Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Book review: Irish Customs and Beliefs

While I haven't had much time for reading recently, at least the latest one is a good one.

Irish Customs and Beliefs
Kevin Danaher

It's difficult to review a book when all you can think of to describe it is to say that it's 'charming.' And then wondering how patronising and twee it might be to use such a word...

Seriously, though, this is a book that's full of anecdotes and funny wee stories about Irish customs and beliefs, brought together by Kevin Danaher in a short but sweet volume. This is perhaps not what you'd call essential reading for the reconstructionist, but it's enjoyable nonetheless; it's the sort of book I'd recommend for anyone looking for an easy and relaxing read after they've spent a while concentrating on some heavier reading. It offers a nice change of pace from a lot of the more dry, academic sort of books that tend to go on reading lists, and while it isn't perhaps as helpful for the beginner looking for ideas of what to do, it's the perfect sort of book for someone looking to build on what they've already learnt.

This is not a book that concentrates on anything pre-Christian or even much that's older than 'living memory' in terms of the customs and traditions that are detailed, so anyone looking for that kind of thing needs to look elsewhere. What the book does do is give the reader a glimpse of Ireland of the past; an affectionate, slightly romanticised, but somehow at the same time very realistic, memory of a simpler time, captured by the kind of stories that you might hear at your Granda's knee. There's a little bit of everything - stories about old standing stones, castles, ghosts, the Good Folk, butter churning and day to day rhythm of life as well; Danaher covers all sorts of things, and the old tradition of the summer pastures is especially illuminating in some ways, because it deals with people's memory of it, not the technical aspects that are usually covered in the more academic books.

I would definitely recommend this one for the bookshelf, for anyone looking for an unassuming, undemanding read (just what I needed). There are a few gems in here that makes it a nice compliment to the drier sort of books, helping to give a more practical idea of customs that are otherwise something that are things of a bygone age. Maybe you won't be blown away, but the charm of the book is hinged on Danaher's humour and his own way of sucking you into the past with him; let him take you along for the ride and I don't think you'll regret it.