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The King of Ireland's Son

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Wikipedia article

'The King of Ireland's Son' is a children's novel published in Ireland in 1916 written by Padraic Colum, and illustrated by Willy Pogany. It is the story of the eldest of the King of Ireland's sons, and his adventures winning and then finding Fedelma, the Enchanter's Daughter, who after being won is kidnapped from him by the King of the Land of Mist.

The work is solidly based in Irish folklore, described as "his great synthesis of fireside tales", and "a marvellous compendium of Irish folktales re-told". The 1916 edition published by Henry Holt is interleaved with plates of illustrations in full colour.


a, the Enchanter's Daughter. Illustration by Willy Pogny for Padraic Colum's 'The King of Ireland's Son' (1916).

This is one of the classics of Irish children's literature, its magical stories winding in and out of each other from the start in a long, epic and complex narrative.Foster, John Wilson. 'Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival: A Changeling Art'. Syracuse University Press. 1987. pp. 279-283. .

When the careless King of Ireland's son goes out,

'His hound at his heel,'

'His hawk on his wrist,'

'A brave steed to carry him whither he list,'

'The blue sky above him,'

'The green grass below him'

he meets an eccentric old man full of harmlessness and duplicity who invites him to a game of chess for whatever stake the winner might like. Characters like Flann, otherwise known as Gilly the Goat-Boy, the proud and heartless Lasarfhiona or Flame-of-Wine, the magical Spae-Woman and the vicious farmer who takes on Flann as a farmhand make this an entrancing, funny and always-remembered story.

In the first segment, 'Fedelma, the Enchanter's Daughter', the oldest son of the King of Ireland loses a wager against his father's enemy and should find him in a year and a day's time. He is advised by a talking eagle to spy on three swan maidens that will descend on a lake. They are the daughters of the Enchanter of the Black Back-Lands, the wizard the prince is looking for. The prince is instructed to hide the swanskin of the swan with a green ribbon, who is Fedelma, the Enchanter's youngest daughter. After arriving at the Enchanter's kingdom, he promises marriage to Fedelma, resisting her sisters', Aefa and Gilveen, advances, and is forced to fulfill three difficult tasks to the Enchanter.Colum, Padraic. 'The King of Ireland's Son'. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1916. pp. 5-59. [https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044004359204&view=1up&seq=21]

In the chapter 'The Unique Tale', the Spae-Woman tells the heroes the following story: a queen wishes for a blue-eyed, blonde-haired daughter, and carelessly wishes her sons to "go with the wild geese". As soon as the daughter (named 'Sheen', 'Storm') is born, the seven princes change into gray wild geese and fly away from the castle.Colum, Padraic. 'The King of Ireland's son'. New York: Macmillan. 1916. pp. 130-147. It is later revealed that Sheen changed her name to 'Caintigern' and became Queen when she married the King of Ireland, who, in turn, is the father of two of the main characters: the King of Ireland's Son and Gilly of the Goatskin ('Gilla Na Chreck An Gour'). The seven wild geese are, thus, their uncles.Colum, Padraic. 'The King of Ireland's Son'. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1916. pp. 287-295. [https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044004359204&view=1up&seq=309]


Written in the years before 1916 in America by Colum, a close friend and colleague of some of those who led the Easter Rising, this was the ultimate calling-up of Irish mythology and legend, and, paired with James Stephens' 'Irish Fairy Tales', made many happy hours for children curled up before glowing turf fires to read by the light of Tilley lamps in the long winter evenings of the new Ireland.


Another evolution from the original folktale was written by Brendan Behan, published in Brendan Behan's Island, 1962, pp. 136141.

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