James Stephens grew up in the slums of Dublin and for the most part educated himself by reading widely. To earn a living he taught himself stenography, and while working as a stenographer he began to write poems and stories, some of which were praised by George W. Russell (Æ; 1867-1935), who read them in manuscript. Even the praise of an established writer was, however, insufficient to secure publication, and Stephens’s first success did not come until he was thirty, with the publication of The Crock of Gold. A contemporary fantasy involving two philosophers, leprechauns, and Irish gods, The Crock of Gold achieved the status of a minor classic and won the Polignac Prize for 1912. This was followed by another fantasy set in the present, The Demi-gods, about three angels who come to earth to accompany an engaging Irish vagabond. After that Stephens set out to retell Irish legends. Irish Fairy Tales offered stories from the legend cycle revolving around Finn MacCumhal, and Stephens planned a five-volume series of stories from the Táin Bó Cuailnge cycle but only completed two volumes: Deirdre, which was awarded the Tailteann Gold Medal, and In the Land of Youth.
Stephens was married and had two children. Among his lifelong interests was almost every phase of Gaelic culture, language, art, and literature. As an authority on Gaelic art, he served for some years as an assistant curator of the Dublin...
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