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

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

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.

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

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.

Motherfoclóir

Full Title: Motherfoclóir – Dispatches from a not so dead language

Author: Darach Ó Séaghdha

Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.

Published: 2017

ISBN: 9781786691866

Pages: 225

Synopsis: From Goodreads.

Review:

I think this is the best book I read on the Irish language in a long time. Not only am I learning Irish vocabulary and all the different peculiarities it has but I’m also learning about the Irish culture, way of life and the Gaeltacht.

Also, all the fun bits that are found in the twitter account are found in the book. The fun bits include “A fada can make all the difference” and all the interesting side information that are included along with the definitions of the different words.

If you want a fun book to read on the Irish and learn from about language and culture then this is the book for you.

Irish Paganism

Full Title: Irish Paganism – Reconstructing Irish Polytheism (Part of the Pagan Portals series)

Author: Morgan Daimler

Publisher: Moon Books

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-1-78535-145-7

Pages: 89 including Appendix A – Pronunciation Guide, Appendix B – Recommended reading for Irish Polytheists, Appendix C- Myth titles in both languages, bibliography and endnotes.

26168586

Synopsis: Irish Reconstructionist Polytheism is an often misunderstood path, but it is one with great richness and depth for those who follow it. This short introductory book touches on the basic beliefs and practices of Irish Polytheism as well as other important topics for people interested in practicing the religion using a Reconstructionist methodology or who would just like to know more about it. Explore the cosmology of the ancient Irish and learn how the old mythology and living culture show us the Gods and spirits of Ireland and how to connect to them. Ritual structure is explored, as well as daily practices and holidays, to create a path that brings the old beliefs forward into the modern world.

Review:

As can be seen from the page count, this is a very short book, typical for a Pagan Portals book. Even so, it packs in quite a bit. There are so very few books out there written on Celtic Reconstructionism and Daimler’s book on Irish Reconstructionism is a welcome addition. This book is a well-researched look at the basics and should serve as a great introductory text for people interested in walking this path and don’t know where to start.

The book is made up of 7 chapters and discusses the methodology behind reconstructionism, the basic beliefs of the Irish, rituals, the holy days, and mysticism. Chapter six deals with controversial topics like race, cultural appropriation and sexuality. In the final chapter, the author wraps up the book with a conclusion.

I really enjoyed reading this book, twice. It has just the right amount of information as to not leave people wanting or confused but also just the right amount of push to get you on your own exploration of this path. Highly recommended for people who have read the Celtic FAQ, have decided that Ireland will be their hearth culture and are ready to get the specific basics for that hearth culture.

Ireland and the Classical World By Philip Freeman

Author: Philip Freeman

Publisher: The University of Texas Press

Copyright: 2001

Pages: 148

Synopsis: On the boundary of what the ancient Greeks and Romans considered the habitable world, Ireland was a land of myth and mystery in classical times. Classical authors frequently portrayed its people as savages-even as cannibals and devotees of incest-and evinced occasional uncertainty as to the island’s shape, size, and actual location. Unlike neighboring Britain, Ireland never knew Roman occupation, yet literary and archaeological evidence prove that Iuverna was more than simply terra incognita in classical antiquity.

In this book, Philip Freeman explores the relations between ancient Ireland and the classical world through a comprehensive survey of all Greek and Latin literary sources that mention Ireland. He analyzes passages (given in both the original language and English) from over thirty authors, including Julius Caesar, Strabo, Tacitus, Ptolemy, and St. Jerome. To amplify the literary sources, he also briefly reviews the archaeological and linguistic evidence for contact between Ireland and the Mediterranean world.

Freeman’s analysis of all these sources reveals that Ireland was known to the Greeks and Romans for hundreds of years and that Mediterranean goods and even travelers found their way to Ireland, while the Irish at least occasionally visited, traded, and raided in Roman lands. Everyone interested in ancient Irish history or Classics, whether scholar or enthusiast, will learn much from this pioneering book.

Philip Freeman is Assistant Professor of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis.

Review: It is hard to say anything more than was already said in the synopsis, except that I really enjoyed reading it. It’s like reading The Heroic Age by John T. Koch but specifically for Ireland. Anyone interested in the history of Ireland and its association with the classical world would find this book useful.

Another useful feature of the book is the second appendix which gives you a list of all the classical mentions of Ireland. It is very handy if you know what the mention is but don’t know when it was mentioned and where.

The Sacred Isle: Belief in Pre-Christian Ireland by Dáithí Ó HÓgáin

Author: Dáithí Ó HÓgáin
Publisher: Boydell Press
Years published: 1999 and October 4th, 2001
ISBN13: 9780851158563
Pages: 259 including index

Synopsis: The first modern study of prehistoric religion in Ireland to draw on the combined evidence of archaeology, literature and folklore to illuminate practice and belief from the earliest human habitation in the island down to the advent of Christianity in the fifth century AD. An excellent book… a highly accessible and lively assessment of continuity and change in belief and religion from pre-Celtic times through to the arrival of St Patrick. …A fine book and to be recommended to a wide readership, especially to all those who think that Irish history started in 1601.

Review: This is the first book published specifically about the Pre-Christian religion in Ireland and so far I have only seen one other book that addresses the same material but it also expands to include Christianity. So I guess, specifically this is the only book I’ve seen so far ONLY addressing the Pre-Christian religion in Ireland (if some one knows of a book with similar material please let me know).

The book is an interesting and easy read with lots of good information. The author uses archeology and the classical writings as well as mythology to try and put together the Pre-Christian Irish religion, with a dash of comparative religion and mythology thrown in. It is well documented and has an extensive bibliography.

The problem I see with the book comes in the form of some outdated information and some conclusions that have already been debunked like the solar gods theory (he seems to see them EVERYWHERE). He also likes to put the Irish gods in neat little boxes which really don’t work well for them.

If you are careful with cross referencing and making sure that his information is up to date, this is actually a great book to have.

The Historical Atlas of the Celtic World by John Haywood

Synopsis: Through fifty-four color maps, covering almost 3,000 years and spanning the whole of Europe, this atlas of the Celts charts their dramatic history from Bronze Age origins to present-day diaspora. Each map is accompanied by an authoritative text and supporting illustrations.

“Continental Celts” maps the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures in Central Europe; the migrations into Italy, Iberia, Greece, and Anatolia; the fate of Celtic culture under Roman rule; and the fortunes of the Bretons from the Dark Ages to their absorption by France.

Beginning with Iron Age Britain and Ireland, “Atlantic Celts” covers the failure of the Romans to complete the conquest of the islands, the resurgence of Celtic civilization in the Dark Ages, the history of Gaelic Ireland, and the making of Scotland.

“Modern Celts” examines the revival of Celtic identity, from the Celtomania of the eighteenth century through the growth of nationalism and the current state of Celtic culture.

Review: This is one of the books that I feel most newbies to the history of the Celts should have. The book is full of illustrations and maps that help newbies and advanced readers alike to chart the history of the Celts.

I’ve read a lot of history books but what makes this one special to me is that it helps me keep things straight in my mind.  The way it is divided definitely makes it easier to find specific time periods and the maps help one keep the territories straight.  The fact that it is up to date also makes it great to have.

Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses by Carl McColman and Kathryn Hinds

This is not the first time I’ve read this book. There is a lot of thought that went into the organization of the book. I’m going to start from the back then go to the front and then to the middle.

The book has three appendices. The first recommends books on the retelling of Celtic myth and lore, translations of tales and poems, interpretations of the traditions, and reference titles. Appendix B is recommended listening and Appendix C is all about the Celtic Fire festivals; the information there is to the point and 99% accurate. The bibliography of the book is an extensive and very impressive one. All the books there are well known for their scholarship. And the index is very good.

Now back to the beginning. I found the first chapter to be pleasant if a little flowery. They talk about their sources and how they used them to write the book. I also liked the fact that they say that this is THEIR practice, but that it is based on scholarship in other words UPG. They caution the reader about any book that claims to have all the answer and they answer the question of why anyone should bother studying, let alone honoring or venerating, the old gods and goddesses of the Celtic Tradition. The second chapter starts by defining what the authors mean when they say Celtic, which is always important as the term could mean different things to different people. Then they discuss the exact sources they will be using and why. They also end the chapter with general principles of Celtic mythology, which in my opinion is very helpful and very much true. Chapter three sets out their goals for the book, they have three and they also tell you what this book is NOT. The main one that I think is very commendable of them to mention is that this book is not an “academic” approach to deity. They do promise (and deliver in my opinion) to give just enough “academic” information on each deity to help you to get to know them but also they ask that you do your own search too. Two people after my own heart. This is something that I feel is not stressed enough in books, whether academic or UPG. The chapter ends with deity and the question of belief. They explain the different approaches to deity. The ones they mention are; the Transpersonal approach, the Euhemerist approach, the Monistic approach, the Henotheistic approach, and the Polytheistic approach.

The middle portion of the book I’m going to divide into two parts. The first part is about the different gods and goddesses that the authors have chosen to talk about. They chose the most famous of the Irish, Welsh, and Gaulish deities. This information in the chapters is 97% accurate as far as I can see (bear in mind I’m not an expert), but what I loved the most is the ideas on how to honor these gods and goddesses at the end of each chapter. Simple things that anyone can do . The second part of the middle portion, which consists of the last three chapters, discusses a deeper Celtic spirituality. These chapters discuss mysticism, virtue, what the gods expect from you and how to put everything into practice with meditation, devotion, prayer, ritual, study and virtue. The final chapter discusses the importance of reading myths, and how to do it in a way that gives you the maximum benefit on your path.

I totally enjoyed this book the first times I read it and I have enjoyed it now that I have read it again. It is what UPG should be all about. The foundation is made out of fact and the rest is based on an educated guess. It has the practical side of spirituality explained in a way that even people who are sticklers for detail will love. It does not tell you what to do but makes informative suggestions. This is a book that I plan to return to over and over again.