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Early Irish Myths and Sagas

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,090 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
First written down in the eighth century AD, these early Irish stories depict a far older world - part myth, part legend and part history. Rich with magic and achingly beautiful, they speak of a land of heroic battles, intense love and warrior ideals, in which the otherworld is explored and men mingle freely with the gods. From the vivid adventures of the great Celtic hero ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 17th 1981 by Penguin Classics (first published 1981)
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Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourtIn the Woods by Tana FrenchThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeUlysses by James JoyceDubliners by James Joyce
Best Irish Books
123rd out of 498 books — 402 voters
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Penguin Classics
146th out of 367 books — 102 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 16, 2013 Hadrian rated it really liked it
A collection of loosely-organized myths with barely any continuity, long segments of genealogy and repetition like the slow parts of the Odyssey.

Yet even in these rough fragments, there are still fragments of storytelling genius. There are segments about rolling heads and noble warriors that would fit in well with the The Prose Edda, there are comic scenes of drunkenness, there is a burdened hero, Cú Chulaind, like Hercules, there is even real love and heartbreak.

The notes and introduction were
Jul 27, 2014 Lada rated it it was amazing
Collection of myths from early Christian era, impregnated with pagan myths. Essential for those who research into the myth, orality in the dawn of Western civilisation, and Indoeuropean culture, their religion, their beliefs.
There is this marvellous tension between the reality and fantasy, which is not accidental to literary transmission but but is characterisic of Celts.The universe of these stories is striking. The images are so powerful, so lively, brimming full of Irish imagination.For examp
Apr 22, 2013 Andrada rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-ancient
I was a bit frustrated with this book due to the way it was translated. I’m not sure what the translation conventions are concerning old Irish texts, but I feel like a lot more could have been done for the flow of the text as well as its explanation. The phrasing of the dialogue was backwards, some of the expressions were hard to understand and a lot of the content was conflicting, especially where different variants of the story existed as well as missing segments. I feel like the translator co ...more
May 16, 2012 Grania rated it it was ok
Shelves: ambivalent
Feck, those Irish legend lads. Jealousy, cheating, double-crossing, land grabbing, and incest. Throw in a few dodgy planning deals, and the place has hardly changed.
It is hard to rate a book like this. If I say I did not like it I am talking about its entertainment factor, not the cultural meaning of these tales or the fact that the oral tradition has a completely different approach of addressing its audience. I am deeply in awe of the fact that these stories have survived the test of time and have been restored. Who knows, some of them might have been first told many thousands of years ago. To have these stories with us today is a gift that can't be praise ...more
Jul 17, 2009 Pedro rated it really liked it
A great book ! Gantz is able to select some of the most interesting Early Irish texts and stories and present them in a very clear way all translated into English.
The only thing I miss from this book is sometimes that it could have more references and information about the texts - that would be useful specially for academics who wants to use the early Irish texts as historical sources.
In spite of that, it's a nice book and you're really able to have a good contact with early Irish world.
Jul 11, 2015 Stella rated it really liked it
These stories... are really hilarious. I mean they are seriously great. It is one of the most tragic things that I will never be able to hear these recited to me and five hundred others in a great hall over the course of three days by a bard who truly knows his craft, because these fragmented translations--they can't capture how great these stories really were. Instead there are only glimpses of what these could be. Also, they're really funny. Like half these stories only happen because the Iris ...more
Julian Meynell
Aug 21, 2015 Julian Meynell rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, medieval, irish
This is a hard book to rate. The stories contained with in it are often poorly written and confused, but this is not really the translator's fault. Instead, what we have here are traditional myths and folktales that have been written down very poorly by people of no talent and indifferent commitment. The translator, Jeffrey Gantz, does the best that he can, but he translates and does not interpolate, so the flaws of the originals remain the same. That is the right choice, in my opinion. But that ...more
Nov 21, 2007 Tim rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who like history
Shelves: irish-mythology
This book is a book of myths and sagas that were handed down threw many generations of the Irish. I would recomend to those who can handle reading dry and repitious books. It has color, character and a unique perspective at times, and gives an idea of how the Irish came to be who they are. However, it can be like reading The Silmirilion by Tolkien. The lists of things, names and events spirals out of control at times and gets confusing and boring.
Angela Joyce
Mar 30, 2010 Angela Joyce rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Jason Lee Norman, Donal Keady
Crammed with soaring severed heads, spilling entrails, and tough guys who growl, "You do not rule me. Clouds of blood will come to you" everytime they hear a warning they don't like, this is enough to convince anyone that it ain't all faeries and Guinness over here...
Oct 30, 2007 Brent rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
A decent collection, although more material from the Mythological and Fenian Cycles should have been included.
Oct 20, 2011 Paul rated it liked it
I picked up this book to get a cheap and fast introduction to the early Irish story cycles, and it delivered adequately. As the translator notes, the stories included here are only a small selection, but they do help to fill in some gaps - especially if, like me, you keep seeing references to tales like "The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel" and "Bricriu's Feast" in other readings.

It should be said that this literature is not as instantly accessible as, say, Beowulf or the Odyssey - at least I
I only read about 4-5 of the stories from this book. Some of them were quite good, but then others didn't seem to have any coherence. Structurally it was quite obvious that they were intended to be oral stories rather than written down because they have a lot of repetition (see "The Intoxication of the Ulaid," where a druid and a king go through a lengthy list of warriors and court members identifying each one using the same set of introductory phrases each time).

In comparison to the Mabinogion
Jul 05, 2015 Patrick rated it really liked it
Gantz does a good job of translating these stories while maintaining the sense of oral Celtic culture being transcribed and sometimes amended by Christian monks. The best of these stories convey a strangeness and symbolic sense of life lacking in Christian legends.
Jun 12, 2013 Juli rated it it was amazing
Shelves: druids
I very much enjoyed most of the stories herein and found it a good introduction to the Ulster Cycle stories.

However, I can see how some might see the stories as dull or frustrating. When I read them (past and present) I don't tend to read for entertainment value so much as the educational factor, the brain power it takes to thread the stories together, especially when you're talking of the more fragmentary texts. Not to mention the imagination it inspires--what did the people who wrote these sto
Dec 01, 2011 Dan rated it liked it
I didn't enjoy this book as much as I hoped I would. Part of it is my ignorance of the characters. Cu Chulain was the only one I had heard of so for most of the stories I had no clue who anyone was. I know Greek and Latin myth well enough to know who everyone is so I just expected to be able to follow these stories. If I read this again I might try to make a list of who is who.
The other problem I had is that some of the longest stories were mostly spent describing what the characters looked lik
Oct 13, 2015 Lynn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-history
Read this for a Celtic history class at Aberdeen, along with the Mabinogion and some others. Too long ago now to remember what I thought of it, but I kept it, which says something.
Dec 15, 2014 David rated it liked it
Interesting, though I didn't really learn anything new. Some of the names that appear are a tad hard to pronounce, but that's Gaelic for you.
Oct 06, 2015 Jean rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Early Irish literature and history
A good, slow read. Well-chosen and well-translated stories that--except for the 'Wooing of Etain' and 'The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel'--belong to the Ulster Cycle. Highly recommended.
Feb 25, 2013 Raelene rated it liked it
Irish legends are nothing like you'd expect. The heroes are larger-than-life but also deeply human and flawed. Importantly, Ireland's ancient heritage is the only Western tradition not filtered through the Roman empire and its attendant heroes, and there are thus no correlations between Irish heroes and Greek/Roman counterparts. The stories are fabulously complicated and endlessly intriguing. Though I tend to prefer Lady Gregory's more fanciful re-tellings of these Irish myths and legends, this ...more
Mike Ahern
Sep 29, 2014 Mike Ahern rated it liked it
Very interesting collection of stories.
Mar 30, 2013 Geneva rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, and I think my problems with this book were not the book's fault so much as a general problem with trying to compile written fragments of what was largely an oral tradition. The stories were often fragmented or repetitive, but the editor always explained that it was because this one was compiled from a few different fragments, or that one was incomplete, or the other one was probably an earlier version of another one. Probably a better book for scholars than for someone just looking ...more
Anna C
Apr 02, 2015 Anna C rated it it was ok
Shelves: irish
A very tedious read.

In the introduction to the text, we learn that these stories originally belonged to a vibrant oral tradition, and that they were scrawled down in a slipshod manner by drunk/tired/lazy scribes. In fact, the translator admits that had Celtic storytellers told these tales as they are presented in the book, no one would sit through them. Translation: even the Celts wouldn't enjoy the stories in this collection. What an endorsement.
Ann Nicgorski
Feb 14, 2014 Ann Nicgorski rated it really liked it
The stories are awesome, but a more user friendly translation is desired. A glossary and index too. Ideally a website with audio files for pronunciation help among other things...
Feb 23, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
It was interesting to read myths and stories created by someone other than the Greek traditions we learned about in elementary/high school. These are also much more casual stories than other medieval literature. Very well written considering the translation difficulties. I've read other translations and this one seems to be more realistic of the time rather than adapted to current time.
Read this for an Irish and Nordic Mythology class. It mostly focuses on stories from the Ulster area, so there's nothing in there about Oisin, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, etc, which I found disappointing. There are some nice stories; I especially liked "The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn". That one was surprisingly moving.
Shannon Winward
Mar 06, 2012 Shannon Winward rated it liked it
high entertainment

I've been reading Early Irish Myths and Sagas, a collection of - well. Early Irish myths. And sagas.

The stories are at once tedious, confusing, romantic, and humorous. They do go on and on sometimes, but buried in the long and cumbersome narratives there are little bits of gold.

Aug 22, 2014 Jill rated it liked it
Shelves: ireland, fantasy-myth
Very interesting to read and learn more early Irish literature, but it was a bit slow. The Irish are known for their stories and the rich detail, but the tales are dense, so they had to be read slowly, bits at a time. My third Classics Club book finished!
Apr 26, 2016 Robin rated it liked it
Shelves: asnc
I enjoyed the stories, but I thought they would have been far more accessible if more context/commentary had been provided. As a newcomer to these stories I felt a little lost at times and would have appreciated more background information.
Ancestral Gael
Nov 24, 2010 Ancestral Gael rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of tales from Irish Myths as put together by Jeffrey Gantz. I found the introductions really helpful, too.
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