CAHSS Faculty Articles

The Irish Wonder Tale (Elliot B. Gose, Jr. The World of the Irish Wonder Tale: An Introduction to the Study of Fairy Tales Univ. of Toronto Press, 1985)



Publication Title

Irish Literary Supplement

Publication Date



Surprisingly, one of the most important collectors of Irish folktales in the 19th century was the American Jeremiah Curtin who, between 1871 and 1893, traveled to Ireland on five separate occasions and gather dozens of scealta (traditional tales) from seanchaithe (storytellers) in Kerry, Galway and Donegal. Following the theories of Max Muller and Herbert Spencer, then in vogue, he searched particularly for long mythic tales which would reveal their descent from Indo-European (“Aryan”) antiquity. Using an interpreter, Curtin (who spoke no Irish but could follow the thread of the stories) became one of the first translators of stories told in the Irish language, including tales of 4000 to 5000 words dealing with the great kings and heroes of Irish lore, such as Fionn mac Cumhaill and Cuchulain. His first collection, Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, appeared in 1889, and additional tales in the New York Sun in 1892 and 1893, with many of these printed in a second volume, Hero-Tales of Ireland in 1894. Those not reprinted by Curtin were eventually gathered by James H. Delargy in 1944 and published in Dublin as Irish Folk-Tales. Although Douglas Hyde faulted Curtin for his use of some non-Gaelic (i.e., English) idioms in his translations, later scholars, such as Delargy and Alan Bruford, have generally praised Curtin for his accuracy.