Monday, January 11, 2016

"Donegal Fairy Stories" by Seumas MacManus

This is the cover of my edition of Donegal Fairy Stories by Seumas MacManus. I discovered it at a used bookstore in Lancaster about a year ago. Coincidentally, there are a Donegal borough and Donegal Township here in Lancaster County; they're both named after the ancient Donegal in Ireland, which is the setting of these folk tales.

Author MacManus lived from 1869 to 1960. He was a poet and storyteller. According to Wikipedia, he is "considered by many to be the last great seanchaĆ­, or storyteller of the ancient oral tradition. He wrote down and interpreted traditional stories so that they would not be lost to future generations." That puts him in league with the likes of his contemporary, Ruth Manning-Sanders (1886-1988), whose own reach for folk tales to retell spanned the globe.

Here is Macmanus, in his own words, describing how he came to be a seanchaĆ­:

"I am of the mountain people. As a buachaill of a boy I herded on the hills, spaded on the farm, dallied to the mountain school where I got the daub of schooling that is mine. At night I moved from cottage to cottage, squatted in the groups that always surrounded the big, blazing turf-fires, hearkening to the women telling their fairy stories and the old men reciting ancient folk tales, singing the old songs, or chanting some thousand-year-old poem.

"Ere I crept out of childhood I was myself a shanachie — carried in mind and could tell a sheaf of the old tales, as I had learned them by a hundred firesides. I told the tales to the lads who companied me to the herding, the lads who with me scudded three miles over the hills to Mass on Sunday, to the lads who loitered with me to the little school."

Donegal Fairy Stories was first published in 1900. It has gone through many editions. I believe this one is from the 1940s. It is part of the "Travel and Adventure Library for Young Folks" and the title page states: "This special edition is published by arrangement with the publishers of the regular edition Doubleday & Company, Inc. by E.M. Hale and Company, Eau Claire, Wisconsin."

The snazzy green-and-yellow endpapers, meanwhile, indicate that this was also a Cadmus Books title...

The 256-page book contains only 10 tales. These are longer stories, and they have wonderful titles, such as:

  • The Amadan of the Dough
  • Manis the Miller
  • Hookedy-Crookedy
  • The Bee, the Harp, the Mouse and the Bum-Clock
  • The Old Hag's Long Leather Bag

I give it the highest recommendation. If you're intrigued, a newer version of this book, with "modern language, punctuation and word usage" from editor Joseph Greenleaf, is available for a very reasonable price in paperback and e-book editions.

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