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
"Williams has written what will be the go-to book on the gods of Ireland for the foreseeable future. At home with Old and Middle Irish texts, Williams traces the Irish gods from their first appearance in eighth-century narratives to their appropriation in contemporary music, visual arts, literature, and neo-paganism."--Choice
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