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Tales from Old Ireland Review by Nancy Casari Dayton

By Malachy Doyle
Illustrated by Niamh Sharkey
Barefoot Books
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

In his Introduction, Malachy Doyle writes of his passion for his heritage of Irish folk tales and their rich oral tradition. He tells of the Irish Folklore Commission of the 1930s that helped assemble what he calls the greatest folklore collection in the world at University College in Dublin. The passion that he conveys and the richness of the stories combine to make this a true living book.

One can't help but enjoy these seven fanciful stories. On the Sources page in the back of the book, Mr. Doyle provides background information on each of the tales presented. Children in Ireland grow up learning the story of "The Children of Lir." "The Twelve Wild Geese" is related to the Grimm brothers' "The Six Swans," showing the connectedness among cultures that oral tradition provides. I appreciate Mr. Doyle's care to promote awareness of the value of this oral and literary heritage.

Parents might be wise to preview the stories before sharing them with young or sensitive children. As Mr. Doyle writes in his Introduction, "While some of the early heroic tales can be fairly gruesome, others are full of emotion and feeling, and there is a strand of humor running through many of them." The stories include witches, children being devoured by wolves, and an evil stepmother who turns children into swans. Endings are not always happy. Your knowledge of your children and your view of these kinds of stories will help you decide whether to use this resource.

Niamh Sharkey's illustrations are richly colored and contain sharp angles, evoking a sense of exaggeration of reality. The illustrations contribute to the tales' tone of fancy.

One other resource worth mentioning is a pronunciation guide provided right after the table of contents. The guide contains 25 entries of places and names in alphabetical order. The correct pronunciation of these words is sometimes quite different from our American English pronunciation. I wish that the entries were included right along with the stories, though. Of course, if you have the companion CD, you can hear the correct pronunciation. The CD was not included as part of the review package.

Barefoot Books has a few different options available for purchase. The hardback lists for $19.99. There is a hardback plus CD which lists for $21.99. The paperback version with CD lists for $16.99. I have no hesitation in recommending this book as part of a fine literary and cultural heritage, and I plan to include it as part of my children's study of fairy tales.

Product review by: Nancy Casari Dayton, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2008