Review: Queen Maeve & The Táin Stories

At the launch of her new book, Queen Maeve and the Táin Stories, in Dublin on 4th October, 2014, Archaeologist Frank Ryan gave an introduction to the book:

‘I want to thank Pauline for asking me to say a few words about her new book.  I have to say from the outset I was very taken by this book because it was about the ancient craft of storytelling.  I think there is nothing quite like a good story.  Long before writing was introduced as a method of communication there was storytelling.

If you can imagine, people have been living in this country for the last 10,000 years but it is only in the last 1500 years that the written word is being used here.   Before that people had to remember what was told to them and so poets and storytellers were highly regarded in society because they recorded the history and retold it.  We learn from the book how Celtic storytelling was most likely introduced into this country.

Pauline’s extensive knowledge of ancient Greek society allowed her to see a connection between the myths and legends of ancient Greece in the late bronze age and those of Ireland where the story telling we know of was introduced by the Celts round about the time of Christ if not before. That is not to say there wasn’t storytelling before the Celts arrived – there must have been.  But it is the stories that were subsequently written down in the early Christian period which were the myths and legends of that period that have come down to us.  At the time word of mouth was the only way of handing down historical facts through the generations in an illiterate society.  And although they can and do become embellished every time the story is told, nonetheless they are based on events that did occur in the past.  I was astonished to learn that there are 650 sagas and tales surviving in manuscript form.

But there is much more to this book.  We learn about the classification of ancient Irish literature into four main groups or cycles.

  1. Not alone are the most famous stories described but
  2. The oral tradition that nurtured these stories is very well explained
  3. As well as the society of the Celts and
  4. The impact of religious change on Celtic Ireland.

This is a very comprehensive book on the sagas and on the society that preserved them and I want to congratulate Pauline on the mammoth task she has undertaken with such success.

Queen Maeve and the Táin Stories is not just a lucid account of the stories that are fundamental to our identity, it carries us back to the source of our evolution as a Celtic nation and makes us wonder at an art form we are in danger of losing: our gift of storytelling.’

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