What were the Irish like before Oliver Cromwell? Why do the Irish insist on drinking and fighting at every turn? Why do the Irish believe in faeries? What is an "honor price"?
This book is a collection of stories that were told by bards and probably by parents to their Gaelic-speaking children for centuries. These are the stories that defined the Celtic culture of the Irish before the English succeeded in stamping out most of the Gaelic influence in Ireland. That cultural identity is now making a come-back and Gaelic is taking hold again on the Emerald Isle. These stories, translated in beautiful lyrical prose, share the honorable burning spirit that carried the Celts from continental Europe across the waters to Ireland, where they encountered the magical Sidhe (the faeries), the raiding Vikings, and the scarcity of land characteristic of island life.
These are the Irish tales of chivalry and Brithonic law rivaling the era of Camelot and King Arthur in England (themselves probably based on Celtic myths). I particularly enjoyed the mytho-historical stories of intrigue, betrothal, murder, and cattle-rustling. The boy hero, Cúchulainn, is a staple of heroic mythology, rendered with magical detail and epic proportion in these tales (slaying giants is standard fare). I found the Brythonic concepts of "honor price" and the boasting matches which resulted in the "hero's portion" at the king's table quite fascinating. And then there's the seamless (if dubious) integration of the Other world (the Sidhe) into the real world.
For me these stories represent an aspect of Irish Celtic culture worth being proud of, in contrast to the modern idea of Ireland as perhaps uneducated drinkers and fighters. These stories shows that the Irish have always been drinkers and fighters but these activities were fundamentally attached to a sense of dignity and social honor. After all, who is an honorable Celt who can't hold his or her mead at a banquet? Who is an honorable Celt who does not defend his family and property by the might of his arm and the strength of his wit and charm?
I like to think of this book as composed of stories that were told around the campfires and in the inns by bards before the reduction of the Gaelic tongues by the English. I hope they will continue to be told. They hold a mystery and value beyond simple mythology. They are the key to the ancestors of the Irish.
Randy has rendered the Gaelic beautifully into English and provided valuable footnotes discussing unfamiliar concepts. Still, you may find it helpful to research some concepts of Brithonic law as you read- especially honor price and the notion of a single-year contract marriage.
The thirty stories that make up THE RED BRANCH TALES come from twelfth century Ireland translated into modern English with the beautiful lyrical prose that Dr. Randy Lee Eickhoff has brought to all his previous translations. The tales provide common themes of life among the various clans with the title providing an obvious clue as to what to expect. The stories vary in content with many dealing with heroism, war, and romance. The anthology is entertaining though like much of medieval literature, formal language is sprinkled with baroque eloquence and comically lewd capers. Also included are "Fragments" of incomplete tales and proverbs. As usual Dr. Eickhoff provides a marvelous collection, that will be of interest to English majors and those readers who recently savored The Canterbury Tales or Beowulf. Harriet Klausner
More of a retelling rather than a strict translation, this book is nevertheless researched thoroughly by the author. Covering many of the stories of the Ulster Cycle of myths, there are stories here that I actually hadn't heard before, as I am sure will be the case for many other readers. Overall, a great book, and not to be missed by someone interested in Irish and Celtic mythology.
Finally, translations of the corpus of medieval Irish literature are available!!!I have hunted for years to find little bits and pieces of the texts that Eichoff has so brilliantly brought together. I can't wait to get the rest of the series. Good job!