Ireland's Immortals tells the story of one of the world’s great mythologies. The first account of the gods of Irish myth to take in the whole sweep of Irish literature in both the nation’s languages, the book describes how Ireland’s pagan divinities were transformed into literary characters in the medieval Christian era—and how they were recast again during the Celtic Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lively narrative of supernatural beings and their fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories, Mark Williams’s comprehensive history traces how these gods—known as the Túatha Dé Danann—have shifted shape across the centuries, from Iron Age cult to medieval saga to today’s young-adult fiction.
We meet the heroic Lug; the Morrígan, crow goddess of battle; the fire goddess Brigit, who moonlights as a Christian saint; the mist-cloaked sea god Manannán mac Lir; and the ageless fairies who inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s immortal elves. Medieval clerics speculated that the Irish divinities might be devils, angels, or enchanters. W. B. Yeats invoked them to reimagine the national condition, while his friend George Russell beheld them in visions and understood them to be local versions of Hindu deities. The book also tells how the Scots repackaged Ireland’s divine beings as the gods of the Gael on both sides of the sea—and how Irish mythology continues to influence popular culture far beyond Ireland.
An unmatched chronicle of the Irish gods, Ireland’s Immortals illuminates why these mythical beings have loomed so large in the world’s imagination for so long.
Mark Williams is the Simon and June Li Fellow in the Humanities and Tutor in English at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, where he teaches medieval Irish, Welsh, and English literature. He is the author of Fiery Shapes: Celestial Portents and Astrology in Ireland and Wales, 700–1700.
"[A] fascinating history and in Mark Williams’s Ireland’s Immortals it has found a magnificent historian. Williams . . . is equally at home in the arcana of Old Irish texts and modern English-language writing, and it is this range of erudition that has allowed him to write the first full overview of the long twilight of the Irish gods. Ireland’s Immortals is not just a history of their afterlife--it deserves to be seen as itself a part of that history."--Fintan O’Toole, New York Review of Books
"Scholars and researchers will leap to add [Ireland's Immortals] to their collections."--Publishers Weekly
"Imaginative, well-written, and full of interesting information and insights about the elusive Irish gods. . . . Williams’s book is a magnificent and exciting undertaking."--Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, Irish Times
"[E]xcellent. . . . [T]he writing . . . makes [Ireland’s Immortals] a book that can be enjoyed by people of all interest levels in Ireland’s mythology."--Adam Farley, Irish America
"In 1896, George Russell wrote to W. B. Yeats announcing that ‘the Gods have returned' to Celtic realms; Mark Williams's brilliant and powerful book makes good the claim. Learned, discursive, masterfully organized, and often very funny, it illuminates the cults, characters, personalities, and uses of Irish divinities from their emergence in saga, pseudohistory, and folklore through to their exploitation in the Celtic Revival and the literature of fantasy, and their analysis in modern scholarship. This is an important contribution to the history of religion, nationalism, and Gaelic culture; it is also so well written as to be unputdownable."--R. F. Foster, University of Oxford
"With its huge range, constant new insights, colorful material, and sparkling style, this is a truly remarkable book. It should delight a very big readership."--Ronald E. Hutton, University of Bristol
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