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Posted by on Jan 30, 2010 in Artist's Eye, History, Language | 1 comment

The Irish Gift of Gab

The Irish gift of gab is the stuff of legend: from traditional Irish folk tales, to the wit and humor of Oscar Wilde, to the gorgeous imagery of poet William Butler Yeats… the Irish storytelling tradition continues as a timeless reminder of the people and their unique culture.

For centuries, the Irish have committed words to song, verse, and prose, offering the world a taste of ancient Celtic traditions. The greatest art treasure of the Irish people, the seminal Book of Kells, depicts the four books of the Gospel in stunning detail. Intricate knot work borders crafted in vibrant colors surround words that reinforce themes of faith and spirituality. For the Irish, words and language are so very important…

Irish folk tales were perhaps some of the earliest examples of the storytelling tradition. In these stories, Celtic symbolism and historical allegories were braided together, creating a fairy-tale style of storytelling that is always linked with the Emerald Isle. Stories were passed down through the generations as beloved fables, and Saints and heroes were often the protagonists of such tales. While many believe in the magical elements of Irish folk tales, others simply enjoy the creativity and metaphorical elements of these ancient stories…

One famous example of an Irish folk tale that is still told today is the legend of Finn McCool, an Irishman who went up against a Scottish giant named Benandonner. In this legend, Finn was challenged by the mammoth Scotsman and became so angry at his taunts that he proceed to tears rocks off a cliff and arrange them in the sea, thereby building a pathway to Scotland. By creating this “bridge”, he made it possible for the giant to come to him so that they could finally do battle with one another.

In this fable, the crafty Irishman devises an ingenious plan to foil his enemy: he hides in a house and finds a large bed, which he crawls into, disguising himself as a baby. When the giant finds him, Finn bites off part of his finger. The giant is so dismayed that a mere baby should be so powerful that he begins to fear what the tot’s father might be capable of. Benandonner then retreats to Scotland, scattering and wrecking the stone pathway as he does so.

This story is about the power of the Irish to prevail by their wits: this recurrent theme is also found in tales of foxy leprechauns who trick and taunt those who wish to take their treasure.

Today’s masterpieces of Irish fiction, such as the late Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, also celebrate the Irish storytelling tradition. In this novel, the Irish legend of Cuchelain is referenced throughout the book, and it is used to represent a powerful link between the main character and his father. Through the myths and legends of the Irish people, one generation bonds with the next.

The Irish authors and poets of modern literature have continued the old traditions, creating enduring works of unparalleled beauty. From Yeat’s famous poem, The Wild Swans At Coole, to James Joyce’s Dubliners (which really captures the Ireland of Joyce’s era), to the artistry of Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray…the Irish gift of self-expression continues. It is certain that many more works of genius will always come from the storytellers of the Emerald Isle…

Leigh Maher is the owner of the online Celtic jewelry store: Irish Celtic Jewels. On his blog, he shares tips and information about all things Irish, including jewelry, weddings and competitions.

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1 Comment

  1. great read!

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