Irish Myths and Legends Part 5: Never-Ending Stories

I hope that my examination of the stories in this series show that Irish myths and legends are not museum pieces to be taken out once in a while, dusted down, admired and then put back in a glass case. These stories are the living companions to our daily lives. They make us weep, laugh, cheer or sit in awed silence. They are as relevant now as when they were first created, and will be as equally relevant in a thousand years hence. You never know, our descendants could one day be telling their own version of these stories to colonists on Mars as the distant sun shines weakly over that strange pink and mauve landscape.

In the meantime, if you would like to enjoy Irish tales, please come along to my summer shows in the Crane Bar, Galway. If you can’t get along to the show, you can enjoy the stories in my book Galway Bay Folk Tales. What I set out to do with the book was to create a written work that would have the same energy and impact as my live performances. And what shapes my telling of stories is my belief that stories should never be passive – they must excite emotions, debate, disagreements and moments of breath taking wonder. As well as local folk tales, myths and urban legends from the west of Ireland, the book combines history, archaeology, theories on early settlements in Ireland, as well as philosophy, astro-physics and my own imagination. The book is also filled with wonderful illustrations by the artist Marina Wild. The result is a fast paced book filled with magic and adventures that covers a period of time from the birth of the universe right up to post Celtic Tiger Ireland.

But Irish stories also impact on my other work. In my novel ‘Transformation’ a terrifying creature from Irish folklore, a Pooka, threatens the lives of two young lovers. The use of a traditional magical creature allows me to examine the nature of love and grief as well modern Galway’s vibrancy, multi-culturalism, poverty and divisions. Even my sci-fi story ‘Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart’ is shaped by Irish and Scottish stories. As well as playing with Scots and Irish words in the text, the main female character Nooma owes a lot to the much maligned Aoife.

But of course there are other ways of enjoying Celtic myths and legends: in books, film, comics as well as storytelling. The Secret of Kells animated movie and the tie in book by Eithne Massey weaves myth, saint tales and history into a children’s adventure story. It's great fun but also a wonderful introduction to Ireland’s rich heritage of myths and legends. Hugh McMahon takes a different approach in Limerick Folktales which retells the rich folklore of Limerick in a comic book format; the stories and pictures appear simple enough, but as you read them they reveal a richness of curious facts and details. Marie Heaney’s Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends is a perfect read; a lyrical and paced retelling of ancient stories about Irish heroes and saints.

I began by saying I am a lucky man to be living in Galway, writing and telling stories. But I am also lucky to be a father to two boys who are as engaged in stories and words as I am. We often go for walks up a little rise of boggy ground which we call the Yeti Hill. From the top we can see the full stretch of Galway Bay and all the surrounding landscape. Everywhere we look around us there are stories; stories of saints, warriors, princesses, giants and magical islands. They are tales that nurture my children and take their imaginations on incredible journeys. With a nod to my children and the future generation of storytellers and story lovers, I’d like to finish this essay with the closing words of Galway Bay Folk Tales:

"In the evenings we sometimes stand at the boys’ bedroom window and watch as the sky darkens and the first stars appear over Yeti Hill. The infinite stars were there before the children were born. The star will be there when my Galway boys become Galway men and, who knows, maybe Galway fathers. The stories, and the infinite possibility of endless other stories, will also be there. Doubtless the lads will have their own versions, and may even add a tale or two of their own. Anything and everything is possible…" 

For more on Rab’s work as a writer, storyteller and tutor see:
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Tags: Celtic, Folklore, Legends, Mythology, Myths, Story-telling


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