The GPmama is rather disapproving of the depressing nature of many fairytales – think “Babes in the Wood”, “Snow White” and so on. Myself, I’m not too pushed by the violence and misery depicted, mostly because the Princess seems to enjoy it so much (sort of like you might enjoy watching a scary film through your fingers) but even I draw the line at Irish legends. She, however, does not.
The Princess received “Irish Legends for Children” from friends of ours and she absolutely loves it. It features, inter alia, the following tales:
The children of Lir
Lir’s wife dies. He remarries and his new wife hates his four children. She turns them into swans for 900 years (leading incidentally to this poem which we learnt in school – just thought you’d like to know). Then when they hear a church bell, they turn into very old people and die.
Oisin in the land of Tir na n-Og (apologies to Irish purists for lack of fadas – accents to the rest of you).
Oisin meets beautiful Niamh on a white horse, she invites him back to her place. Off he goes promising family and friends to return shortly. He falls in love with Niamh in Tir na N-Og and marries her. After a couple of months he wants to go back to Ireland for a visit. Niamh begs him not to but eventually lets him go stipulating that he must not get off his horse. If I tell you that “Tir na n-Og” means land of youth in Irish, I think you can see where this is going. Back he goes to the old sod only to find that all his friends and relations are dead, it’s 300 years later and the new generation of Irish people are nothing like as strong and generally fabulous as their ancestors which is why he gets off the horse to help them move a heavy stone (the eejit). Guess what? The horse gallops off, he turns into an old, old man and dies. Are you beginning to see a theme here?
Deirdre of the Sorrows (I think we are forewarned by the title that this is unlikely to be a happy story)
Deirdre is born, the druids say kill her, she will bring great sorrow to Ulster. King Connor says, no, don’t kill her, send her off to be raised in isolation and I’ll marry her when she’s old enough. Just before ancient King Connor marries her, she meets a nice young fella called Naoise, they fall in love and after various travails, King Connor finds them and kills Naoise and his two warrior brothers and Deirdre dies of a broken heart. This unfortunate incident leads to a lot of unhappiness in Ulster and war breaks out (you will note that they’re still at it) as predicted by the druids (Cassandras for Northern climes). In the version I read in school, trees grow from Deirdre and Naoise’s twin graves and entwine but the Princess’s version rigourously eschews that kind of ersatz sentimentality.
Do you want to hear one of the more lighthearted stories where the only dead body is that of a faithful wolf hound? An English friend says it sounds like “Greyfriar’s Bobby”. I am not familiar with that work, but I somehow doubt it.
I love the dead wolfhound story you know. That’s very wrong, isn’t it?
You know why they can enjoy these stories, don’t you? It’s because they don’t identify with the people who die.
And you do realize whom they associate with the dead people, don’t you?
Sleep well tonight, and don’t give a second thought to those sharp knives in the kitchen.
you, with your amazingly broad and deep education do not know the story of greyfriar’s bobby? oh, you don’t want to know. i cried when i made a pilgrimage to the statue. but i’m enormously sentimental.
May I throw the stroy of Beth Gelert into the mix? The Welsh wolfhound slain by his master by mistake when he thought he had killed his child, but was protecting it instead? Funny how these stories stick in one’s mind.
disgruntled commuter says
I think the story of Finn MaColl (or whoever it was, I’m not properly Irish) cutting off his right hand so he could get first dibs on Ulster should have tipped off the politicians that it was never going to be an easy place to sort out. ‘Ulster still says no – what was the question?’