Love Stories from Irish Myth
Ali Isaac & Jane Dougherty
I would like to thank Sue Vincent for inviting us (Jane Dougherty and Ali Isaac) to talk about Grá mo Chroí. So here goes, in time for the Saint Patrick’s Day binge.
For the tiny handful who are not fluent Irish speakers, the title means ‘Love of my Heart’: the collection of retellings Ali Isaac and I put together being of some of the great love stories from Irish myth.
Why did we do it? Because we love the rhythm and the language of these stories, written, or rather told, so long ago, in the pre-Christian era before the shadow of Christian purity fell upon Irish culture and expunged many of the legends of inappropriate material. Women, of course, being anathema to the Christian Church, ended up with the short straw in many of the later versions of these stories. Ali and I wanted to give our versions of what we believe to be the original stories, where the women were not wicked temptresses, whores, or pure as the driven snow. Too pure to even…
But I didn’t come here to rant about Christian hagiography. Irish myth is a wonderful pagan romp. Its heroes and heroines are beautiful and warlike, endowed with magic powers, incredible strength, great wisdom, or beautiful singing voices, quick to laugh, to cry, and of course to fight. They will stop a war the time to play a board game, for the queen and general to deal with her period, or simply because the other side asked nicely. The women choose their own husbands for love and force their lovers to elope with them, a king kills his rival and is abandoned by all his men because they think it was a mean thing to do, and great warriors cry when their favourite hound dies. Little of what they get up to seems ‘sensible’ to modern readers, and certainly there is none of the Christian morality we are used to reading in literature from the Middle Ages onwards.
Both Ali and I have been very affected by our delving into the workings of Irish myth, which has produced dozens of poems and more stories as a result. I hope to publish some more retellings, and I think Ali has one or two projects up her sleeve too. As a Saint Patrick’s Day special (he has to be good for something!) Grá mo Chroí will be free on March 16th, 17th and 18th.
Here is a short excerpt from the first story in the collection, The tragedy of Bailé and Aillinn.
Bailé, the soft-spoken, left Emain Macha in the north to meet Aillinn, his betrothed. Rare was such a wedding host, and uncommonly joyful. For the king of Ulster’s only son and the daughter of the king of Leinster had made a love match. Even the sun shone bright on Bailé’s journey, the hounds danced and milled about the horses’ legs, fancy bridle bits sang silver songs in the wind, and the company was filled with joy.
Bailé left behind his own lands of Ulster, the blue lochs and gorse-yellow hills where the eagles cried. Before him, beyond the purple peaks of home, lay the low, wooded hills and the rich plains of Leinster. He saw his Aillinn in the contours of the hills, in the white plumage of the swans on the river. She was soft as new grass and spring foals, wild as the March wind, and generous as the blackbird singing to the world. His heart was full of joy that soon they would be wed and their union would bind together her rich beauty of soft hills and birdsong, and his wild majesty of the eagle and the red deer.
You can find out everything of any interest there is to know about Ali Isaac by visiting her blog http://aliisaacstoryteller.com/ You can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org mail to: email@example.com. Her books are available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.