‘The smoke from the burning
boats darkened the sun and filled the land for three days, and the Fir Bolgs,
who lived there, thought the Tuatha De Danaan had arrived in a magic mist.’
Thus writes Maire Heany in her
wonderful book of Irish mythology and legend, The Names Upon the Harp, which is
beautifully illustrated by the great Irish illustrator, PJ Lynch.
And so begins Irish
storytelling - for our earliest tales are of the Tuatha De Danaan, a people, who
are invariably portrayed as learned and gifted, and who were eventually overrun
by the Iron Age Celts. It is very likely that the invaders chose their wives
from the ranks of the vanquished. Could these captured women, mourning a lost
age, have secretly woven into the minds of their children the glories of their
own kin, thus encouraging a love of learning and beauty? Could it be that this love
has rippled down through the generations. The modern Irish novelist and short story
writer, John McGahern, has remarked: ‘there is verse and there is prose, and
then there is poetry, and poetry can occur in either form, and in Ireland it
occurs more often in prose than in verse.’
During the night the town had vanished under a cloak of mist and all was now silent but for the empty call of the chapel bell and the occasional cough from the huge gathering of mourners, which overflowed the Catholic cemetery and even spilled into the car park: for it is not everyday that a fifty-three year-old farmer is found headless, chewed clean of all edible flesh and dumped in the bin of the parochial house - although some of the more elderly members of the Church of Ireland community would have thought otherwise.
According to one of many Irish sayings, the writers ink lasts longer than the martyr’s blood – so read on.