The best books of Irish fairytales, myths, and legends

Kieran Fanning Author Of Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends
By Kieran Fanning

Who am I?

I grew up in Ireland, where I was surrounded by stories, modern and ancient. Irish myths and legends formed the basis of the history curriculum for most children beginning the subject. Irish children are incredibly familiar with "The Children of Lir" and legendary heroes like Cúchulainn – we even have a rollercoaster named after him in our only proper theme park! As a teacher, I continued to retell these stories to my young, receptive audiences. When I was given the opportunity to write my own book of fairy tales, myths, and legends, I jumped at the chance. The research, including the reading of the books on this page, was almost as much fun as writing my book! 


I wrote...

Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

By Kieran Fanning,

Book cover of Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

What is my book about?

A complete collection of much-loved Irish fairy tales, myths, and legends, bound into a beautiful new edition. Enjoy the rich mythical history of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann on the island and their great battles with the Fomorians, right up to the modern-day fairy tales of Irish storytelling. Including the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, and featuring heroes such as Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill and many traditional favourites such as The Children of Lir.

The books I picked & why

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Irish Folk and Fairy Tales

By Michael Scott,

Book cover of Irish Folk and Fairy Tales

Why this book?

When I was researching my own book, a local librarian found a copy of this title for me. The book was out of print but contained some wonderful retellings of fairy tales from Ireland. What I loved about the book was that some of the tales were new to me and I haven’t come across many of them since. Even at that early stage of his writing life, Scott wrote expertly. It’s no wonder he went on to have a very successful career as an author. His Tuatha Dé Danann stories inspired my own tale, "Nuada of the Silver Arm" and Scott even gave me permission to adapt his story "The Shoemaker and Himself" into my own tale, "Jack and the Man in Black".


Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends

By Marie Heaney,

Book cover of Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends

Why this book?

This is possibly the best collection of Irish myths and legends that I’ve read. It’s as comprehensive as Lady Gregory’s book but much more palatable. It charts the mythology of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, right up to the arrival of Christianity. Written in clear, no-nonsense prose, this was one of my prime reference texts when writing my own book.


The High Deeds of Finn MacCool

By Rosemary Sutcliff,

Book cover of The High Deeds of Finn MacCool

Why this book?

The renowned Rosemary Sutcliff examines the life and times of legendary hero, Finn MacCool in this modern and compelling book. Her descriptive writing and attention to detail makes the writing flow effortlessly across the page. The book doesn’t read like a collection of legends, but like a modern thriller. I highly recommend it, along with its companion book, The Hound of Ulster.


Savage Her Reply

By Deirdre Sullivan,

Book cover of Savage Her Reply

Why this book?

Published in 2020, this is the most recent book on my list. It’s a YA retelling of the well-known tale, "The Children of Lir", but from the perspective of the villain, Aife (or Aoife). Full of rage and injustice, the narrator asks us to re-examine the supposed truths we hold in our hearts. Beautifully written and full of lyrical poetry and dark ancient magic, it really felt like listening to one of the Tuatha Dé Danann speaking. I loved the cover too, by Karen Vaughan and the ogham motifs between the chapters.  


Tales from Old Ireland

By Malachy Doyle, Niamh Sharkey (illustrator),

Book cover of Tales from Old Ireland

Why this book?

This book, for younger readers, is a collection of retellings of some of Ireland’s most well-known stories like Oisín in Tír na nÓg, as well as less famous ones like Son of an Otter, Son of a Wolf. Doyle writes terrifically well, perfectly pitching his tales at a young audience. Illustrated by Niamh Sharkey in her distinctive style, this is a collection to be treasured. I loved the pronunciation guide for the Irish names, as well as the introduction and the page about Doyle’s sources.


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