Folklore I: Irish Myths and Legends, and “Listen to the Land Speak” by Manchán Magan

Manchán Magan’s 2020 bestseller, “Thirty-Two Words for Field”, is a treasure trove of almost-forgotten Irish words, place names, and traditions. His new book, Listen to the Land Speak, will be published on October 6th and is a beauty that we all should read to understand our Irish landscape and its connection to our vast heritage of myths, legends, folklore, and fairytales.

Listen to the Land Speak

In Listen to the Land Speak, Magan’s journey traces our ancient stories through bogs, over mountains, and across rivers, recounting along the way the deep ancient myths (and the history, geography, and geology related to them) but also the stranger smaller folk tales like the fóidín mearaí, a patch of ground that looks no different from any other, but if you step on it you are catapulted into the land of the fairies.

Irish Myths and Legends

I’ve always been interested in old stories, in myths and legends, in folktales and fairytales. In stories of the Tuatha de Danann and Amergin and the exploits of Fionn, in tales of fairy forts, hawthorn trees, and banshees.

Luckily for us, many of our Irish myths and legends, folktales and fairytales have survived and have the attention of scholars and readers all over the world. Our wonderful Irish publishers have produced some beautiful (inside and out, have a look at these designs) books in recent years.

Irish Myths and Legends by Lady Augusta Gregory was first published in 1904 (then titled Gods and Fighting Men). It’s been re-released this year by New Island in a stunning new edition, truly a book which should be owned by every Irish household. Gregory was a founder of the Irish Literary Revival, as she turned from her Anglo-Irish roots towards Irish language and culture, and nationalism. This volume of Irish myths and legends – from the Fir Bolg to the Tuatha de Danann to Fionn and Diarmuid and Oisín – is an essential, energetic retelling of our foundation myths.

A Journey Through Ireland

Magan reprises some of these stories in Listen to the Land Speak: from Queen Maeve to Cú Chulainn to Tír na nÓg. He investigates their connection to our landscape and what remnants or echoes may remain for the modern explorer to discover – his wanderings took him to every part of Ireland, down laneways and back roads and squeezing into caves. His decades of travel to every corner of the world often serve to further illustrate a point and demonstrate the many similarities between myths from different continents.

During lockdowns many of us rediscovered our local landscapes – hills, woods, rivers – and this book is an opportunity for us all to learn even more about some of these important Irish sites. As Manchán says, ‘there are hardly any places in Ireland where you are not in close proximity to a site associated with a particular deity or hero and the stories connected with them.’ It’s an essential read for those of us curious about this beautiful land we are so privileged to inhabit – its history, language, geography, customs, and, maybe most importantly, the stories we tell each other and have always told each other about all of these.

And that’s the heart of it: there’s a reason these ancient stories have survived to the 21st century to be retold by our great contemporary writers and illustrators. These stories have a deep feeling of truth to them, to me at least. They connect us in a long line to our ancestors who heard the same or similar stories. We’re animals, made of the same nuts and bolts as the mountains, the trees, and the wandering beasts – it makes sense that we yearn, consciously and unconsciously, for a deeper connection to those things. In an increasingly secular world, it’s a search for and potentially a discovery of a meaning underlying our everyday lives – and any sense of meaning that increases our love and respect for the world around us and those inhabiting it can only be a good thing!

Aoife is the manager of Dubray Books Liffey Valley. She loves fantasy, history, natural history, mysteries, picture books (and all the rest really). Reader, tree lover, hobbit...

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