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  • Best Irish Fairy Books: The Twentieth Century January 15, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Yesterday we offered the best nineteenth-century writing on Irish fairies. Today the best of the twentieth century:

    1911: In this year W. Y. Evans-Wentz changed fairy writing for ever by publishing his brilliantly bizarre The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. Evans-Wentz offered a collection of fairylore for all the Celtic nations (Cornwall, Man, Scotland, Brittany, Ireland and Wales). His section on Ireland is particularly rich and this was clearly Evans-Wentz favourite fairyland. Evanz-Wentz went on to become a major and eccentric Tibetan scholar. The original edition is available online.

    1913: Elizabeth Andrews brought out Ulster Folklore about the legends of the northern quarter of Ireland. Irish fairylore was perhaps weakest in Ulster c. 1900 but Andrews doesn’t give time to anything else, she is obsessed with fairies and has a series of unusual archaeological theories about the ‘original’ fairies: she delves back into Ireland’s past in search of them. This book is also available online.

    1920: Lady Gregory was a representative of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the country who, in the early twentieth century, went native and became an aggressive Republican. Part of this Irish journey involved her folklore collecting with W. B. Yeats. The most interesting fairy accounts were published in two volumes entitled  Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland. It is a remarkable work with some of the richest fairy stories we have, particularly because it focuses, without too much in the way of judgment, on personal experiences. Volume 1 and volume 2 are both freely available online.

    1959: Damian Mac Manus published a vary curious work entitled Irish Earth Folk. Mac Manus was a fairy believer and here was a detailed account of the fairy fauna of Ireland. This book was then later republished and is much easier to find today, as The Middle Kingdom. Mac Manus was the last of the Irish writers living in a world where fairy belief was, if not common, not exactly rare either. Beach knows of no online version, legal or illegal.

    1986: Patricia Lysaght brought out The Banshee, a very detailed study of one aspect of Irish fairy tradition. Many readers find this a dry read: it is extremely scholarly. Anyone who wants to avoid the hard-core academic writing might be interested in Prof Lysaght’s abbreviated version of the book.

    1987: Peter Alderson Smith published a volume about one of the authors noted yesterday: W. B.Yeats and the Tribes of Danu. This is a difficult book to get hold of today: or rather it is expensive. Yet it gives one of the best descriptions of Irish fairylore. Smith is systematic and reliable.

    There are certainly other books on Irish fairies from the twentieth century, but can any really stand with these six? Maybe the Elder Faiths of Ireland, which is patchy though. Some of Bob Curran’s work is good. Nothing else important comes to mind. For the twenty-first century there is some writing on the Bridget Cleary killing and best of all there is Eddie Lenihan’s Meeting the Other Crowd, a modern fairy book that is scary. Not many of those…