|About the Author
About Book 5
I — The Celts in Ancient History
II — The Religion of the Celts
III — The Irish Invasion Myths
IV — The Early Milesian Kings
V — Tales of the Ultonian Cycle
VI — Tales of the Ossianic Cycle
VII — The Voyage of Maeldun
VIII — Myths and Tales of the Cymry
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Thomas William Rolleston was the son of Charles Rolleston-Spunner, who was fifty years of age when T.W. was born at Glasshouse Shinrone in 1857. Charles was a brilliant barrister and later a distinguished County Court Judge for Tipperary. He adopted the additional surname Spunner as a result of inheriting an estate in 1867 from Thomas Spunner.
From Glasshouse, the young T.W. was sent to St. Columba's College, Rathfarnham, where he was head-pupil. Later he had a distinguished career in Trinity College, culminating in his winning the Vice-Chancellor's Prize for English verse in 1876. He was married twice, first to Edith de Burgh of Kildare, who died in 1896 and secondly to Maud, one of the six daughters of the Rev. Stopford, who in his day, was a well known preacher and poet. T.W. had eight children from the two marriages, and lived at 104 Pembroke Road in Dublin before moving to Hampstead in London.
After leaving Trinity, he made a reputation for himself in many different spheres of activity. "He was a poet of fine finish, a man of high musical and artistic tastes", as well as a renowned German scholar and authority on German literature. He assisted his friend, Sir Horace Plunkett, founder of the Co-Operative Movement, in the management of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. He was principal founder of the India Society of London, co-founder (with William Butler Yeats) of the famous Rhymer's Club, and assisted Douglas Hyde in founding the Gaelic League. As the first managing director of the Irish Industries' Society, he helped preserve from extinction many Irish handicrafts, such as lace-making, handmade tweeds and glass-making. He organised and took charge of the Irish Historic Loan Collection at the St Louis Exhibition in 1904. In between he found time to be a keen botanist, biologist, sailor, cyclist, actor, boxer, musician, journalist, lecturer and rugby player and "was the only person who ever jumped a horse over the sunk fence between the garden and the back lawn at Glasshouse".
His most famous poem, The Dead at Clonmacnoise is to be found in several anthologies of poetry, including the Oxford Book of English Verse, and was for many years included in the list of poems on the Leaving Certificate syllabus. Rolleston published several books, notably A Treasury of Irish Poetry, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, and The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cumhail.
In 1891 he founded the Irish Literary Society of London, the aim being 'to encourage and stimulate a new school of literature which would be distinctly Irish, although in the English language". Gavan Duffy became its President and T.W. its secretary. When the movement reached Dublin the following year, it attracted such literary giants as W. B. Yeats, George Russell (AE), Percy French, James Stephens. Sean O'Casey, Liam O'Flaherty, and the ex-Fenian John O'Leary.
Source: Noel Mac Mahon "In The Shadow Of The Fairy Hill: Shinrone and Ballingarry — A History"
The process of severing the majority of the native people of Britain from their racial and cultural roots has been going on for nearly two millennia. When the Romans imposed their hegemony on most of what is now Great Britain, the great majority of the native people were of Celtic extraction and spoke a language that has now become Welsh. Ireland was inhabited by related, but different, Celtic stock who spoke a language that has now become Gaelic. Scottish Gaelic is only little different from Irish Gaelic, because it was introduced into Western Scotland by successful Irish invaders in the sixth and seventh centuries CE.
Successive waves of invasion from the Continent by Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, Normans, and others succeeded in displacing the native Cymric language by what has now developed into English: but linguistic change does not by itself justify the classification of the British people as "Anglo-Saxon". Having to cross the sea in small boats to get here, most of the successful invaders were male warriors intent on rape and pillage, if not conquest: they were not often accompanied by their own women. Nearly all the children they fathered on arrival were born of native British women and were nurtured in British ways, even if they gradually learned to speak the language of their conquerors. Even to this day, the blood that runs in the veins of the people commonly referred to as "Anglo-Saxon" is predominantly Celtic blood. Although I make no claims for the genetic "purity" of a people whose arrival in Britain was only the latest episode in a long and varied descent, and lean to the view that language and culture are more important than genetics as determinants of ethnicity, I believe Rolleston is well justified in making this point in his Preface.
Fear of rebellion always pre-disposes governments to suppress any cultural factors that might serve to unite opposition — notably language, religion, tradition, myth, legend, history, music, and distinctive dress. Thus, for example, after the crushing of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-6, the wearing of the kilt was proscribed, and playing the Highland bagpipe became a hazardous undertaking.
Similarly, Celtic culture in Wales and Ireland has been submerged under ever-increasing political and commercial pressures as English gradually became the dominant language not only of the British Isles but of much of the rest of the world. This has undoubtedly brought benefits in its train, not least to individuals such as myself in enabling us to address a global readership; but there has been an incalculable cost in the passing from living memory of the myths, legends, poetry, folk-tales and music of our Celtic ancestors. Not only has a wealth of material been irretrievably lost from folk memory and even from scholarship, but the counter-attractions of commercially-dominated broadcast and entertainment media are likely to prove too strong for the restoration of a preference for the "live" story-telling and music-making which helped to enrich the lives of men and women of all classes during long winter evenings when, apart from the fitful glimmer of the moon, darkness pervaded all but the fireside.
My hope is that some few readers will find it worth their while to spend some time acquainting themselves with the wealth of heroic story assembled by T W Rolleston in this volume. You will find among them echoes of some of the great tales of the world, tales that appear again and again in the "fairy" tales designed to appeal to the imagination of children, not merely for their entertainment but also to inculcate the fundamentals of morality. I'm sure your children will appreciate your favourite tales from this book if you memorise them, adapt them to your own style, and re-tell them at bedtime.
You may even be inspired to make the effort to learn something of the Gaelic and Cymric languages so that you may begin to appreciate the additional richness and sonority conferred by recitation in the original tongues. But even even translated into English, the tales in this volume will appeal to your imagination and enrich your inward life.