The Story of the Children of Lir and The Quest of the Sons of Turenn are two of the three famous and popular tales entitled ‘The Three Sorrows of Storytelling.’ The third is the Tragedy of the Sons of Usna, rendered by Miss Eleanor Hull in her volume CUCHULAIN. I have taken the two stories which are given here from the versions in modern Irish published by the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, with notes and translation. Neither of them is found in any very early MS., but their subject-matter certainly goes back to very primitive times.
The Secret of Labra is taken from Keating’s FORUS FEASA AR EIRINN, edited with translation by the Rev. P.S. Dineen for the Irish Texts Society, vol. i. p. 172.
The Carving of Mac Datho’s Boar. This is a clean, fierce, fighting story, notable both for its intensely dramatic dénouement, and for the complete absence from it of the magical or supernatural element which is so common a feature in Gaelic tales. It has been edited and translated from one MS. by Dr Kuno Meyer, in Hibernica Minora (ANECDOTA OXONIENSIA), 1894, and translated from THE BOOK OF LEINSTER (twelfth century) in Leahy’s HEROIC ROMANCES.
The Vengeance of Mesgedra. This story, as I have given it, is a combination of two tales, The Siege of Howth and The Death of King Conor. The second really completes the first, though they are not found united in Irish literature. Both pieces are given in O’Curry’s MS. MATERIALS OF IRISH HISTORY, and Miss Hull has printed translations of them in her CUCHULLIN SAGA, the translation of the Siege being by Dr Whitly Stokes and that of the Death of Conor by O’Curry. These are very ancient tales and contain a strong barbaric element. Versions of both of them are found in the great MS. collection known as the BOOK OF LEINSTER (twelfth century).
King Iubdan and King Fergus is a brilliant piece of fairy literature. The imaginative grace, the humour, and, at the close, the tragic dignity of this tale make it worthy of being much more widely known than it has yet become. The original, taken from one of the Egerton MSS. in the British Museum, will be found with a translation in O’Grady’s SILVA GADELICA. For the conclusion, I have in the main followed another version (containing the death of Fergus only), given in the SEANCUS MOR and finely versified by Sir Samuel Ferguson in his POEMS, 1880.
The Story of Etain and Midir. This beautiful and very ancient romance is extant in two distinct versions, both of which are translated by Mr A. H. Leahy in his HEROIC ROMANCES. The tale is found in several MSS., among others, in the twelfth century BOOK OF THE DUN COW (LEABHAR NA H-UIDHRE). It has been recently made the subject of a dramatic poem by ‘Fiona Macleod.’
How Ethne Quitted Fairyland is taken from D’Arbois de Jubainville’s CYCLE MYTHOLOGIQUE IRLANDAIS, ch. xii. 4. The original is to be found in the fifteenth century MS., entitled THE BOOK OF FERMOY.
The Boyhood of Finn is based chiefly on the MACGNIOMHARTHA FHINN, published in 1856, with a translation, in the TRANSACTIONS OF THE OSSIANIC SOCIETY, vol. iv. I am also indebted, particularly for the translation of the difficult Song of Finn in Praise of May, to Dr Kuno Meyer’s translation published in Ériu (the Journal of the School of Irish Learning), vol. i. pt. 2.
The Coming of Finn, Finn’s Chief Men, the Tale of Vivionn and The Chase of the Gilla Dacar, are all handfuls from that rich mine of Gaelic literature, Mr Standish Hayes O’Grady’s SILVA GADELICA. In the Gilla Dacar I have modified the second half of the story rather freely. It appears to have been originally an example of a well-known class of folk-tales dealing with the subject of the Rescue of Fairyland. The same motive occurs in the famous tale called The Sickbed of Cuchulain. The idea is that some fairy potentate, whose realm is invaded and oppressed, entices a mortal champion to come to his aid and rewards him with magical gifts. But the eighteenth century narrator whose MS. was edited by Mr S. H. O’Grady, apparently had not the clue to the real meaning of his material, and after going on brilliantly up to the point where Dermot plunges into the magic well, he becomes incoherent, and the rest of the tale is merely a string of episodes having no particular connexion with each other or with the central theme. The latter I have here endeavoured to restore to view. The Gilla Dacar is given from another Gaelic version by Dr P. W. Joyce in his invaluable book, OLD CELTIC ROMANCES.
The Birth of Oisín I have found in Patrick Kennedy’s LEGENDARY FICTIONS OF THE IRISH CELTS. I do not know the Gaelic original.
Oisín in the Land of Youth is based, as regards the outlines of this remarkable story, on the LAOI OISÍN AR TIR NA N-ÓG, written by Michael Comyn about 1750, and edited with a translation by Thomas Flannery in 1896 (Gill & Son, Dublin). Comyn’s poem was almost certainly based on earlier traditional sources, either oral or written or both, but these have not hitherto been discovered.
The History of King Cormac. The story of the birth of Cormac and his coming into his kingdom is to be found in SILVA GADELICA, where it is edited from THE BOOK OF BALLYMOTE, an MS. dating from about the year 1400.
The charming tale, of his marriage with Ethne Ni Dunlaing is taken from Keating’s FORUS FEASA. From this source also I have taken the tales of the Brehon Flahari, of Kiernit and the mill, and of Cormac’s death and burial. The Instructions of Cormac have been edited and translated by Dr Kuno Meyer in the Todd Lecture Series of the Royal Irish Academy, xiv., April 1909. They are found in numerous MSS., and their date is fixed by Dr Meyer about the ninth century. With some other Irish matter of the same description they constitute, says Mr Alfred Nutt, ‘the oldest body of gnomic wisdom’ extant in any European vernacular. (FOLK-LORE, Sept. 30, 1909.)
The story of Cormac’s adventures in Fairyland has been published with a translation by Standish Hayes O’Grady in the TRANSACTIONS OF THE OSSIANIC SOCIETY, vol. iii., and is also given very fully by d’Arbois de Jubainvilie in his CYCLE MYTHOLOGIQUE IRLANDAIS. The tale is found, among other MSS., in the BOOK OF BALLYMOTE, but is known to have been extant at least as early as the tenth century, since in that year it figures in a list of Gaelic tales drawn up by the historian Tierna. The ingenious story of the Judgment concerning Cormac’s Sword is found in the BOOK OF BALLYMOTE, and is printed with a translation by Dr Whitly Stokes in IRISCHE TEXTE, iii. Serie, 7 Heft, 1891.