I received some books for Christmas, as usual, and the one I am reading first is Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland (told as a series of stories of Irish legends and heroes, along with more modern history, all mixed in with the personal tidbits that make the McCourt boys' tales so interesting to read.
Malachy is Frank's younger brother, as those of you who are familar with Frank's "Angela's Ashes" are well aware. His writing style is every bit as captivating as Frank's, I think, and I already recommend Malachy's book to you even though I have only just started reading it.
One of the very first ancient stories that Malachy recounts in the book is of the legendary giant warrier Fionn mac Cumaill. Here I must tell you that Malachy McCourt relies heavily on the writings of the great Irish storyteller Peig Sayers for these early stories I am reading now. Peig was a fantastic storyteller of the early legends, especially in the oral tradition (as was McCourt's own father, by the way) but she never learned English and so her stories, related by Malachy, are directly from the Irish, of necessity. As a result, this wee American brain is mentally translating Fionn mac Cumaill as "Finn McCool", though McCourt never does. I take this liberty because McCourt mentions the legend of the "construction" of the wondrous "Giant's Causeway" in County Antrim which stretches out into the sea towards Scotland. I have heard of this legend before, but the Irish hero was called Finn McCool in the version I have read. So I make the assumption the names are the same, the latter simply anglicized. Please correct me if you disagree with my assumption.
I realize that Irish history may seem off-topic for this blog, Ireland not being part of the United Kingdom now, but if you know me you will understand my collateral interest and forgive my digression. (McCool happens to be of Northern Ireland, though, at least the Causeway story.)
Anyway, the story goes that the visiting giant from Scotland came upon Fionn mac Cumaill, who had disguised himself as a baby. An 18-foot baby, but a baby nonetheless. And the "baby" bit the giant and caused the Scottish visitor to calculate that if an Irish baby were so fearsome, he had no further desire to meet the adult beings of the Isle, and ran back into the sea, pursued hotly by Fionn mac Cumaill, who was throwing rocks at the giant as the chase progressed. Legend says one of these rocks missed the giant and landed in the sea, becoming the Isle of Man.
I don't know.
But the stories are fascinating.
I am reading about Deirdre now.
"One day when the girl had grown into quite a beauty, her tutor was flaying a calf on the snow-covered ground. Nearby a raven was drinking the blood that had collected in the snow.
"Those three colors remind me of the man I would love, a man I see in my dreams," Dierdre told her nurse. "He has hair as black as the raven, cheeks as red as the calf's blood, and skin as white as the snow."
"There is such a man," said the nurse, and he lives in the household of [king] Connor. He is Naoise, son of Uisneach..."
I love it. I can't wait.