In this post, Kate Mathis explores the significant achievement of Louey Chisholm’s *Celtic Tales Told To the Children* (1910) — a portrait of Deirdre which preserves some of the intricacy, danger, and violence of a thousand-year-old Gaelic tale…
Sarah’s recent post on Ella Young (1867-1956) introduced us to her best-known, beautifully-illustrated work, Celtic Wonder Tales, published in 1910 in collaboration with Maud Gonne. The copy belonging to the Museum of Childhood, owned formerly by our elusive reader, Dora Rose, contains two of the loosely-linked group of tales known to scholars of medieval Gaelic literature as ‘The Three Sorrows of Storytelling’, whose origins extend at least as far back as the fifteenth century. Ella included ‘The Children of Lir’ as well as ‘The Eric-Fine of Lugh’ (a simplified version of Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann, ‘The violent death of Tuireann’s children’, in which three brothers attempt, unsuccessfully, to placate the king of the Tuatha De Danann), but she omitted the other, which is of even greater antiquity and by far the most famous of the three.
Often referred to, erroneously, as ‘the story of Deirdre’, it is more than a thousand years old, composed in Ireland during the eighth or ninth centuries, written down in the twelfth (as Longes mac n-Uislenn, ‘The exile of Uisliu’s sons’), and a regular source of inspiration to historians of the Gaels like Seathrún Céitinn (ca. 1569-ca. 1644) as well as to their poets and seanchaidhean (tradition-bearers). The prominence of Deirdre, by no means the tale’s original focus, was developed most notably during the Celtic Revival (ca. 1880-ca. 1920), when the various tragedies of her short-lived life were explored, by both Scottish and Irish writers, in nearly thirty plays, novellas, and epic poems. One of these authors, ‘Fiona Macleod’ (alter-ego of Paisley-born critic and travel-writer William Sharp), exclaimed approvingly that “the name of Deirdre has been as a lamp to a thousand poets”. Continue reading