825644

Pages: 460 including

Synopsis: Sacred Histories is a collection of essays that focuses on the historical subtext of narrative (in Latin and Irish) from medieval Ireland. Contributions engage with this topic across numerous genres, such as hagiography, apocrypha, ‘historical tales,’ and the literary portrayal of women. Such sustained interrogation results in numerous fresh insights and new perspectives. The volume is a festschrift in honor of Maire Herbert, and the contributors are among the foremost experts in their disciplines. [Subject: History, Irish Studies, Medieval Studies, Literary Criticism, Cultural Studies]

Review: As the description says, this text is made up of a collection of essays in honour of Máire Herbert. It focuses primarily on the textual culture of Ireland (both in Latin and in Irish) in its historical context from the medieval period to modern times. Contributions are made in different genres such as poetry, saga, hagiography, apocrypha, and ‘historical tales’, and with themes that range from the cults of the saints in early medieval Ireland to the literary portrayal of women. The essays provided fresh insights and new perspectives on their subject matter.

There are many amazing writers/experts that have contributed to this volume and they deserve to be listed.

Duine dár laochra
Seán Hutton. (This is in Irish)

Keening in the poems of Blathmac
Alexandra Bergholm

Observations on the Book of Durrow memorandum
Edel Bhreathnach 

Senchas Gall Átha Clíath: aspects of the cult of St Patrick in the twelfth century
Elizabeth Boyle and Liam Breatnach 

Comhar na mban
Pádraig A. Breatnach (This is in Irish)

Cethri prímchenéla Dáil Ríata revisited
Dauvit Broun

Yonec and Tochmarc Becfola: two femaile echtrai
John Carey 

Táin bó Cúailnge, hagiography and history
T.M. Charles-Edwards

‘An t-éitheach; is an fíor? …’: a note on two late poems by Máire Mhac an tSaoi
Patricia Coughlan

‘Pé rí bheas i gcoróin’: Seán Caoch Ó Cearbhaill agus an tiarna talon
Pádraig de Brún (This is in Irish)

Murchadh Ó Cuindlis and Aided Muirchertaig Meic Erca
Clodagh Downey 

The shield of Fionn: the poem Uchán a sciath mo rígh réigh in Leabhar Ua Maine
Joseph J. Flahive

St Patrick and Antaeus: two bardic apologues
Margo Griffin-Wilson 

An Early Irish category of swindler: the mindach méith
Fergus Kelly

Colum Cille and the lorg bengánach: ritual migration from Derry
Brian Lambkin

De initiis: Apacrafa, an Bíobla agus léann luath-eaglais na hÉireann
Máirtín Mac Conmara  (This is in Irish)

Na taoisigh Ultacha agus an Veronica
Mícheál Mac Craith  (This is in Irish)

Maoil Mhuire agus a shinsear
Gearóid Mac Eoin (This is in Irish)

The paruchia of St Lúrach of Uí Thuirtre
Kay Muhr 

The dating of Branwen: the ‘Irish question’ revisited
Kevin Murray 

The bells of the saints
Próinséas Ní Chatháin 

The Hectors of Ireland and the Western World
Máire Ní Mhaonaigh

Tús na heagna omhan Dé: penance and retribution in a poem by Aonghus Fionn Ó Dálaigh
Emma Nic Cárthaigh

On the genealogical preamble to Vita Sancti Declani
Tomás Ó Cathasaigh

Véarsaí ó oirthear Chorcaí ar an ngorta a lean sioc mór an gheimhridh 1739–40
Breandán Ó Conchúir (This is in Irish)

A cult of Saint Theacla in early medieval Ireland?
Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh

‘Ceasta Fhíthil’: buaine agus ilghnéitheacht na gaoise i litríocht na Gaeilge
Pádraig Ó Macháin (This is in Irish)

Saint Cataldo of Taranto: the Irish element in the Life of an Italian saint
Pádraig Ó Riain

Maidenhood, mourning and Old English meowle
†Lísi Oliver and Andrea Adolph

Columba at Clonmacnoise
Jennifer O’Reilly

Librán as monastic archetype
Katja Ritari 

O’Friel’s ghost
Katharine Simms

Leprechauns and Luperci, Aldhelm and Augustine
Patrick Sims-Williams

Each essay has its own notes either at the end or as footnotes. The Irish essays took the longest for me to read and comprehend because my Irish is still not up to par. (I read it well, understand it for the most part, but speaking it is another story) Another thing that you need to know about this volume is that it is not for beginners. I am familiar with Máire Herbert’s work but I had to look up a few things while reading the essays. You also need to be familiar with Irish mythology and how scholars analyze it. It is a great book but you need your brain to always be present. Though some essays might seem simple they still have a lot to offer and information that makes you think. All in all I liked it but it took me a long time to finish reading it, so be aware.

The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe

Full Title: The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe – Mobility and Local Evolution During the 3rd Millennium BC.

Editors: Maria Pilar Prieto Martínez and Laure Salanova

Publisher: Oxbow Books

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-1-78297-927-2

Pages: 214, with each essay having its notes and bibliography at the end of the essay.


Review: This text brings together 17 articles that were initially presented in the 15th International Bell Beaker Conference “From Atlantic to Ural”. It was organized in May 2011 in Spain. The theme for the conference was “Could the circulation of objects or ideas and the mobility of artisans explain the unprecedented uniformity of the material culture observed throughout the whole of Europe?”

This is the second volume to come out of this conference; the first was in 2013 and was concerned with new excavations or item analyses. The papers in this volume were selected for their interest in the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Europe and for the differing perspectives they offer. The chapters are organized mainly geographically and they start with Eastern Europe then move to the Mediterranean and end in the Iberian Peninsula.

While I enjoyed reading all the essays, the ones that interested me the most besides the final essay that summed up the book, were essays 5 and 12. Essay 5 talks about the migrations to Britain and Ireland. The part about Ireland was short but interesting. The Bell Beakers introduced copper mining to Ireland in the 24th century BC directly from continental Europe. In essay 12 the authors investigated the traces of exchange and circulation processes in the archaeological record on gold working craftsmanship. All in all, it was a really informative read.

Playing the Hero

Full Title: Playing the Hero – Reading the Irish Saga Táin Bó Cúailnge

Author: Ann Dooley

Publisher: University of Toronto Press

Published: 2006

ISBN: 9780802038326

Pages: 298 including notes, Bibliography, and Index


Review: I have never been utterly confused by a book as much as I have been confused by this one. I don’t know if it is because the author like to complicate things, or it is the subject matter, or it is just above my pay grade.

The book is supposed to be a series of thematic essays grouped around the main saga representation of the Irish martial hero Cú Chulain. The study conducted is about the relation between Recension I and II. It is not a study that gives a complete picture of the entire saga so if you are looking to see what this saga is then this is not the book for you.

In this study the author is more interested in all the complex and varied aspects of how texts reveal themselves of how it is that they came to mean. This bit was copied word for word from the Introduction. I am not sure exactly what is meant by “come to mean”. And the whole book is like that. This was just a taste of what the writing in the book is like.

Like I said in the beginning this book is confusing to me. And based on a few reviews I read online it seems like it is confusing to a lot of people. So here is my verdict. Stay away from this book if you are : (a) a beginner, (b) an intermediate or, (c) looking for an analysis of the actual text of the Táin because this is not it.

Tracing the Indo-Europeans

Full Title: Tracing the Indo-Europeans – New Evidence from Archaeology and Historical Linguistics.

Edited by: Brigit Anette Olsen, Thomas Olander, and Kristian Kristiansen

Publisher: OXBOW Books

Published: 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78925-270-5

Pages: 184

Synopsis: Recent developments in aDNA has reshaped our understanding of later European prehistory, and at the same time also opened up for more fruitful collaborations between archaeologists and historical linguists. Two revolutionary genetic studies, published independently in Nature, 2015, showed that prehistoric Europe underwent two successive waves of migration, one from Anatolia consistent with the introduction of agriculture, and a later influx from the Pontic-Caspian steppes which without any reasonable doubt pinpoints the archaeological Yamnaya complex as the cradle of (Core-)Indo-European languages. Now, for the first time, when the preliminaries are clear, it is possible for the fields of genetics, archaeology and historical linguistics to cooperate in a constructive fashion to refine our knowledge of the Indo-European homeland, migrations, society and language. For the historical-comparative linguists, this opens up a wealth of exciting perspectives and new working fields in the intersections between linguistics and neighbouring disciplines, for the archaeologists and geneticists, on the other hand, the linguistic contributions help to endow the material findings with a voice from the past. The present selection of papers illustrate the importance of an open interdisciplinary discussion which will gradually help us in our quest of Tracing the Indo-Europeans.

Review: I was honestly very excited for this book to come out. I pre-ordered it and waited for it and read it as soon as it came in, even though I had promised myself I was not going to buy any books until I finished the ones on my to-read list.

The book sports contributors like J.P. Mallory, and David W. Anthony. It has eight essays besides the Introduction. The text aims to get a more precise grasp of who the Indo-Europeans were, where they came from, and how their language and essential elements of culture came to dominate Europe and large parts of Asia.

The Introduction sets up the rest of the book by talking about the two positions about who the Indo-Europeans were: pastorialists from the Pontic-Caspian steppes or they emerged several millennia earlier as the first agriculturalists from Anatolia.

Through out reading this book I felt that the editors chose mostly the views that sided with the Pontic-Steppes hypothesis. However, these essays gave good reasons for going against the Anatolian hypothesis.

My feelings on this book are a little confused. There were parts of it that I enjoyed, especially the first essay which set up the problem of the IE Homeland beautifully. But for the most part I was a little confused as to what was the new information that we were supposed to get out of this book. It just felt like we were getting disjointed information about different things but the common thread seems to be “Pontic – Steppes”. I really wanted to give this book more than 3 stars…but in the end I just couldn’t. I don’t regret buying it if only for that first essay by Thomas Olander on the problem of the IE Homeland.