All month long I’ve been sharing histories and stories about Irish folklore, myths, and fairytales. Since so many have asked about my sources, below is a short annotated bibliography of my favorite references books about Irish History and Oral Traditions. Many of these books have been out of print for decades, but you can still find them in used bookstores, both online and in brick-and-mortar stores.

Celtic myths and Irish legends were, until not too long ago, told in the oral tradition. It wasn’t until Christian monks arrived on the scene that these stories were recorded and cataloged. Except, because the Irish can be contrary (I can say this since all of my grandparents and great-grandparents came from Ireland), the stories changed and were reorganized and then distorted until there was so much contradictory lore, that it became impossible for historians to develop a mythic Celtic Canon.

To make things even more complicated, there are four cycles of Fenian Poetry (Mythological, Ulster, Fenian, Kings’s cycles). Each of these cycles follows the lives and histories of Ireland’s most famous warriors and kings. (Although not everyone believes that these warriors really existed.) The Fenian Cycles are a combination of poetry and prose, written between the 7th and 14th centuries in an older form of Gaelic. Many of the academic books about these cycles can be hard to understand which is probably the reason for the proliferation of easier fairy tale and folktale books. Then, as time went one, the stories kept changing and distorting and evolving. Now we’re left with a huge amount of mythical stories that contradict each other. But that doesn’t take away from the sheer pleasure of reading about leprechauns, banshees, and the famous Fenian warrior Fionn MacCumhaill. I hope you enjoy the books below. I’ve studied them all, and they each offer something different.

A huge thanks to Amazon for the publisher information, and these books are in no particular order.

As the famous poet and writer W.B. Yeats says in his famous work Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry,

“When the pagan gods of Ireland–the Tuath-De-Danān–robbed of worship and offerings, grew smaller and smaller in the popular imagination, until they turned into the fairies, the pagan heroes grew bigger and bigger, until they turned into the giants.”

The Folklore of Ireland by Sean O’Sullivan

Per the book jacket: Published in London, in 1974, this out-of-print hardcover book contains a collection of previously-unpublished manuscripts that contain unusual examples of ancient Irish myths and folktales. The book also has examples of unusual Irish prayers, riddles, folks charms, proverbs, ballads, and songs. This is an obscure text that rounds out any collection of Irish history and folklore.

This wonderful book also contains lists of full references, indexes, bibiliographies, and explanatory notes.

Irish Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World by Jeremiah Curtin

Per the publisher: “A century ago, a Smithsonian Institution ethnographer traversed the byways of rural Ireland to listen to villagers recount stories of fairies, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures. Thus did Jeremiah Curtin become one of the foremost authorities on Irish folklore, as he documented and recorded these authentic, traditional tales from the Emerald Isle. Many of Curtin’s storytellers not only maintained a sincere belief in fairies but also claimed firsthand experience of the sprites, wraiths, and specters that enliven their narratives.”

This book contains 30 stories of people’s first-hand experiences with Celtic supernatural lore. Published in 2000, it relates stories of fairies, sprites, wraiths, and other specters. While it was written for academics, it’s an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the world of Irish fairies.

Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens & illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Per the publisher: “‘Irish Fairy Tales’ is a collection of stories originally edited by James Stephens, and accompanied by the illustrations of Arthur Rackham. It contains ‘The Story of Tuan Mac Cairill’, ‘The Boyhood of Fionn’, ‘The Birth of Bran’, ‘The Wooing of Becfola’, ‘Oisin’s Mother’, ‘The Little Brawl at Allen’, ‘The Carl of the Drab Coat’, and more. James Stephens (1880 – 1950), was an Irish novelist and poet, who produced many retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism, stemming from his own successful literary career.”

This book was originally published in 1920 and is best known for its gorgeous illustrations that accompany ten mythical stories about warriors, medieval kings, and mystical creatures. In 2013, this book was reissued with digitally remastered illustrations. While this was written for children, the stores will fascinate any age reader.

Irish Fairy Tales and Folklore by W.B. Yeats

Per the publisher: “A classic collection of Irish fairy tales and lore by Nobel Peace Prize-winning author and poet W. B. Yeats. Originally published as two separate volumes in 1800s, this premier collection of Irish stories edited and compiled W. B. Yeats is the perfect gift for any lover of Irish literature and folklore. The lyrical prose and rich cultural heritage of each tale will captivate and enchant readers of all ages and keep them entertained for hours on end.”

This book has been reissued many times, and many historians consider it the “premier” book in Irish fairy tales. It contains over 75 stories that include the history of changelings, leprechauns, and fairies. This was also one of the very first books I read about Irish fairy tales, so I am biased when I say it’s one of my favorites.

Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales by Kate Forrester

Per the publisher: “Perilous quests, true love, and animals that talk: The traditional stories of Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales transport us to the fantastical world of Celtic folklore. This Celtic mythology book features 16 stores that were translated and transcribed by folklorists in the late 19th and 20th centuries that focus on themes such as Tricksters, The Sea, Quests, and Romance and mythological creatures. These timeless tales brim with wit and magic, and each one is brought to life with elegant silhouette art in this special illustrated edition.”

Published in 2013, this is a newer edition to my collection of Irish fairy tales. It has lovely illustrations and a bibliography in the back. It’s perfect for adults and children.

A Treasury of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by Various Authors

Per the publisher: “These lrish tales all are reprinted from nineteenth-century sources, but they date back to a centuries-old oral tradition of storytelling that had yet to be committed to the printed page. They were passed down through the ages virtually unaltered and feature a wide variety of fantastic beings. This edition has an exquisitely designed bonded-leather binding, with distinctive gilt edging and a silk-ribbon bookmark.”

The most current edition in print is from 2016. This is a lovely book that would make a great gift for young adult readers. The writing style is a bit advanced for younger readers and the stories don’t hold back on the histories and battles, some of which can be violent–albeit probably true. It’s a beautiful book for any collection and looks great on a bookshelf.

Irish Stories and Folklore: A Collection of Thirty-Six Classic Tales by Steve Brennan

Per the publisher: “In Irish Stories and Folklore, the reader can revisit old favorites, like Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost,” and discover lesser-known treasures such as “The Orange Man, or the Honest Boy and the Thief” by Maria Edgeworth. The imaginative stories contained in this volume are sure to engage the mind and delight readers looking to enhance their knowledge of the rich history of Ireland.

Published in 2018, I love this collection because the author chose some of the funnier stories and anecdotes. It also included short stories I wouldn’t consider part of the mythic Celtic canon, but I enjoyed them anyway. This is a great introduction to Irish Folklore for adults and young adults.

A Treasury of Irish Folklore: The Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom, Ballads and Songs of the Irish People by Padraic Colum

Published in 1985, this is a general collection of stories about ancient Celtic deities and fairies. It also includes poems, songs, and random collections of sayings.

Irish Folktales by Henry Glassie (Editor)

Per the publisher: Here are 125 magnificent folktales collected from anthologies and journals published from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Beginning with tales of the ancient times and continuing through the arrival of the saints in Ireland in the fifth century, the periods of war and family, the Literary Revival championed by William Butler Yeats, and the contemporary era, these robust and funny, sorrowful and heroic stories of kings, ghosts, fairies, treasures, enchanted nature, and witchcraft are set in cities, villages, fields, and forests from the wild western coast to the modern streets of Dublin and Belfast.

Published in 1997, this book includes both the ancient myths and stories about the early Christian saints. This compilation includes some stories that are only available in out-of-print books. It is published in a more academic format that makes it a little harder to read. But the stories are charming and wonderful, nonetheless.

The O’Brien Book of Irish Fairy Tales and Legends by Una Leavy and illustrated by Susan Field

Per the publisher: This wonderfully rich and varied collection are ten of the best-loved traditional Irish stories, retold by author and poet Una Leavy. The Post of Gold captures the trickery and mischief of leprechauns; the story of Oisin in Tír na n-Óg marks the end of the great Fianna. From 2000 years ago comes The Children of Lir … all stories to be treasured for years to come. Susan Field’s beautiful illustrations are inspired by ancient Celtic art and culture. They capture the wealth of tradition, the humor and the magic of these great stories.

Published in 2012, this book has gorgeous illustrations that go along with ten stories. This is more of a bedtime reader and is written in a way that makes it perfect for children.

Irish Gothic Fairy Stories: From the 32 Counties of Ireland by Steve Lally, Paula Flynn Lally, & James Patrick Ryan

Per the publisher: In Ireland there are four provinces and, within these, are thirty-two counties. Each county and its people are unique, but the one thing they all have in common is their respect and regard for the ‘The Good Folk’, the Fairies of all Ireland. Steve Lally and Paula Flynn have compiled this magnificent collection of fairy tales from each county in Ireland. This book is a contemporary take on some classic stories and will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Published in 2019, this is another illustrated collection of stories about fairies in Ireland. The interesting thing about this book is that it is divided by Irish County, so you get a good sense of the different ancient histories throughout Ireland.

Tales of Old Ireland: Retold: Ancient Irish Stories Retold for Today by Lora O’Brien

Per the publisher: In Ireland, we have a wealth of old myths, legends, fairy tales and folk stories, which are presented here in an easy to read, authentic Irish storyteller’s voice – retold for modern times. Our Tales of Old Ireland reach from the heroic warriors Fionn and the Fianna, to the curse of a Goddess, to an on-going battle of wits between the Connacht Queen Medb (Maeve) and her rival the King of Ulster. You’ll see shape shifting sisters, fairy folk you’ll want to watch out for, fights with monsters, and wise old women helping young maids.

Published in 2018, the stories are written by a Native Irish Speaker who has translated the original stories into more relatable modern English. This is a great collection of both popular and lesser-known stories that is perfect for both adults and young adults.

Irish Fairy Tales by Philip Smith

Per the publisher: The age-old charm of Irish folklore gives special sparkle to this collection of eight tongue-in-cheek tales. Wicked old hags, clever leprechauns, courageous tailors, evil giants, and other characters come to life in such fanciful yarns as “Hudden and Dudden and Donald O’Neary,” “Conal and Donal and Taig,” “The Old Hag’s Long Leather Bag,” “The Field of Boliauns,” “The Sprightly Tailor,” “The Giant’s Stairs,” “The Bee, the Harp, the Mouse, and the Bum-Clock,” and “The Black Horse.” Reset in large, easy-to-read type, with six illustrations, these beloved stories from the Emerald Isle will delight readers of any age with their warmth, whimsy, and sly humor.

Published in 1993, this is a children’s book that has compiled some of the more charming (and less scary) Irish folktales. It’s an interesting collection and has some stories I’d not read anywhere else.

Similar Posts