Medieval Irish Literature

Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired. Edited
by Elizabeth A. Gray. Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1982. Series:
Irish Texts Society (Series) ; v. 52. A fascinating story, with lots of interesting, useful notes about one of the tales dealing with the early days of the Tuatha de Dannan. Although this is a scholarly edition, complete with introduction, notes and glossary, there is a facing page translation in English of the Irish text. Gray also wrote a series of excellent articles on Cath Maige Tuired in Eigse vols. XVIII-XX 1981-83.

Amazon UK catalog page for Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired

Cross, Tom Peete. Motif-index of Early Irish Literature.
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 1952. Series: Indiana
University publications. Folklore series, no. 7. Cross uses the
Stith-Thompson index of motifs and lists Irish tales in terms of those motifs, including some that are uniquely Irish.

Cross, Tom Peete and Clark Harris Slover. Ancient Irish
Barnes and Noble Books, Totowa, New Jersey, 1936l repr.
1988. ISBN ISBN: 1566198895. Contains translations, albeit a bit old fashioned, for the Táin and Ulster Cycle, and most of the Kings’ Cycle tales. Barnes and Noble have reprinted it as a hardcover, available exclusively from them for $9.98. ISBN: 1566198895. You can order it from Barnes and Noble web site, or call their toll-free Customer Service Center at 1-800-The-Book (1-800-843-2665), seven days a week, from 9am to 9pm.

Dillon, Myles. The Cycles of the Kings. Oxford University Press, 1946; reprinted Four Courts Press: Dublin and Portland, OR, 1994. ISBN 1851821783. These are tales of Irish kings, their births, lives, and death, that are at best loosely tied to history. The tales of Mongan, Cormac, Niall, and others are included with some short introductory notes about provenance.

Dillon, Myles. Early Irish Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948; reprinted : Four Courts Press, Dublin and Portland, OR, 1994. ISBN 0785816763 . Dillon describes this collection of tales in translation as “the best of Irish imaginative literature, presented in coherent order.” This is a good companion to Cross and Slover, but you probably want to purchase Cross and Slover first.

Amazon catalog page for Early Irish Literature

Amazon UK catalog page for Early Irish Literature

Gantz, Jeffrey. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. London:
Penguin Books, 1981. ISBN 0140443975. Gantz offers his own abbreviated translation of the Tain, as well as most of the central Ulster tales and a few of the mythic sagas.

Amazon UK catalog page for Early Irish Myths and Sagas

Hennessy, W. M. “The Ancient Irish Goddess of War.” Revue
1 (1870-72): 32-37. One of the earliest attempts to
discuss the role of the Morrígan and sovereignty figures in
Irish myth and literature. Most of the subsequent authors rely very
heavily on Hennessey.

Kinsella, Thomas. The Tain. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1970. ISBN 0192810901. Simply the most readable English translation going.

Amazon UK catalog page for The Tain

Mac Cana, Proinsias. “Aspects of the Theme of King and Goddess in
Irish Literature.” Études Celtiques 7 (1955-56) 76-13;
357-413; 8 (1958-59): 59-65.

Mac Cana, Proinsias. The Learned Tales of Medieval Ireland.
Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1980. ISBN 1855001209. There are two medieval lists of tales categorized according to the traditional genres; Mac Cana presents and discusses both lists, and comments on Welsh traditional literary forms.

Amazon UK catalog page for The Learned Tales of Medieval Ireland

McCone, Kim. Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature. Maynooth: An Sagart, 1990. There are currently two very broad schools or approaches in Irish medieval studies; one, the “Nativist,” perhaps best exemplified by Mac Cana, sees the Irish medieval sagas and law texts as preserving originally oral and pagan native Irish narratives and beliefs. In contrast to this “Nativist” approach is the “Non-Nativist” approach, for lack of a better name, championed by McCone and Donnachadh Ó Corráin, following a line of argument first delineated by James Carney in Studies in Early Irish Literature and History (1955). The “non Nativists” argue that “early Irish literature as a whole is rooted in a coherent, far-reaching and flexible construct or senchus adapted, synthesized and modified by monastic men of letters from the Bible and other Latin writings in conjunction with vernacular traditions both oral, and increasingly, as time went on, written” (McCone, ix). This provocative, and occasionally extreme, book argues from a non-nativist point of view. Patrick Sims-Williams has a commentary and review in Éigse 29 (1996): 179-96.

McCone, Kim. Progress in Medieval Irish Studies. Maynooth: An Sagart, 1996. ISBN 0901519359. Inspired by the 1996 Ninth Irish Conference of Irish Medievalists in Maynooth, McCone and others created this small but useful overview of the current state of scholarship in things Irish and Medieval. Essays by McCone, O´ Cathasaigh, Breatnach, Herbert, McManus and Simms and others on Prehistoric and Medieval Irish, Irish narrative literature, poets and poetry, hagiography, law, early medieval Irish history, archaeology, etc. are accompanied by an index and lengthy bibliography. Professor McCone has posted a slightly revised version of his chapter “Prehistoric, Old and Middle Irish.” The chapter is a brief history of the scholarly study of Celtic langauges, principally Irish.

Mallory, J. P. Ed. Aspects of the Tain. Belfast: December Publications, 1992. ISBN 0951706829. A good historical and cultural background for someone reading the Tain.

Mallory, J. P. and G. Stockman. Ulidia. Belfast: December Publications, 1994. ISBN 0951706861. The proceedings from the First International Conference on the Ulster Cycle of Tales in 1994. Lots of interesting essays from an international panel of Celtic scholars on various aspects of early Irish myth, history, literature and language.

Nagy, Joseph Falaky. “Liminality and Knowledge in Irish Tradition”
Studia Celtica 16/17 (1981/82): 135-143. I also highly recommend his Wisdom of the Outlaw. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1985, on the Finn tales.

O’Rahilly, Cecile. Táin Bo Cuailnge Recension I.
Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies 1976. Irish text, English
translation and philological notes. The recensions are scholars’ best
guesses of what was in the various mss. versions of the Táin; this book is an attempt to restore the first mss. version. There are also editions of the second and third recensions by O’Rahilly, as well as printed facsimiles (in Middle and Old Irish, sans glossary) of the various manuscripts, for those who want to go to

Rees, Brinley and Alwyn Rees. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961; repr. 1989. ISBN 500270392. A super introduction and overview of the mythological medieval Irish and Welsh literature, from a comparative (Dumezielian and occasionally quirky) point of view.

Amazon catalog page for Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales

Amazon UK catalog page for Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales

Sjoestedt, M. L. Gods and Heroes of the Celts. 1949; translated by Myles Dillon. repr. Berkeley, CA: Turtle Press, 1990. ISBN 1851821791. A slim paperback, still considered a standard text, with some interesting observations. There’s much more to Sjoestedt than meets the eye; read carefully and thoughtfully.

Williams, J. F. Caerwyn. Irish Literary History. Trans. Patrick K. Ford. University of Wales Press, Cardiff, Wales, and Ford and Bailie, Belmont, Massachusetts. Welsh edition 1958, English translation 1992. ISBN 0926689037. This is a historical survey of Irish literature from the fifth through the twentieth century, though it concentrates on early literature. The Welsh version was published in 1958; Ford translated the Welsh edition with Williams in 1992.

Amazon UK catalog page for Irish Literary History

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.