Ireland's immortals A history of the gods of Irish myth

M. A. 1980- Williams

Book - 2016

Ireland's Immortals tells the story of one of the world's great mythologies. The first account of the gods of Irish myth to take in the whole sweep of Irish literature in both the nation's languages, the book describes how Ireland's pagan divinities were transformed into literary characters in the medieval Christian era--and how they were recast again during the Celtic Revival of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lively narrative of supernatural beings and ...their fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories, Mark Williams's comprehensive history traces how these gods - known as the Tuatha De Danann - have shifted shape across the centuries, from Iron Age cult to medieval saga to today's young-adult fiction. We meet the heroic Lug; the Morrigan, crow goddess of battle; the fire goddess Brigit, who moonlights as a Christian saint; the mist-cloaked sea god Manannan mac Lir; and the ageless fairies who inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's immortal elves. Medieval clerics speculated that the Irish divinities might be devils, angels, or enchanters. W. B. Yeats invoked them to reimagine the national condition, while his friend George Russell beheld them in visions and understood them to be local versions of Hindu deities. The book also tells how the Scots repackaged Ireland's divine beings as the gods of the Gael on both sides of the sea--and how Irish mythology continues to influence popular culture far beyond Ireland.

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Subjects
Published
Princeton, New Jersey ; Oxford : Princeton University Press [2016]
Language
English
Physical Description
xxx, 578 pages ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 517-555) and index.
ISBN
9780691157313
0691157316
Main Author
M. A. 1980- Williams (author)
  • Hidden beginnings: from cult to conversion
  • Earthly gods: pagan deities, Christian meanings
  • Divine culture: exemplary gods and the mythological cycle
  • New mythologies: pseudohistory and the lore of poets
  • Vulnerability and grace: the Finn cycle
  • Damaged gods: the late Middle Ages
  • The imagination of the country: towards a national Pantheon
  • Danaan mysteries: occult nationalism and the divine forms
  • Highland divinities: the Celtic revival in Scotland
  • Coherence and canon: the fairy faith and the east
  • Gods of the gap: a world mythology
  • Artgods.
Review by Choice Reviews

A scholar of medieval Irish, Welsh, and English literature, Williams (Lincoln College, Univ. of Oxford, UK) has written what will be the go-to book on the gods of Ireland for the foreseeable future. At home with Old and Middle Irish texts, Williams traces the Irish gods from their first appearance in eighth-century narratives to their appropriation in contemporary music, visual arts, literature, and neo-paganism. Because pre-Christian Irish culture was almost entirely oral, even the earliest texts depicting the Irish gods, though they may retain "a residue of pre-Christian material," were written by men trained in the ecclesiastical Latin traditions of the Church. These writers had to set the Irish gods within their Christian worldview, a task they achieved in various ways. Unlike the stable Greek and Norse pantheons, in which gods are clearly characterized and connected with particular domains, the Irish gods are more like a nation than a family, and individual gods may be little more than a name. Yet this indeterminacy encouraged 19th- and 20th-century artists such as W. B. Yeats, George Russell, and Fiona Macleod to create what Williams calls "neomyth." The book includes a helpful guide to pronunciation and a conspectus of the major medieval Irish sources. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.--G. Grieve-Carlson, Lebanon Valley CollegeGary R. Grieve-CarlsonLebanon Valley College Gary R. Grieve-Carlson Choice Reviews 54:11 July 2017 Copyright 2017 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

From the early Middle Ages to modern times, Williams (Simon & June Li Fellow in the Humanities, Univ. of Oxford; Fiery Shapes: Celestial Portents and Astrology in Ireland and Wales 700–1700) guides readers through an examination of the history and development of Irish gods and their myths. Discussions include topics such as how stories and characteristics of the pre-Christian gods changed when Christianity was introduced (e.g., the pagan god Lugus's transformation into the literary Lug), the effects of Irish gods and mythology on history and culture (e.g., the emergence of "Celtology"/Celtic studies), the Irish gods in literature and art (e.g., the work of W.B. Yeats, George Russell, and impact of the Literary Revival), and more. Examinations of ancient and modern Irish sagas, poems, and other narratives such as "The Tragic Deaths of the Children of Lir" and Standish James O'Grady's two-volume History of Ireland appropriately frame these discussions. Includes a glossary and pronunciation guide. VERDICT Scholarly, complete, and engaging, this volume will complement existing works on the topic. Strongly recommended for students, scholars, and fans of Irish mythology and literature.—Jennifer Harris, Southern New Hampshire Univ. Lib., Manchester. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this weighty tome, Williams, a tutor in English at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, seeks to pull together the disparate strands of myth and lore over the course of centuries to provide a conclusive history of the Irish gods. "This book is the story of a nation's fantasy, and of the crossing-places where imagination meets belief... from the early Middle Ages through the present," he writes in his preface. In tackling such a broad and complicated topic, he confronts the odd dichotomies and paradoxes present in the body of Irish lore, in which humans and gods, mortals and immortals, and the natural and supernatural are almost interchangeable. He also traces the intermingling of pagan and Christian legends to see how they shaped each other. As he examines different narrative cycles, he shows how they've risen and fallen in popularity, flirting with obscurity before finding new life in popular culture. It's a dense, academic affair, slow and studious, and more than a little daunting for its thoroughness. Those looking for lively adventures or entry-level stories may be disappointed; scholars and researchers will leap to add this to their collections. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Williams traces the evolution of the divinities of Irish mythology--most frequently known as the Tatha D Danann or Peoples of the goddess Dan--from the early Middle Ages through to the present. He addresses the trajectory of the Irish divinities from the conversion period through to the end of the Middle Ages, and poses three interconnected questions: Who and what are the Irish gods? Why are they so unusual compared to the gods of other European paganisms? Why did interest persist in them in medieval Ireland? He targets two audiences: the first colleagues whose expertise is concentrated in one of the two poles which it addresses--medievalists who want to know more about the reception of Irish myth and scholars of modern Ireland with an interest in the Revival’s medieval roots; and the public. Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Ireland's Immortals tells the story of one of the world’s great mythologies. The first account of the gods of Irish myth to take in the whole sweep of Irish literature in both the nation’s languages, the book describes how Ireland’s pagan divinities were transformed into literary characters in the medieval Christian era—and how they were recast again during the Celtic Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lively narrative of supernatural beings and their fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories, Mark Williams’s comprehensive history traces how these gods—known as the Túatha Dé Danann—have shifted shape across the centuries, from Iron Age cult to medieval saga to today’s young-adult fiction.We meet the heroic Lug; the Morrígan, crow goddess of battle; the fire goddess Brigit, who moonlights as a Christian saint; the mist-cloaked sea god Manannán mac Lir; and the ageless fairies who inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s immortal elves. Medieval clerics speculated that the Irish divinities might be devils, angels, or enchanters. W. B. Yeats invoked them to reimagine the national condition, while his friend George Russell beheld them in visions and understood them to be local versions of Hindu deities. The book also tells how the Scots repackaged Ireland’s divine beings as the gods of the Gael on both sides of the sea—and how Irish mythology continues to influence popular culture far beyond Ireland.An unmatched chronicle of the Irish gods, Ireland’s Immortals illuminates why these mythical beings have loomed so large in the world’s imagination for so long.