by DONAL GILTINAN
Celtic Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacobs (Bodley Head 45s.)
THE fascination of the folk tale captures readers of all ages. For the adult, to be transported to the days "when fishes flew and forests walked" is to recapture something of that lost, precious sense of awe and wonder; and the inherent poetry of the folklore of the Celtic races does much to recall this feeling, the special offering of the seanachai.
I remember how my friend, Maurice Walsh, could enthral a roomful of people with a simple story. delicately flavoured with the supernatural, His soft Kerry voice, the earnest blue eyes above the white beard seemed to hold us spellbound; and when, with the final sentence came the eerie
denouement, one felt no matter how often one had heard the tale before — the tingling of the spine that goes with the real thing.
The tales in this book, not all of them fairy stories in the accepted sense, are many of them of this type. First published in two volumes in 1891 and 1894, they are now happily reissued in one collection. Gleaned from native speakers they come chiefly from the Irish legend and the Scottish, though there are Welsh tales from the Arthurian saga, and even one from Cornwall. All retain the essential mystical quality.
The notes indicating their origin and relating them to the folklore of distant lands enhance the interest of this collection, although -since these were compiled in the last century -they of course exclude the findings of more recent research, which is a pity. It is also a pity, if one may saY so without appearing ungracious, that occasional words and phrases from the Gaelic suffer a little in transcription; but this is a purely personal grouse, and Mr. Jacobs in his preface frankly confesses that he knows "about as much Gaelic as an Irish Nationalist M.P." It is a small short-coming.
Some may raise an eyebrow when they read that the Hill of the White Field, associated with the Children of Lir is near Newtown Hannton [sic] in County Armagh; or wonder what exactly was the "venomous shoe" of honn's faithful Bran. with which that remarkable dog tore out the hearts and lungs of giants.
But this is a charming book. excellently produced and illustrated (by Victor Ambrusi upon which the publishers are to be congratulated. It was good to read again of Morin and Cuchulainn, of Llewellyn and Deirdre and Cormac Mac Airt and all the others less heroic, even Paddy O'Kelly and the Weasel.
. and if I were there then, I would not be here now, hut I heard it from a birdeen that there was neither cark nor care, sickness nor sorrow, mishap nor misfortune on them till the hour of their death, and may the same he Ivith me, and with us all!