Sunday, 23 May 2010

Books! And a review

Thanks to my lovely husband enabling a long overdue splurge on books, for my birthday, I'm now (or soon to be) the proud owner of:

The sacred trees of Ireland - A. T. Lucas
The Life and Legacy of Alexander Carmichael - Domhnall Uilleam Stiubhart
The Celtic Consciousness - Robert O' Driscoll
Dying for the Gods - Miranda Green
Irish Folk Medicine - Patrick Logan
Early Irish Lyrics - Gerard Murphy
Irish Trees: Myth, Legend and Folklore - Niall Mac Coitir
Early Irish Myth and History - Thomas O' Rahilly

So far I've only had the first book arrive, but it's short and sweet and I've devoured it already. Lovely stuff. Of the rest, I'm already kind of familiar with O'Rahilly's and Murphy's, and there's an article by Anne Ross about modern survivals in the O' Driscoll book that I'm interested in, so while it's out of date as a publication, there might still be some good stuff in there. 

The rest of them, I've no real idea what to expect - I've heard good things about Mac Coitir's book, and Logan's book looks intriguing. It could be a good read if it's well-researched, anyway. And for the book about Alexander Carmichael, I'm not sure it will be the most scintillating of reads, but I'm hoping that it will have some useful stuff about the problems with the way he handled the material in the Carmina Gadelica ('cleaning' the songs up and so on). 

There were a few books I was hoping to get my hands on, but just couldn't find for love nor money. Aspects of the Táin and Ulidia 2 have been on my wishlist for a while now, but just as I had the chance, they weren't available anymore. And I really wanted to get my own copy of MacQuarrie's The Waves of Manannán, but I could only find it for an even vaguely reasonable price through amazon, and it turned out they didn't actually have a copy available. I presume that meant they'd try and order it through the publisher, and assuming they were successful it would take an age to arrive, and as I might be away for a good part of the summer there doesn't seem much point ordering it now.

But since I'm behind on a few reviews, I might as well get them done now, with a quiet Sunday all to myself and lots of housework to avoid...

The sacred trees of Ireland
A. T. Lucas

This is a reprint of an article from Volume 68 of the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (1963), so it's been difficult to get hold of. It's not too long, but seeing as I've seen it referenced in a lot of places, it was one of those books (well, booklet, really) I had to have. And better still, when it arrived I discovered it was signed by the author himself, 'With Compliments'. Awww. Thanks.

Anyway, the main thing I was hoping to find was a good overview of the tradition of the bile, and for once I wasn't disappointed. Lucas gives the general definition of the bile as a sacred tree, but doesn't limit it to only the 'big' trees such as the ash, elm and yew; instead, he includes the smaller trees or bushes that are found in similar contexts (especially the hawthorn), and argues that the term 'craeb' (branch) often carries the same meaning as bile. He also makes the point that often the English translations you might read simply translate either word as tree, whereas really they carry a much deeper meaning, and so often analysis of a text based on the translation alone can be limiting.

For the main part of the article, the different types of bile are divided into six different categories. These are:

  • Trees associated with inauguration places
  • Trees associated with ecclesiastical sites
  • Trees associated with saints
  • Trees associated with holy wells
  • Trees associated with funerals
  • 'Unassociated' sacred trees

Lucas starts with the 'unassociated' trees - like the five main trees of Ireland, as outlined in "The Settling of the Manor of Tara," and arguably a later category that's almost included as an afterthought - of 'lone bushes' - comes under this heading, too. These are generally the lone hawthorns that are associated with fairies.

With each category, Lucas gives examples to support his ideas and gives a little analysis. It's probably fair to say the reading is a little dry, but as an article it does its job: it sticks to the facts, offers some ideas and opinions, and gives a solid foundation on which somebody could go into far more detail.

There are some good points to think about in here, and while it may lack as much detail as I might like (I'd like a good long dissertation, please), I probably can't complain too much because I'm fairly sure I always say that. And there's definitely meat here, with very little fat to trim.

The biggest downside to the article is finding it. It's not readily available to buy, and would probably be a pain to get hold of a copy without JSTOR access, and so you really do pay the price, considering the length of it (just shy of fifty pages or so). But it really is worth it if you're interested in the subject.

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