Mr. Jeremiah Curtin needs no introduction to the lovers of Gaelic lore and legend. By the publication of his two volumes, Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland(Boston: Little, Brown & Co.; London: S. Low & Co., 1890) and Hero Tales of Ireland (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1894), as well as of the large collection which, as yet, has only appeared in the Sunday edition of The Sun (New York), he has approved himself the foremost collector of Irish oral literature, and has brought together an amount of material which, for intrinsic interest, holds its own by the side of Campbell of Islay's Popular Tales of the West Highlands. The present collection supplements the two I have just cited. The first of these comprises, mainly, special Irish forms of tales found throughout the European world; the second is devoted to a class of composition practically confined to Gaeldom, and constituting the present form of a narrative genre the history of which we can trace on Gaelic soil for at least 1000 years; in this volume the present-day belief of the Irish peasantry in the extra-human world it is, which, chiefly, is noted and illustrated. This class of Irish folk-lore attracted attention from the first, and forms the staple of the earliest collection, Croker's Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, drawn largely, by-the-bye, from the same districts as those which have yielded material to Mr. Curtin. In spite, however, of the fact that the field has been well worked, Mr. Curtin has been remarkably successful in discovering and recording new matter, whilst even in the case of well-known stories his variants possess distinct value. For the student, apart from the witness these tales bear to the vivid reality of the fairy and ghost belief among the peasantry in Southern Ireland at the present day, two points are of special interest. The process of adaptation by which tales, old-world and far-travelled, are fitted into a modern local framework, is clearly exhibited - that process, thanks to which these tales have struck root in every age and every clime, and still form the chiefest portion of the intellectual and artistic store of mankind at large. An interesting example is furnished by the tale of John Shea and the Treasure: the machinery is that of Gaelic romance in its most archaic form; the name of the mythic marvel-land, Lochlin, is still retained, but the whole is transmuted into an anecdote of a man who died in 1847. The tales about St. Martin are equally instructive; the transference of attributes from the pagan wizard-lord, master of mysterious flocks subject to mysterious taboos, which, if broken, not all their owners' might may avail, to the Christian saint goes on as it were before our eyes. What a lesson for those to whom the saint's presence suggests a late and purely Christian origin for the whole story!
Far more interesting and complex are the questions raised regarding the Irish peasant's belief in the extra-human and non-divine powers. These are of two classes - fairies and ghosts; and our collection would seem to show some transference of attribute from the one class to the other. I say, would seem, as the question cannot be lightly decided. It is a fact that the fairy belief informs and animates Gaelic romance for at least a thousand years, that the pre-Christian kings of the euhemerising annalists, the wizard champions of the bardic reciters, the ruined angels of the Christian moralist, are substantially one with the "good people" of the living peasant; equally a fact that the "ghost," in our sense of the word, is a rare and unimportant visitor in early Gaelic legend, which troubles itself very slightly with man after death, and has practically nothing to say concerning his influence for good or evil upon the living. How different from these tales, which are full of spectres and permeated by a vital faith in the continued activity of a "something" after life has departed the body. Is this a later stage of conception? Is it due to Christianity? Is rather the product of an older, ruder race than that of the Aryan Celts to whom we owe Gaelic mythology? In how far has it influenced and been influenced by the fairy belief. These are questions deserving serious study. Note the curious incident of the fairy dwellers of the cromlech-mound (p. 65). This seems at first sight to make for Mr. MacRitchie's contention, that the fairies were a real race of small underground dwellers. But if one thing seems certain, it is, that far back as we can trace Gaelic civilisation in Ireland - say 2000 years - these "fairy" mounds are graves, and their sanctity must in some way be derived from their destination. Has the whole fairy belief sprung out of ancestor-worship, and, after passing through a brilliantly romantic form in the minds of poets, is it reverting to its pristine shape in the minds of the peasant? In any case, it is curious to note how Elizabeth Shea ("The Fairies of Rahonain"), unwilling inmate as she is of Fairyland, has the power and ruthless comments which Mr. Curtin has added to the material he has collected show that he possesses both qualifications, and make us long for a connected and systematic interpretation of Gaelic mythic belief and legend at his hands.