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Modern Celtic Delights and Insights
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Kevin Danaher
Folktales from the Irish Countryside (NY:  MJF Books, 1998.  128p.)

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This author has gathered Irish tales from current oral sources and translated them for us into English.  These come from his family and acquaintances, and cover a range of story content and styles.

We see here the rich and ancient Celtic worldview of a dynamic reality vested with spiritual and non-human entities that interact with humans.  Here we find spirits of the dead who are among us until they have finished some business, often requiring interaction or approval from a living person.  We learn of fairy folk and magical people.

Dynamic Story
One common characteristic of folktales everywhere is the lack of simple detail that would bog a story down.  No unessential information is included.  To the scientific and linear logical mind, we see many details left unexamined, why did they do this, why didn't they just do this, why would it happen this way, etc.  The oral-relational story focuses on the action, the inter-relationship,  the relational progress to the goal.

Nothing happens but what will enable the story to happen!  Real-world dynamics are not in focus.  This is one problem with moderns reading "traditional" stories.  They reflect a different worldview.  These are similar to other North European tales in the Germanic cultures, many Americans are familiar with.

Layers of Lore
Danaher points out some of the Germanic elements that show up in some of these Irish tales.  Some of the tales resemble tales reported in other folktale collections.  Danaher points out areas of similarities or differences that may indicate some relationship with earlier Germanic tales that entered in to the Irish Celtic oral lore over the centuries.

Many of these Germanic stories, in fact, seem to have roots in even older Celtic stories of the Celtic tribes absorbed by some of the Germanic peoples in early history.  Some of the tales here or similar ones have been catalogued by world folktale specialists.  He points out that some of these may have been borrowed in recent times from written sources.

Oral Germanic Sources
It also seems to me that Danaher has overlooked a likely ancient oral source for some of these tales.  He does not seem aware of the fact that a great source of such Germanic tales, now Celticized in Ireland, derive from Germanic settlement groups in Ireland itself.  We know that many Norse (Viking) groups raided and settled in Ireland, especially the north and west in the Middle Ages.

Likewise, the Anglo-Normans lords brought much of their original German lore with them when they conquered the British Isles, including Ireland.  These Anglo-Irish lords were captivated by the Irish culture, becoming more and more Irish over the centuries until they blended with the local people.  Their Germanic concepts of the spirit world likely contributed to their new Irish worldview.

Oral Entertainment
These are entertaining stories, recovering a not-too-distant past where the oral world of imagination was an important part of the normal culture.  This oral value is pointed up in the first story, about a young man who has no story, and how a mentor arranges for him to have a personal adventure that will make a good story!

Story-telling is a high value in all oral-relational cultures.  Our recent focus on literacy has changed the way modern society thinks and organizes its sense of reality.  These Irish tales are a pleasant reminder of our dynamic imaginative heritage that sees reality as an open universe, to be explored and experienced.

Dynamic Worldview
This provides a high adventure compared to the often pedantic and dull confines of a deterministic scientism that tells us all is determined forever and simple facts related to cause and effect are all we have to discover.

Here we see strange and likely imaginary realities.  Many of these stories are obviously only in fun, but reveal a sense of wonder and dynamism in the human interaction with our world!

Also related:

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[TXT] Germanic and Celtic
[TXT] Scots, Irish and English

Related on the Internet:
Irish Potato Famine
Celtic Nations World – Celtic Culture Around the World
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts:  The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

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First reading notes written 5 May 2009
Review posted on Barnes and Noble and Amazon 6 May 2009
This version posted on Thoughts and Reources 8 May 2009
Last edited 12 September 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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