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‘The Ballad of Oisín in Tir na nÓg’ by Michéal Ó Coimín **** (Reading Ireland Month)

Myths, fairytales and legends from all over the world hold a dear place in my heart and fascinate and intrigue me to no end. They are always one of the first literary searches I conduct upon being brought in contact with a new culture, as they often contain so much precious information about the customs and mentality of the countries they originate from.

The Ballad of Oisín in Tir na nÓg is a book I stumbled upon whilst searching for some Irish mythology for the  Reading Ireland Month Cathy and Niall are hosting, and it made me delighted.

The character of Oisín and his adventurous travel to Tir na nÓg or The Land of the Young as it is often translated as, is an old Irish myth whose origin I couldn’t really trace, but in the edition I own it is written in verse form, in the tradition of most epic myths and legends, like The Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Song of the Nibelungs by Michéal Ó Coimín in 1750.

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Oisin and the beautiful lady travelling to Tir na nOg.

This epic poem basically consists of a dialogue between Oisín and St. Patrick, to whom our hero relates the circumstances surrounding his journey to The Land of the Young, how he got there and how he ended up returning back. As the legend has it, a very beautiful young lady appeared one day and asked to take Oisín with her to the Land of the Young, promising him youth, wealth, love and everything he could possibly ever desire. Oisín of course accepted this offer and he tells St. Patrick about all the adventures they had while trying to reach this much-promised land.

After his arrival Oisín enjoys his life there, but after a while he comes to miss Ireland, his home country, and asks of his beautiful wife to allow him to go back and see it once. His lady is afraid he will not return, so she tells him to go but make sure he doesn’t get off his horse, because the moment his feet touch the ground he will be unable to return to her Land of the Young.

I do not want to give out the ending (though I’m sure some of you know it already), but I think it’s pretty obvious in which direction Oisín’s story is going to move towards. I really enjoyed reading this legend/poem and picking out all the similarities and differences it has with other similar legends I’ve read or heard of.

In 2014, I spent a semester in Poland as an Erasmus student and I had the opportunity to take a splendid course about fairies in tradition and culture, in which our brilliant lecturer acquainted us with so many different manifestations of fairies and fairy-like creatures and their usual behaviour. From the myth of Sir Orfeo (with which Oisín’s story shares so many elements) to the Shakespeare’s plays and Tolkien’s elves, the fairy tradition can be found in so many places. Therefore, I cannot help but observe the affinity between the fairy queens of those legends and the beautiful young woman who suddenly appeared to claim Oisín as her husband and take him to her land, where all his wishes could come true.

The story of Oisín has inspired so many writers; even W. B. Yeats had written a poem called The Wanderings of Oisin, which I’m certain is a retelling of this myth, as both Oisín and St. Patrick are included and it is also written in the form of an epic poem.

I throroughly enjoyed reading this myth, in addition to enhancing my mythology/legend collection. The storyline may seem typical today (though I’m not entirely sure where it was first encountered) but the Irish elements and the Gaelic influences are more than evident.

Have you read or heard of this myth? What other similar myths do you enjoy? 🙂

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‘Beowulf’ by Anonymous ****

2013 has been a great year for me in terms of reading old works.  I have ploughed through the Collected Works of William Shakespeare, becoming engrossed in all of those plays which I had not before read or studied.  I then chose to read The Iliad by Homer whilst on holiday in Menorca in September, and it surprised me that I so adored it.  For my last challenge of the year, I decided to give Beowulf a go.  It is a book which I probably should have read before going off to study English at University, but it was something which I never got around to.  Better late than never, I say.

‘Beowulf’, translated by Seamus Heaney

Beowulf is an Old English poem, and a wonderfully crafted one at that.  Whilst I did not read the pictured version, translated by Seamus Heaney, and opted instead for a free e-book, I was surprised at how easy the entirety was to read.  I am sure that a lot of people know this story already, since several film adaptations have been made which are either entirely or rather loosely based upon the storyline in the original.  If not, however, Beowulf deals with a monster named Grendel.  Beowulf, a hero of the Geats in Scandinavia, aids Hrodgar, the King of the Danes, whose ‘mead hall’ has been under attack by the monster.  The story goes on from here accordingly.

The scene is set immediately, both in terms of the physical geography and the social context.  The scenes created are so very vivid, particularly those which deal with battles.  The pace of the poem is fantastic, and the plot is very easy indeed to follow.  I did not quite fall in love with Beowulf as I did The Iliad, but I am beginning to really love epic poetry.

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‘The Iliad’ by Homer *****

I absolutely adore reading and learning about the Ancients, particularly the Greeks, but I’ve always put off reading The Odyssey and The Iliad. I think the sole reason for this relatively conscious decision was the way in which I thought both would be rather challenging and time-consuming reads. When I began The Iliad whilst in Menorca, however, I found that I was utterly mistaken. I was swept into the story immediately, and found it difficult to put down. (It must have looked as though I was practically glued to my Kindle for the duration, I’m sure).

Homer’s prose throughout is stunning, and his imagery is so incredibly powerful. I found the epic poem structure a glorious way in which to tell such a story. The poetic form gave every battle scene such rhythm and such marvellous power. The tale which Homer portrays is fierce and brutal, but it is also overwhelmingly gorgeous. It is sensuous throughout, and rather divinely written. The edition which I read was translated by Alexander Pope, and whilst I will never be able to compare it to the original text, I believe that he has rendered his translation with as much love and justice as he possibly could have.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I really feel as though I’ve achieved something in reading The Iliad. It’s one of the books I’ve wanted to read since I was about thirteen and saw my Grandfather’s beautiful hardback edition, but one which I’ve been too chicken to begin until now. Next project: The Odyssey.