Monday, January 30, 2012

The Names Upon The Harp - Marie Heaney

"The stories in this book have been known to the Irish for centuries. They are preserved in manuscripts hundreds of years old, but long before they were written down by the scribes in early Irish monasteries, they had been told at feasts and gatherings by storytellers and bards, and were still told until recently." -Marie Heaney (Author's Notes)

This is probably my favorite children's book on Irish legends. The gorgeous artwork by P.J. Lynch alone makes it invaluable. It's perfect for eight to eleven year olds (though even my two year old is taken with it). The stories range from five to eight pages in length and generally include two to three paragraphs a page and the language is maybe a fourth grade level if I had to guess. The legends are separated by where they fall in the cycles so that is a great introduction for kids on the break up of the Irish legends and the stories are very engaging and told in the heroic manner in which they are meant to be conveyed.

It includes the stories of Moytura, Cu Chulainn and Finn. There is even a telling of Bricriu's Feast which can be somewhat graphic, but is a prime example of the strong warrior tales of Ireland as well as a perfect example of learning integrity and honor in both word and deed. It doesn't, however, go into any stories of the Cycle of Kings (or Historical Cycle).

On the down side, I wouldn't say the stories are long winded by any means, but if your child doesn't have an attention span past two minutes they might not work for you at this stage. The stories also don't gloss over the references to war and killing so if you're not comfortable with that for the younger age I would save those specific stories for when they are older though there are plenty of stories that don't have to do with battle at all that may be of value to your little one.

My only real issue with some of the stories was in leaving out details that I would have liked to have seen included. For example Finn and the Salmon of Knowledge neither Bodhmall or Liath Luachra are mentioned by name. Both a Druidress and a female warrior responsible for the training of Finn as a young boy are reduced to the roles of Finn's mother's "women assistants." The story of Scáthach and Cu Chulainn isn't even mentioned in the book at all. These women and their parts in the legends are important to include in understanding that the ancient Irish didn't view women as solely servants to men, but could be just as invaluable outside of being mothers, queens, and figures of attraction which the stories in this particular collection seem to focus on. That of course, doesn't reduce the significance of the stories that are included or how well they relate to your child and faith.

The book is beautifully illustrated and has a very easy to understand pronunciation guide in the back that is broken down by each story. If you want a book with easy to understand re-tellings, a place to begin your own memorization, or simply want to enchant your young ones with the amazing artwork and epic tales of Ireland, I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.

For a free preview from google books click here.

Author: Blackbird O'Connell
Irish Reconstructionist Parent
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