The Glories of Ireland eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 452 pages of information about The Glories of Ireland.
towards Queen Medb near the close of the Tain.  Her army is flying in rout homeward across the Shannon, closely pursued by Cuchulainn.  As he approaches the ford he finds Queen Medb lying prostrate on the bank, unable any longer to guard the retreat of her army.  She appeals to her enemy to aid her; and Cuchulainn, with that lovable boyish delight in acts of supreme generosity which is always ascribed to him, undertakes to shield the retreat of the disordered host from his own troops and to see them safely across the river, while Medb reposes peacefully in a field hard by.  The spirit which actuates the heroes is well expressed by Cuchulainn when his friends would restrain him from going forth to his last fight, knowing that in that battle he must fall:  “I had rather than the whole world’s gold and than the earth’s riches that death had ere now befallen me, so would not this shame and testimony of reproach now stand recorded against me; for in every tongue this noble old saying is remembered, ’Fame outlives life.’”

The Irish tales surpass those of the Arthurian cycle in simplicity, in humor, and in human interest; the characters are not mere types of fixed virtues and vices, they have each a strongly marked individuality, consistently adhered to through the multitude of different stories in which they play a part.  This is especially the case with regard to the female characters.  Emer, Deirdre, Etain, Grainne may be said to have introduced into European literature new types of womanhood, quite unlike, in their sprightliness and humor, their passionate affection and heroic qualities, to anything found elsewhere.  Stories about women play a large part in ancient Irish literature; their elopements, their marriages, their griefs and tragedies, form the subject of a large number of tales.  Among the list of tales that any bard might be called upon to recite, the “Courtships” or “Wooings” probably formed a favorite group; they are of great variety and beauty.  The Irish, indeed, may be called the inventors of the love-tale for modern Europe.

The gravest defect of this literature (a defect which is common to all early literature before coming under the chastening hand of the master) is undoubtedly its tendency to extravagance; though much depended upon the individual writer, some being stylists and some not, all were prone to frequent and grotesque exaggerations.  The lack of restraint and self-criticism is everywhere apparent; the old Irish writer seems incapable of judging how to shape his material with a view to presenting it in its best form.  Thus, we have the feeling, even with regard to the Tain Bo Cualnge, that what has come down to us is rather the rough-shaped material of an epic than a completed design.  The single stories and the groups of stories have been handled and rehandled at different times, but only occasionally, as in the Story of Deirdre (the “Sorrowful Tale of the Sons of Usnech"), or in the later versions of the “Wooing of Emer”,

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The Glories of Ireland from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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