In order to legitimise a regime or cause, traditions may be constructed around historical or mythological events, people or symbols that reinforce the image required to focus people’s conception of the past. People can be encouraged to invent a cohesive view of their shared ‘traditions’ by what could be called cherry picking bits of history.
The ancient mythology of Ireland is one of its’ greatest assets. The glorious, poetic tales of battles, super humans, demigods and heroes ranks among the best of ancient literature. The book of the Dun Cow, (Lebor na huidre), was written around 1100 and contains stories from the eighth and ninth centuries. The Book of Invasions, (Lebor Gabala), tells how the mythical ancestors of the Irish, the God-like Tuatha Dé Danann, wrestled Ireland (or Erin) from misshapen Fir Bolg in fantastic battles. The Fir Bolg were traditionally linked to Gaul and Britain so the analogy between them and the invading English was complete.
The Ulster Cycle, (an Rúraíocht), is concerned with heroic battles by great Irish warriors. The statue put up in the General Post Office in Sackville Street, Dublin, (now O’Connell Street) to remember the fallen of the 1916 Rising was inspired by these tales. It shows the hero Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, who tied himself to a tree so that he would die on his feet. Even more importantly, as he died, his sword cut off the hand of his killer. The identification with the dead rebels of the Easter Rising is thereby firmly established in the modern Irish consciousness.
The tales were rediscovered around 1880 inspiring the Irish literary revival in romantic fiction by writers such as Lady Augusta Gregory and the poetry and dramatic works of W.B. Yeats. These works were widely circulated to encourage the people to connect with the cycle of tales that were originally written in Gaelic and unquestionably Irish. They caused an upsurge in Irish art in modern times by artists such as Jim Fitzpatrick who updated the ancient images to become modern and fashionable. This further embedded the tales in the consciousness of the Irish people.
The mythology of Ireland is also secular. Whereas many of the sweeping sagas of antiquity have religious connotations the Irish cycles cut across the religious divide of Catholic and Protestant and could be appreciated by both denominations.
The texts not only illustrate the antiquity of the Irish but also their literacy and artistry. Their content emphasises their heroic nature. These are all of great significance to the Nationalistic movement and the many modern works of art they inspired are of importance not only to the Irish but also to their international reputation.
The ancient tales of Ireland were written in the original language of Gaelic. The native language of any people is one of their defining characteristics. The antiquity of Gaelic can be authenticated by manuscripts written as far back as the Wüzberg Codex of A.D. 700 and possibly...