The romantic tales here retold for the English reader belong neither to the category of folk-lore nor of myth, although most of them contain elements of both. They belong, like the tales of Cuchulain, which have been similarly presented by Miss Hull,1 to the bardic literature of ancient Ireland, a literature written with an artistic purpose by men who possessed in the highest degree the native culture of their land and time. The aim with which these men wrote is also that which has been adopted by their present interpreter. I have not tried, in this volume, to offer to the scholar materials for the study of Celtic myth or folk-lore. My aim, however I may have fulfilled it, has been artistic, not scientific. I have tried, while carefully preserving the main outline of each story, to treat it exactly as the ancient bard treated his own material, or as Tennyson treated the stories of the MORT D’ARTHUR, that is to say, to present it as a fresh work of poetic imagination. In some cases, as in the story of the Children of Lir, or that of Mac Datho’s Boar, or the enchanting tale of King Iubdan and King Fergus, I have done little more than retell the bardic legend with merely a little compression; but in others a certain amount of reshaping has seemed desirable. The object in all cases has been the same, to bring out as clearly as possible for modern readers the beauty and interest which are either manifest or implicit in the Gaelic original.
For stories which are only found in MSS. written in the older forms of the language, I have been largely indebted to the translations published by various scholars. Chief among these (so far as the present work is concerned) must be named Mr Standish Hayes O’Grady—whose wonderful treasure-house of Gaelic legend, SILVA GADELICA, can never be mentioned by the student of these matters without an expression of admiration and of gratitude; Mr A. H. Leahy, author of HEROIC ROMANCES OF IRELAND; Dr Whitly Stokes, Professor Kuno Meyer, and M. d’Arbois de Jubainville, whose invaluable CYCLE MYTHOLOGIQUE IRLANDAIS has been much in my hands, both in the original and in the excellent English translation of Mr R. I. Best. Particulars of the source of each story will be found in the Notes on the Sources at the end of this volume. In the same place will also be found a pronouncing-index of proper names. I have endeavoured, in the text, to avoid or to modify any names which in their original form would baffle the English reader, but there remain some on the pronunciation of which he may be glad to have a little light.
The two most conspicuous figures in ancient Irish legend are Cuchulain, who lived—if he has any historical reality—in the reign of Conor Mac Nessa immediately before the Christian era, and Finn son of Cumhal, who appears in literature as the captain of a kind of military order devoted to the service of the High King of Ireland during the third century A.D. Miss Hull’s volume has been named after Cuchulain, and it is appropriate that mine should bear the name of Finn, as it is mainly devoted to his period; though, as will be seen, several stories belonging to other cycles of legend, which did not fall within the scope of Miss Hull’s work, have been included here.2 All the tales have been arranged roughly in chronological order. This does not mean according to the date of their composition, which in most cases is quite indiscoverable, and still less, according to the dates of the MSS. in which they are contained. The order is given by the position, in real or mythical history, of the events they deal with. Of course it is not practicable to dovetail them into one another with perfect accuracy. Where a story, like that of the Children of Lir, extends over nearly a thousand years, beginning with the mythical People of Dana and ending in the period of Christian monasticism, one can only decide on its place by considering where it will throw most light on those which come nearest to it. In this, as in the selection and treatment of the tales, there is of course room for much difference of opinion. I can only ask the critic to believe that nothing has been done in the framing of this collection of Gaelic romances without the consideration and care which the value of the material demands and which the writer’s love of it has inspired.
T. W. ROLLESTON
1 CUCHULAIN, THE HOUND OF ULSTER, by Eleanor Hull.
2 There is one important tale of the Finn cycle, the Pursuit of Dermot and Grania, which I have not included. I have omitted it, partly because it presents the character of Finn in a light inconsistent with what is said of him elsewhere, and partly because it has in it a certain sinister and depressing element which renders it unsuitable for a collection intended largely for the young.