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Review: The Wishing of Biddy Malone-Ireland with children

Review: The Wishing of Biddy Malone-Ireland with children

The lilting cadence of The Wishing of Biddy Malone makes it a great book to read aloud and the illustrations do a good job of capturing the feel of the Irish countryside and contrasting the faerie kingdom. As the story opens, we learn that Biddy Malone loves to sing and dance, “[b]ut her singing was like a rusty gate in a wild west wind, and when she danced, her great dundering feet fell over each other.”  She also has a terrible temper.  One day, in a fit of pique, she throws a pan of milk at her teasing brothers and storms out the door, running through the village and down to the river.  When she finally stops, she sees a faerie village, “the kind that children were warned about.” Enchanted, she walks in to hear the music better, but as soon as she enters, everything stops.  It is there she sees the most beautiful boy she has ever seen, one who offers her three wishes.  She asks to “sing as sweetly as a thrush and dance as lightly as a deer…and for a loving heart.”  When she gets home, she discovers that two months have passed, and she still “sang like a squeaking gate and danced with feet like bricks.”  But she has been inspired by the visit to the faerie village and every day she dances for hours, slowly improving and despite her mother’s worries about what the little people did to Biddy, she is happier and her temper starts to improve as well.  By the time she is fully grown, she is the best singer and dancer in the country, but much to her sorrow she is unable to fall in love.  In a temper again, she hears the music from the faerie village and storms past her schoolteacher suitor to confront the faerie who gave her the wishes.  His response: “I didn’t offer to grant you your wishes.  I just asked you to name them.  Then I told you they would be yours.”  As she stops to consider what he’s said, he continues that the reason she has been unable to accept anyone’s proposal is that she loves him and he knew he could come back for her.  While the wishes...

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The Táin: The Great Celtic Epic

The Táin: The Great Celtic Epic

The Táin: The Great Celtic Epic, written by Liam Mac Uistin and illustrated by Donald Teskey, is the retelling of an epic Irish legend.  It is one of the tales of the Ulster Cycle, a group of eighty interrelated stories which recount the exploits of the Ulaid, a prehistoric people in the north of Ireland.  The Táin tells the story of a war started by Queen Maeve, the queen of Connacht, over a fight with her husband and a bull. Queen Maeve wants the Brown Bull of Cooley, the finest bull in Ireland, to prove to her husband that she is wealthier than he is. In comparing their holdings, Queen Maeve and her husband discover they are evenly matched except for Finnbeannach, her husband’s prize bull.  Queen Maeve is determined to find a bull the match of Finnbeannach and sets out to borrow or steal the Brown Bull of Cooley, the only bull in all of Ireland that can compete with Finnbeannach. In her efforts, Queen Maeve is opposed by Cuchulainn (Cú Chulainn), the only member of the Ulster army who is immune to a curse that puts the army to sleep.  What starts out as a simple cattle raid quickly turns into a monumental series of battles involving gods, goddesses, kings, queens, druids, and heroes.  The locations mentioned in the Táin are easy to identify and explore.  You can visit the remains of Queen Maeve’s castle in Rathcroghan; the Navan Fort, Eman Macha, where Culchulain and the boy army trained; the ford at Tarmonbarry where Maeve’s army crossed; the ford Áth Fhirdia in Ardee where Cuchulain slew his foster brother Ferdia; and even the hill at Emmoo near Roscommon where Finnbeannach and the Brown Bull of Cooley have their final confrontation. You can also follow the Táin Trail, a 315 mile route that traces the path taken by Queen Maeve’s army, and visit the resting places and battle sites mentioned in the story.  The trail starts off at the end of the story at the site where the two bulls do battle and continues on to the site where Queen Maeve’s castle is believed to have been located. The second segment of the trail passes thorough the town of Navan where the army crossed the River Boyne.  Navan is only a few...

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Review: O’Sullivan Stew-Ireland with children

Review: O’Sullivan Stew-Ireland with children

O’Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott is a tall tale in the Irish tradition and very enjoyable blarney.  Set in the town of Crookhaven, County Cork, it tells of the adventures of Kate O’Sullivan who manages to rescue the town from its misfortune and her family from the hangman’s noose by spinning tales and convincing the King that they’d been in worse spots before. As the story opens, Kate is on the coast, harvesting periwinkles for the evening stew.  Coastline foraging is still fairly common, you can learn more about how to do it at Slow Food Ireland and there are a number of recipes on Georgina Campbell’s Ireland website.  Lost in her daydreams, she hears a shout as the tax collectors try to take the village witch’s horse.  Kate runs to the village to get help only to be told that the witch is “not one of us.”  Furious, the witch goes into a snit and things changed in the village. “The fishnets came up empty.  The cows stopped giving milk.  Gardens died.  Trees fell on houses with remarkable accuracy.  And the rain was heavier than usual….”  Not one to be stopped, Kate convinces her family that they should steal the horse back from the king in order to appease the witch, arguing it’s better to die trying than slowly of starvation.  Needless to say, the attempt fails (with a surprising twist, the expressions in the illustrations are priceless).   Cast in front of the king, the king states “[d]o you realize the trouble you’re in? Have you ever been in a worse spot in your life?”  Kate pops up with “I have” and promises to tell her tale if the king will release them.  One story for each member of the family, she spins tales and you can almost hear her voice as you read the stories.  She manages to free herself and her two brothers, but when she tells the tale of her father’s worst fix, the King expresses disbelief, that is until the queen mother appears on the scene… O’Sullivan Stew is a great tale of strong willed women, kings, witches, fairies, selkies, sea dragons, talking animals, and giants.  It is set in County Cork  on Ireland’s southwest coast.  County Cork...

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Review: Finn McCool and the Great Fish-Ireland with children

Review: Finn McCool and the Great Fish-Ireland with children

Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Zachary Pullen tells the story of how the giant Finn McCool acquired his great wisdom. While Finn McCool was the biggest giant in all Ireland, and the greatest warrior ever known, he wasn’t known for being terribly bright.  One day he overhears his neighbors in Drumnahoon discussing his lack of mental agility and he is determined to change the situation.  From an old man in a neighboring village,  he learns that in the River Boyne there is a salmon who contains all of the wisdom of the world and that if he eats the salmon, the wisdom will be his.  Finn captures the fish, but as he sits looking at it, he realizes he is unwilling to sacrifice it for wisdom.  He removes the hook from the fish and while preparing to let it go, catches his thumb on the hook mingling his blood with the salmon’s and transferring the wisdom of the fish.  From then on, whenever he’s faced with a difficult problem, Finn always sucks the thumb he pricked with the fish hook. This retelling of an old folk tale contains heroes and magic and the lesson that physical prowess isn’t everything and kindness and wisdom are strengths as well.  My son loves to hear stories about Finn McCool, and he frequently asks if I’ve found more of them. The pictures of this edition are very evocative, with images of Finn helping his neighbors by carrying livestock in out of the rain, sitting and looking a bit like a turnip head, and his view of the glittering trail of fish scales that were all that remained of the old man that helped him. The River Boyne, where the salmon of wisdom lived, flows 70 miles northeast from County Kildare to enter the Irish Sea just below Drogheda in County Louth.  Despite only being 70 miles long, the river has historical and mythical significance.  It was the site of the battle of Boyne in 1690 which was a power struggle between James II of England, William of Orange, and King Louis XIV of France.  The Battle of the Boyne visitor centre in Drogheda, Co. Meath provides walking tours of the...

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Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk

Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk

Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk by Gerald McDermot was published in 1992. Set in Donegal, it retells an old European tale of luck and redemption.  “Tim and Kate were so poor they had not a penny or a potato between them…Even the mice were thin from want of food and the cat wouldn’t bother with chasing the creatures.”  Tim set out, traveling the length of the country to see if he could earn some money.  When he could walk no further, he stopped and lay down to rest.  While you may not want to walk the length of Ireland with your children, Glenveagh National Park in Northwest Donegal offers guided nature, history and garden walks.  No sooner had Tim started resting, when he heard music and voices from a little hollow in the side of the hill.  Tim knew that whoever spied the wee folk could demand their treasure.  Tim is given a goose that lays golden eggs and instructed to go home and tell no one.  He of course stops for the night and tells his hosts, the McGoons, about his good fortune.  His hosts swap the goose for another and when Tim gets home he finds that he only has an ordinary goose so he goes back to the wee folk demanding more treausre. In the end, the McGoons gave back what they had stolen and Tim and Kate are beset with folk who have heard of their good fortune.  With the help of the third treasure from the wee folk, they eventually regain their peace and quiet and lived “in a little cottage, on a little hill, at the end of a little lane in Donegal…”...

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