The mythology of Ireland is often overlooked, but it is one of the richest of all, due to the Irish knack for storytelling, the uniqueness of the Irish language, and the historically robust defense of Irish identity and national character. At the heart of this mythology is the Ulster Cycle and the one-man army of Cú Chulainn, a chariot warrior who precedes every superhero in strength and invincibility. Many have attempted to translate and arrange the tales of Ireland, which have a loose cohesion fit for a small island, but at the top is the 1902 Cuchulain of Muirthemne by Lady Augusta Gregory (1852–1932), introduced by W. B. Yeats and so effectively capturing the lyrical flow and syntax of the people within:
“I see well,” said Finnabair, “two horses, fiery-dappled grays of one color, shape, and goodness, having one speed, keeping one pace, their ears pricked, their heads high, their nostrils and foreheads broad, manes and tails curled, thin-sided, wide-chested, galloping together. The chariot is made of fine wood with wicker work, newly polished, the yoke curved with silver ornaments, two black wheels, soft looped, yellow reins. I see in the chariot a stout man with reddish-yellow hair and a long forked beard. A soft purple coat he wears, stripes of bright gold, a bronze shield, a five-pronged javelin at his wrist, a cover of strange bird feathers over his head.”
“I know well who that man is,” said Medb. “A companion of kings, an old bestower of victories, a storm of war, a flame of judgment, a long knife of victory that will cut us to pieces—mighty Lóegaire of the Red Hand.”
Rich though the language is, it is also desperately in need of a modern update, and we are happy to provide that in Irish Folklore. As magical as Lady Gregory’s edition is, it will wear down any reader today, and contains unnecessary Anglicizations and minimal context, which is frequently confusing:
Attending to Concobar [. . .] was Fergus mac Róich, Celtchair son of Uithechair, Éogan son of Durthach, the two sons of the king, Fiacha and Fiachu, Fergus son of Leiti, Cúscraid the Stutterer of Macha, Sencha son of Ailella, the three sons of Fíachna, that is, Ros, Dáire, and Imchad, Munremar son of Gerrcind, Eirrge Echbél, Amergin son of Ecit, Mynd son of Sálcha, Duftac Dod Ulad the Beetle of Ulster, Feradach Find Fechtnach, Fedelmid son of Crimthann, Ferbhlaid Ferbend, Rochad son of Flaithéamon, Lóegaire Buannacht, Conall Cernach, Cúlculann, Conrad son of Mugdorna, Erc son of Fedelmid, Giolla son of Fergus, Fintan son of Níall, Cethern son of Fintan, Fíachnae son of Báetáin, Connla the Damned, Ailill the Honey-Tongued, and the chief men of Ulster. . . .
But in this new edition of the tales, a road map allows for easy navigation through this magnificent collection, so that the confusion is cleared up, and we are better equipped to understand the beauty of Irish Folklore.