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”,