Early Irish Literature

Author: Myles Dillon
Publisher: Four Courts Press
Published: 1948 (University of Chicago Press), 1994, 1997
ISBN – 13: 1851821775 pbk

Synopsis: Great classic of Celtic studies. Survival of pre-Christain Druid beleifs in Medieval Christian manuscript texts.

Review: The author started his Preface with why he decided to write the book and what he provided the reader with when he wrote it. He wrote the book because at the time (1948) books about Irish literature were either out of print or about a later time period than the one he discusses here. Dillon decided that this book would present “the imaginative literature of Ireland in a coherent order, choosing only the best that has survived,”. (p.V) He is not providing a history of literature not is he providing a critic of it.

The Preface is certainly a good place to start if you are looking for books on the analysis of Early Irish literature. Dillon lists an interesting group of books to look through though most of them are old, but still very useful.

The Introduction has a short discussion of how the Celts came to Ireland, what the irish society looked like and how the land was divided. It also has a short discussion of the manuscripts that the stories came from and the places they can be found.

Chapters One through Eight discuss the Ulster, Fenian, Mythological and Historical cycles, Adventures, Voyages, Visions and Irish Poetry. All the chapters are a simple retelling of some of the sagas and poetry in the irish Literature tradition with a little introduction at the beginning of each chapter. The whole book makes for a good introduction to Early Irish literature that is not complicated or very academic though still very scholarly. A good book to have in one’s library for sure.


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