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prose and poems), who may or may not have written it, how old it really is, the value of the Book of Rights as a historical document, and how the book was edited, when and by whom and from which manuscripts.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.

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

Synopsis:

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.

The Otherworld Voyage

Full Title: The Otherworld Voyage In Early Irish Literature – An Anthology of Criticism

Editor: Jonathan M. Wooding

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2000

ISBN: 978-1-84682-556-9

Pages: 290, Includes an Appendix, Bibliography, and Index

Synopsis:

Prominent in the literature of early Ireland are the tales known as echtrai (adventures) and immrama (voyages), stories telling of journeys to the Otherworld of Celtic legend. These tales have long held a fascination for both scholars and general readers, but there is no satisfactory, comprehensive treatment of them in print. This anthology presents a selection of the most important studies of the subject, to which is added a number of new essays representing the current state of scholarship. A general introduction is provided and an extensive bibliography.

Containing the most important critical materials for an understanding of the Irish Otherworld Voyage legends, this anthology will be of interest and use to teachers and students of early Irish history and literature, comparative literature and mythology.

Review:

The idea for this book came during a conference at Maynooth in 1995. The attendees noted the need for a guide to Hiberno-Latin and early Irish voyage literature. They wanted a work of reference for the subject, because this kind of work was not yet available. This text is a selection of past and present criticism concerning the voyage tales and their context. “The articles are to be understood as artifacts particular to their era, though it is to be noted that nothing has been selected for purely historical interest: all the items in this volume has in some way or other provided a perspective, which has not been entirely superseded by later work” p. ix The selection of articles span nearly a century, and they discuss Irish voyage literature, its social and religious context.

Some of these articles were really short (4 pages) like “Two Observations Concerning the Navigatio Brendani” and “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition”, while others are really long like “Subversion at Sea: Structure, Style, and Intent in the Immrama” (32 pages).

I think my favorite out of all the articles was the one by John Carey, “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition.” I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of exposure to the Immrama or the Echtrai, but I found this volume very interesting. I’m going to read this book again after I read and digest that part of Irish Literature. I feel like I missed a lot because of my limited exposure to these stories. This is a must have book if you have an interest in Immrama and Echtrai.

The Great Queens

Full Title: The Great Queens – Irish Goddesses from the Morrígan to Cathleen ní Houlihan

Series: Irish Literary Studies 34

Author: Rosalind Clark

Publisher: Colin Smythe Limited

Published: 1991

ISBN: 0-86140-290-1

Pages: 277, including Notes, Bibliography, and Index

Synopsis: From GoodReads.com

Review:

The book is made up of an Introduction, four chapters and a conclusion.

The Introduction discussed the background of the Irish language and the stories the author is talking about the rest of the book.

Part One, which is made up of two chapters, discusses who the Morrígan is as a goddess and how She was portrayed by authors who wrote (or didn’t write) about Her in Myths.

Part Two, which ends with Chapter Four, discusses Sovereignty goddesses and how they turned into an allegory in Medieval times. The author then takes that one step further and discusses how They go from an allegory to peasant “ordinary” women from the end of the Middle Ages through the Irish Renaissance.

Finally, the conclusion puts it all together and ties it up with more information.

I’m a little torn about this book. It has a lot of great information on the War Goddesses but sometimes I wanted to scream at the book “nope, nope, nope!” It has more to do with how I read the myths and my own thoughts on the War Goddesses then with actual wrong information. So in the end, read the book and see if it jives with your thoughts on the subject matter…some of it certainly didn’t jive with me.

Inside the Táin

Full Title: Inside the Táin – Exploring Cú Chulainn, Fergus, Ailill, and Medb

Author: Doris Edel

Publisher: Cruach Bhán Publications

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-3-942002-20-2

Pages: 371, including 2 Appendices, Works Cited and Index

Synopsis: This is the first literary-critical study of the Táin Bó Cúailnge in its entirety, and as an autonomous literary work.

The key to a more deeply probing understanding of the semiliterate epic is the study of its characters: what they do and why they do it – why more important than what. Why reveals the differences between the various versions. Most promising is the multilayered Recension I, mainly preserved in Lebor na hUidre, which testifies of the keen interest of its compilers in the portrayal of the characters, while the version in the Book of Leinster, with its tendency to omit what might lessen the heroes’ prestige, pays for its greater unity with loss of depth.

The multi-facetedness of the characters in the early version, combined with the deceptive simplicity of the plot, lends the work a remarkable pragmatism. Despite occasional baroque descriptions of battle frenzy, the main heroes Cú Chulainn and Fergus embody a heroism reined in by prudence. All through the war they do everything in their power to limit the use of force. Ailill and Medb represent a new type of ruler-entrepreneur, who seeks to realize his aim at the lowest possible cost and accepts failure matter-of-factly. So the epic has no fatal end-point. The greater part of the two armies are able return to their countries. The theme of mutual destruction is relegated to the Battle of the Bulls. The lasting antagonism between the North and the remainder of the island must have endowed the Táin with contemporary significance at various points in time, as the allusions to (near-)contemporary events suggest.

Review: This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read as a companion to the Táin. The Introduction to the book gives very good basic information on the recensions of the Táin, which goes into technical details that assume you are familiar with he content of all three Recensions of the TBC. The book then goes into a deep analysis of the actions of Cú Chulainn, Fergus, Ailill, and Medb. As usual when we talk about the analysis of a single person I don’t agree with everything that is concluded but for the most part the analysis presented is a very sound one. The author raises some good points and also explains things in an easy manor that helps the reader get a deeper feel for the Táin and its most important characters.

The amount of information in this book is no joke. I think I would have gotten this book for the Appendices only, never mind all the deep analysis in the body of the text. A must read book.

Ireland’s Immortals

Full Title: Ireland’s Immortals – A History of the Gods of Irish Myths

Author: Mark Williams

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Published: 2016

ISBN: 9780691157313

Pages: 578 including index, works cited, and a list of medieval materials used in the book.

29452496

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

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.