Irish Stories and Lore

    St. Patrick's Day may have passed, but you can continue to celebrate at home by stocking up on Irish stories and lore from the library.  Edna Barth’s “Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs” provides quirky facts and legends associated with the holiday.  Did you know that St. Patrick was not Irish himself but was born in Scotland?  Or that Americans have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day since 1737?  (That year’s gala was held in Boston, of course.)  Along with fascinating details about Irish harps, Irish poetry and St. Patrick’s Day parades, Barth weaves in much of the history of Ireland for readers nine and up.

    “Finn McCool was a giant but much too small for the work; the runt of the litter he was, yards shorter than his brothers and sisters, which was embarrassing.  In fact, it is a better thing altogether to be a large dwarf than a small giant. Such a thing has been known to spoil a man’s disposition entirely.  But it didn’t spoil Finn’s…”

    So begins Bernard Evslin’s “The Green Hero: Early Adventures of Finn McCool,” and it’s a fine introduction to Irish storytelling for readers and listeners of about eight and up.  Being smaller than most, Finn must learn to use his wits.  Whether he is fighting off an enormous serpent, escaping from the wicked Fishhag, or overcoming the terrible Boar of Ballinoe, Finn triumphs because he can think faster than his enemies can.  Try this as a read-aloud with kids ten and up who like their adventures generously laced with monsters and magic.

    There are plenty of stories about St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, but Sheila MacGill-Callahan’s “The Last Snake in Ireland” combines that legend with another to make a story readers five and up will enjoy.

    It seems that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland – except for one.  The “biggest, oldest, sneakiest snake in all of Ireland” became the bane of the Saint’s existence.  He followed St. Patrick everywhere, until the Saint had had enough.  He built a sturdy wooden box and, after a wild chase through the mountains and loughs of Ireland, he clapped the box shut with the snake inside and threw it into Loch Ness. You can guess the rest!

    Illustrator Will Hillenbrand makes the most of the story, providing a colorful array of sea monsters and brightly colored snakes to decorate every page.

    Irish myths of the selkies, half human and half seal, feature in a fine family film available from the library on DVD.  “The Secret of Roan Inish,” filmed in and around County Donegal, Ireland, is set just after World War II. Ten-year-old Fiona discovers that her family history includes a selkie ancestor.  There’s also a family story that Fiona’s little brother was taken by selkies when he was a baby.

    City-bred Fiona persuades her cousin to row her across to the island of Roan Inish, the island where her grandparents used to live, and where she thinks she has seen glimpses of her little brother.  This haunting film is filled with Irish lilts and legends for viewers nine and up.

First published in slightly different form in the Free Lance-Star on March 16, 2010.