Full Title: Ireland’s Immortals – A History of the Gods of Irish Myths
Author: Mark Williams
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Pages: 578 including index, works cited, and a list of medieval materials used in the book.
Ireland’s Immortals tells the story of one of the world’s great mythologies. The first account of the gods of Irish myth to take in the whole sweep of Irish literature in both the nation’s languages, the book describes how Ireland’s pagan divinities were transformed into literary characters in the medieval Christian era–and how they were recast again during the Celtic Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lively narrative of supernatural beings and their fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories, Mark Williams’s comprehensive history traces how these gods–known as the Tuatha De Danann–have shifted shape across the centuries, from Iron Age cult to medieval saga to today’s young-adult fiction.
We meet the heroic Lug; the Morrigan, crow goddess of battle; the fire goddess Brigit, who moonlights as a Christian saint; the mist-cloaked sea god Manannan mac Lir; and the ageless fairies who inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s immortal elves. Medieval clerics speculated that the Irish divinities might be devils, angels, or enchanters. W. B. Yeats invoked them to reimagine the national condition, while his friend George Russell beheld them in visions and understood them to be local versions of Hindu deities. The book also tells how the Scots repackaged Ireland’s divine beings as the gods of the Gael on both sides of the sea–and how Irish mythology continues to influence popular culture far beyond Ireland.
An unmatched chronicle of the Irish gods, Ireland’s Immortals illuminates why these mythical beings have loomed so large in the world’s imagination for so long.
I have to say up front that if you are expecting a retelling of the myths or a book that gives you a fact sheet about the Gods then don’t buy this book. However, if you are looking for a book that will make you think, will give you an analysis of the myths and the Gods, will make you angry at times but smiling at others then this is the book for you. But have an open mind because this book will challenge the idea that the myths were lore that was disguised as Christian and then written down by monks. The author seems to be saying that actually the Christian monks may have made a lot of it up or changed the lore so much that it was no longer what it was…at least this is what I got out of reading the book.
There is a lot of information to digest from this text. Intended audience, comparative mythology, divination or lack thereof…so many things to even try and list. It is a text that will put you into the mind of the people writing these myths and what might have been running around in their minds while writing. You will also get a glimpse of the later poets/bards who also contributed to this literature.
I won’t lie and say that this book was easy to read, not because the concepts were hard but because it was challenging a lot of ideas I had in my head. This is the sort of book that you need to read more than once to really appreciate and maybe read it in chunks. I also recommend that you know a little about the Irish myths and their history before you read it.
I think this is a “must have book” in any Celticist’s library especially if they are interested in myths. And whether you agree with his analysis or not it is still a valid point of view that you need to read and understand.