Retold by: Yvonne Carroll
Illustrate by: Lucy Su
Publisher: Pelican Publishing Company
Publication Date: August 2004
Reviewed By: Holly Connors
Review Date: February 15, 2010
Brave knights, bold maidens, dragons and even 900-year-old swans are all within the pages of Irish Legends for Children, a book featuring a genre of fables that is all too often overlooked.
Irish Legends for Children contains six stories, the first three from the Red Branch Knights cycle and the final three from the Fianna cycle. Written for the 9 – 12 reading audience, the first two stories, while very exciting, are both quite sad (but how many legends actually have happy endings?). The first story, “Children of Lir” is about the four children of King Lir, who, with the passing of their mother, are being raised by their farther. Realizing how much his children miss their mother, King Lir resolves the problem by marrying again. This legend takes the evil stepmother to a whole new level as Aoife, the new queen, becomes jealous of the youngsters and changes them into swans.
“Setanta” the final story in the group of Red Branch Knights tales, follows a young boy whose desire is to attend a special school for boys who want to join the Red Branch Knights of Ulster. Told that he is too young to go to the school, Setanta takes matters into his own hands and heads off to the school where he joins the schoolboys in a brisk game of hurling (played with a stick and ball and requiring a lot of running on a field). The noise of the game bothers the king who is quietly playing chess in his nearby castle. Coming outside, the king soon notices how well Setanta plays. Impressed, the king invites the boy to join the school. All goes well until Setanta comes face to face with a wolfhound…
The final three stories center around the Fianna cycle and are much more upbeat. The first story introduces Fionn, a young boy who is sent away from home to protect him from his father’s enemies. Fionn is educated by two women warriors and then by Finneigeas, a poet. While living with Finneigeas, Fionn gets a taste of a magical salmon that gives him the ability to answer any question. The next story tells how Fionn defeats a powerful dragon while the final story chronicles Oisin, the son of Fionn, who travels to Tir na n-Og, the land of youth, “…a happy place, with no pain or sorrow.” After living with his new wife in Tir na n-Og for a few years, Oisin travels back to Ireland to visit his family. But there’s a problem; a few years in his new home is the equivalent to 300 years in Ireland!
Irish Legends for Children is a wonderful introduction to Irish legends, a genre that gets little notice in the US. While some of the terms, locations, and characters’ names may be difficult for American children to pronounce (ex. Leabharcham), the themes are universal.
The illustrations in this book are quite lovely and may well be the main draw for many children. In particular, the animals -- from the soaring swans, to the brightly colored dragon and beautiful white horse -- are gorgeous. The detailed landscape drawings will give youngsters a taste for the Irish countryside. Combine the illustrations with the uniquely Irish stories, and children will want to read, and re-read this book many times.
Quill says: Irish Legends for Children is an excellent introduction to the world of Irish folk tales.