Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Patrick's Day

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day (I am about 1/8 Irish, after all), here's a list of books I enjoyed set in Ireland:

1. Confessions of a Pagan Nun / Kate Horsley - The "diary" of a Celtic priestess, Gwynneve, who transforms herself into a nun during the time that Christianity was gaining a foothold in Ireland. She cannot fully accept Christian doctrine, however, and is finally accused of the Pelagian heresy. An intriguing and absorbing historical novel.

2. In the country of the young / Lisa Carey - A ghostly story of love and redemption; Oisin has been a recluse since his twin sister committed suicide 25 years earlier. He lives alone on a small island in Ireland, upon which a ship foundered during the Famine. He leaves a lit candle in the window on All Hallows Eve, hoping his sister's ghost will return to him. Instead, seven-year-old Aisling, who lost her life in the long ago shipwreck, appears. She spends a year with him, growing from childhood to adulthood, experiencing the life she never had.

3. The Secret of Roan Inish - This film was based on Rosalie Fry's 1959 book The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry. The book was set in Scotland; the film was relocated to Ireland. It is a lovely movie, beautifully filmed in a gorgeous Western Ireland setting. The story is based around the legends of selkies, and is mysterious yet not childish.

4. The Hounds of the Morrigan / Pat O'Shea - A children's, or perhaps young adult, novel, this 700 page fantasy is a very Celtic adventure. Two children, Pidge and Brigit, are drawn into a battle against the Celtic war goddess, the Morrigan, when Pidge finds a strange book in a used bookshop. The book has an evil serpent imprisoned in it by St. Patrick, and the Morrigan wants to free it. Pidge and Brigit must destroy the serpent, which can only be done by finding, somewhere in Ireland or in Faerie, a lost pebble with a drop of the Morrigan's blood on it. Adventure ensues, with many figures of Celtic myth making an appearance until, of course, the children overcome. Lyrical and magical.

5. How the Irish saved civilization / Thomas Cahill - This non-fiction book makes the case that the Irish saved much of Western Civilization during the Dark Ages in Europe. This was due to Irish monks copying many manuscripts of the Greek and Latin tradition and saving them from disappearance. They did all this with a Celtic flair, influencing the future of the Western world.

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