Eily Kilgannon,
Myths & Magic of the Yeats Country
(Mercier, 1998)

Despite its title and the portrait of William Butler Yeats on the cover, this slim volume actually has little to do with Yeats. The myths and folklore of the Sligo region of Ireland are the basis for the 17 tales collected in the book. The choice of title is explained on the first page: "The beautiful region of Ireland that includes Sligo and northwest Leitrim is rightly called the Yeats Country because it was the source of some of W.B. Yeats' finest verse. He may have brought fame to it, but it gave poetry to him."

The tales include "Children of the Mermaid," the familiar tale of the wife from the sea, whose fish skin must be hidden from her or she will abandon her family to return to the wild ocean; "Diarmuid agus Grainne," the story of how Grainne picks her own husband and they spend most of their marriage in flight, never sleeping in the same place two nights running; "Omra & Romra," which tells the origin of Lough Gill; and the humorous "The Rent in the Breeches," the story of how a farmer borrows a pair of breeches to wear into town to pay the rent.

St. Patrick is not neglected in the collection. "At the Hawk's Well" tells how the saint expelled the last serpent from Ireland, while "St. Patrick visits Coney Island" explains why there are no churches on Coney Island.

This is an entertaining collection, easily read in under an hour. The language is perfect for reading aloud to children, although adults would probably prefer the tales to have a little more detail and a lot more bite. The tale of Diarmuid and Grainne, for instance, is so over-simplified that Diarmuid's fairy foster-father, Aongus, is reduced to a human friend. The book is illustrated throughout by line drawings that are as spare as the texts.

This book is excellent for a parent to share with a child or for the newcomer to the realm of Irish folktales. If, however, you're looking for details rather than summaries of the tales, you'll want to look elsewhere.

review by
Laurie Thayer

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new