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ClassicsOnline Home » FLYNN, B.: Tales of Irish Myths (Unabridged)
Three key stories from the mists of Irish legend retold by Benedict Flynn, with atmospheric music and sound effects. Enter a mysterious world where the line between the fantastical and the real is blurred. Mortals and immortals live strange entwined lives, and nature and high magic exist side by side.
TALES OF IRISH MYTHS
The Tale of Cú Chulainn
The Children of Lir
The Tale of Finn Mac Cool
Storytelling has always been at the heart of Irish culture.
The seannachie or
professional storyteller of today is the descendant of the
filidh, a class of storytellers in ancient Celtic society who were a cross
between poet and priest. The filidh had a vital role. They were entrusted with
the history and wisdom of their people, contained in tales and legends. Before
the spread of Christianity and writing, this learning was passed down by word
of mouth from generation to generation. Each filidh had to be able to recite
from memory three hundred and fifty tales. They had to cover a whole variety of
subjects including battles, adventure journeys, cattle raids, visions, and
stories of the wooing of wives. Over the course of time these different tales
became woven together and added to by storytellers until they developed into
the cycles of stories we know today.
The earliest Irish legends are about the tuatha dé Danaan —
the people of the
goddess Danu, who arrived in Ireland as far back as
pre-historic times. They had the power of gods when they came, but with time
their magic weakened until they were defeated by an invading race of mortals
called Milesians. After this the gods retreated to their sidhe, or fairy forts,
and, making themselves invisible, left Ireland pretty much to be ruled by
mortals. This is the situation at the beginning of the Children of Lir, whose
tragedy is to drift as swans between the two worlds, neither fairy nor mortal.
To mortal eyes the fairy forts looked like grassy mounds, or
the ruins of ancient fortresses, but within, the gods lived lives of ease and
luxury. Sickness and pain were unknown to them, or old age. The gods did not
stay in their palaces however. When the mood took them they ventured out to
meddle in the affairs of mortals especially at the time of the winter festival
of samhain. And this is where many of the stories begin.
The stories of Cú Chulainn are different. The gods are not
as important as the heroes. They revel in the goriest fighting and most amazing
feats of bravery through their own efforts not magic powers. Even so the line
between the gods and men is not clear: Cú Chulainn is the son of a god, Lugh,
even though he is a mortal.
The Ulster cycle, the name of the collection of stories
about Cú Chulainn, is what is known as Epics. They belong next to the Tales
From the Greek Legends or The Adventures of Odysseus (both available on Naxos
The tales about Finn Mac Cool belong to a different world
again to the stories of Cú Chulainn. The ancient gods shimmer in the
background, but now they are truly Fairy people and very little of the divine
remains in them. The epic hero still fights at the river ford in the Palace of
the Quicken Trees, but only as part of the tale, not the point of it.
Finn and the Fianna belong to a later date, and the stories
about them are more like the Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round
Table (also available on Naxos AudioBooks). The epics of Cú Chulainn have
become the Folklore of Finn Mac Cool.
But just the same, in his turn, Finn’s time defending the
shores of Erin from invaders comes to an end. The tolling of the Christian bell
that calls to Oisín when he returns from Tir-na-nÓg, the land of eternal youth,
brings those tales to close, and a new era of fairytales and little people
begins. But those, as any good storyteller would say, are stories for another
Notes by Benedict Flynn
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FLYNN, B.: Tales of Irish Myths (Unabridged)