Niall Mac Coitir’s Ireland’s Animals: Myths, Legends & Folklore is a lovely, informative book dedicated to “the animals that have shaped the landscape of Ireland,” such as horses, cows, bees and salmon. Each animal’s chapter is comprised of three sections: “Folk Beliefs and Customs,” “Myths and Legends” and “Relations with Humans,” and lovingly illustrated by Gordon D’Arcy, whose stunning, original watercolors, bring the magic and wonder of these animals to life.A nice blend of natural history, mythology and Irish folklore,Ireland’s Animals is hard to put down. This is in great part due to Mac Coitir’s fluid, down-to-earth writing style. Some of the most engaging moments are when he describes various folk cures associated with an animal.
The mythology explored goes beyond Celtic mythology to Classical (Greek and Roman) mythology and Egyptian mythology, exploring links between animal myths, from The Táin Bó Cúailgne and Cú Chulainn to Pan the Greek god of nature and the Celtic horned god Cernunnos.
One purpose of the book, Mac Coitir writes, is “to rediscover the sense of wonder about animals that has been lost in the modern, more scientific approach.” In Ireland’s Animals, he succeeds in doing just that.
– Kristin Romano (264 pages / The Collins Press/Dufour Editions / $48.95)