Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Eileen O’Faolain did not write the stories in Irish Sagas and Folk-Tales; rather, she retells them. The book is not one story, or simply a collection of stories; it is organized into four parts that correspond to accepted thematic divisions of Irish mythology and tales. The stories in each section are arranged in a loose chronological narrative when possible and, most important, are written for general readers. O’Faolain, while maintaining idioms, uses standard English dialect instead of a stylized dialect, a practice in some collections that can be confusing.

In the first section, O’Faolain relates tales from the Mythological Cycle whose protagonists are the Tuatha De Danaan, or the people of the Goddess Danu. In later stories, these people become known as the Sidhe, or Faeries who live in the otherworld (usually underground) after their defeat by the Milesians. The Sidhe, a race of gods and their children, interact freely with mortals. In “The Quest of the Children of Turenn,” three mortal brothers must complete what seems to be impossible tasks in order to atone for killing the father of a De Danaan, Lugh of the Longbow. They travel through many countries to battle and kill many kings before they complete their quest, only to perish in their last task. Ultimately, they regain honor in death.

The next tales, “Midir and Etain” and “The Children of Lir,” are also about the De Danaan. In the former story, a Faery prince, Midir the Proud, falls in love with a mortal woman, Etain. They wed, but Midir’s jealous Faery wife, Fuamnach, has Etain turned into a butterfly who is blown away by the wind. Etain is whisked around Ireland until one day Angus of the Birds, the Irish God of love, sees her. He realizes that the butterfly is a beautiful woman and marries her. Through a series of events, Etain is reborn and marries a king, but Midir finds her and changes Etain and himself into swans so that they may fly away and be together forever. “The Children of Lir” also features a jealous wife. Eva’s niece and nephews become her children when she marries her brother-in-law, Lir, following her older sister’s death. Eva turns them into swans. After many years, the children, now old men and an old woman, are freed from the spell and thankfully die in one another’s arms.

In the next section, O’Faolain recounts tales of the Ulster Cycle that detail the exploits of the Ulstermen and their primary hero Cuchulain (Hound of Culann). The main portion of this section, “The Cattle...

(The entire section is 1035 words.)