E. Ashley Rooney,
Ireland's Ghosts, Legends & Lore
(Schiffer, 2013)

Ireland is the land of my maternal great-grandparents. I've always wanted to learn more about this ancient island, and I thought that its legends and lore, with a few ghost stories thrown in for good measure, would be the perfect place to start.

The book starts on a solid footing of Irish history dating back over a thousand years. However, I originally thought I would be reading true ghost stories with authentic verification. While I was initially unimpressed, I soon realized what I was reading. While the author uses "Many say that...," and "His ghost is said to walk..." statements in some of her more disappointing stories, it became apparent that this is mostly a book of tales that blend the ability of a talented raconteur with legend that could rival some of the "Spooky" series by S.E. Schlosser (if you're interested, look up Spooky Maryland, which was my favorite in that series). This book encompasses everything from werewolves to phouka to dueling suitors and leprechauns.

While the first and last thirds of the book were OK, the book really shines in the middle. This part of the book was absolutely magical -- I wish the rest had been of this quality.

First, the author brings us into "One Day in June," where she brilliantly weaves a story around one of the many stone circles that dot the British Isles' countryside. Historians and archeologists believe they were used for solstice ceremonies and other celestial observations, as well as sacrifices. This story was reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and I loved it.

Next, in "The Doyarchu," the author tells us there is a Nessie-like beast that legend says lives in many Irish lakes. Around the legend, she builds the story of an old man who has seen the monster take his family, one by one, and what his solution turns out to be.

While these two are my favorite mystical stories, the blue ribbon prize for a realistic yet fictional short story goes to "The Bold Irish Girl." The author certainly did her share of research to write this one. This story gives us the story of Margaret, who is one of the millions who left Ireland during the famine for hope of a better life in a new land.

When a potato blight occurs in Ireland in the mid-1800s, millions begin to starve. There is famine and disease everywhere. Millions die. Millions more emigrate. This story brings us the account of a young girl and the trials and tribulations that she and her family go through to get to the new land and their lives once they get there. Friendships are forged, heartbreak occurs and, ultimately, with hard work and perseverance, success is achieved. It was a very touching story, and an experience shared by many in days gone by.

One thing to mention is that the photos included are excellent. However, they are all glazed over with a gold-orange-yellow hue (perhaps reminiscent of the orange glow of a peat fire in a traditional Irish hearth?), and I would have preferred to see the gorgeous emerald green of Ireland in full color.

Overall, this read was OK, but could have been much better had the author dressed the boring, oft-told legends with a bit more embellishment (which is very rare for me to request, because I usually hate it), such as that shiny middle section. I liked her approach. She writes most effectively in the first-person, and had she adopted this style for, say, the Tower of London stories, they would have been a lot more engaging. However, there were those stories that shone.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

18 July 2015

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