Irish Trees – Myths, Legends and Folklore

Author: Niall Mac Coitir

Watercolours: Grania Langrishe

Publisher: The Collins Press

Copyright: 2003, Reprinted 2006, 2008, 2012

ISBN: 9781903464335

Pages: 231 including watercolours, references, and bibliography.


Synopsis: In ancient Ireland, mythology and folklore were part of the general knowledge about each tree. This book gathers the myths, legends and folklore associated with the native trees.

Review: Where to start? I liked the watercolors and the black and white pictures in the book. They helped me visualise the trees that were being talked about and associate them with what is being written. There were some good footnotes, and great books in the bibliography, and it was obvious to me that the author had done his research and had read A LOT of great sources. I also liked that it was very much pagan friendly. There was some great folklore and mythology associations shown for each tree. But…

In some places I kept thinking…WHAT? You read McManus on Ogams and you still think THAT? Or dear Gods you thought Robert Graves was right about THAT? (Just to be clear the author knows that Robert Graves took a lot of poetic licence in his book White Goddess but he still thought he was not wrong in some aspects). In some other places there were good and interesting tidbits but I kept thinking citation!! (Again there were footnotes in this book but in some places they didn’t materialise).

I would recommend the book just for the information about the trees and the myths, legends and folklore associated with them….the rest though? I’d take that with a sign that says…caution, and please cross-reference with other books, as well as please discard in some cases. So basically, a mixed bag of good, sort of good, and UH?

The Festival of Lughnasa by Máire MacNeill

Synopsis From Garland Sunday and Domhnach Chrom Dubh are two of the many names of a  festival celebrated by Irish country people at the end of July or the  beginning of August.  It marked the end of summer and the beginning of  harvest season, and on that day the first meal of the year’s new food  crop was eaten.

The chief custom was the resorting by the rural  communities to certain heights or water-sides to spend the day in  festivity, sports, and bilberry-picking.  The custom existed also in the  Isle of Man, Wales and in the north of England.  Formerly it must have  been general in all Celtic lands for there is no doubt that it is a  survival of Lughnasa (Lugnasad), the Celtic festival held on the first  of August.

In the description of the celebration much emerges of  the old life of the countryside, and so the study is, in part, a  contribution to social history.  Moreover, as the people preserved  legends of the origin of the festival and of the assembly sites, it has  been possible to show a correspondence with ancient mythology, as  expressed in Irish Literature and in the cult-figures of Roman Gaul.

The dominant myth of the festival is brought to light.

Review: This is one of these books that everyone interested in the Irish year and who can afford it should get it.  I couldn’t believe my luck when they had a new edition printed in 2008 and once I could get a copy of it I snapped it up.  The book was first written in 1962 and it is a study the festival of Lughnasa as it was celebrated in Ireland in the last two hundred years (before 1962). The sources for the book came from questionnaires done by people in Ireland as well as a look at Irish folklore and customs.  The author also used journals and travel books associated with Irish culture and customs. However, these aren’t the only sources.

This book describes the festival as it was celebrated before, as the popular celebration and high point of the agricultural year.  It gives evidence of the past history of the assemblies where possible and it seeks to discover the ancient myths concealed in the stories and the religious concepts which informed the customs.  It is interesting to note that the celebrations were of the harvest of the main crop in the country, in the beginning that was corn but later on it became potatoes.  This is interesting because it shows that it is not something static but changes as the society needs change.

The book is amazing and a great wealth of information.  I wish the same had been done for all of the other festivals in the Irish year, be it Christian or Pagan.  I highly doubt there is a more in depth study done on the Irish year with the same kind of information.

The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher

This is a book written in 1972 on the Irish Calendar customs. It describes how the year, with its cycle of festivals and seasonal work, was observed in Ireland in the 19-20th centuries. The author draws on a wide variety of sources and on more than thirty years of research into Irish Folk traditions.

The book gives the reader an idea of how the year was for many of the inhabitants of Ireland that still followed the old traditions. You get the sense of what each strata of the community was up too at which time of the year. The book starts on Saint Brighid’s day and goes all the way to Christmas. It encompasses both Pagan and Christian days and gives the activities associated with the said day. It is a book that you can read in one go at first and then go back too at the appropriate time of year for inspiration.

I really enjoyed reading the book because it gave me ideas on things that I could do on my own rituals and celebrations. It gives the sense of the ebb and flow of the year and how the seasons were related to each other and how one activity during a certain time can be related to another in another time. I think it is a must read book for anyone who is interested in following an Irish path of spirituality be it Christian or Pagan.