Storytelling, the Irish way
In his author's note, Bryce Milligan compares old stories to large snowballs rolling down a hill, gathering details with each telling. "Sometimes," Milligan says, "the added details are invented on the spot by a storyteller, in Ireland called a shanachie (pronounced shan i KEY)."
Milligan's literary works include plays for adults as well as historical novels and short story collections for young adults. He also wrote Brigid's Cloak, a picture book for children.
In his retelling of The Prince of Ireland, a tale with over a hundred versions, the king of Ireland's eldest son does not enjoy a carefree life. After the death of the prince's mother, the king took a second wife, and the young queen bore two sons "as like as two lambs." For several years, all went well and the three boys became fast friends.
But the queen grew jealous of the prince, thinking the king loved him best. As wicked stepmothers often do, she decided to clear the way to the throne for her own sons. She sent for the king's eldest son, and in a fit of anger put a geis (a curse or magic spell pronounced gaysh) upon him. On penalty of death, the prince must bring to her the three magic stallions in the possession of a young giant at the edge of the western world.
But in Irish folktales, a geis was rarely laid on one person without the favor being returned. The prince fires back with a feat the queen must perform or die stand before the high cross by the hermit's chapel with nothing but a sheaf of oats to eat until the prince returns. Afraid she will starve or freeze to death, the queen offers to release him from her geis, if he will do the same, but the honor-bound prince refuses. The two half brothers love him and offer to go on the journey with the prince, and the adventure begins. An interesting twist at the end ensures a happy ending. Illustrator Preston McDaniels brings the text to life in a fanciful fairytale style that adds much enjoyment to this mythical, medieval tale. Major motifs found in the Prince of Ireland such as the magic of three and bad- tempered giants occur in many other well-known tales, but Milligan manages to meld them into a delightful Gaelic folktale. His foray into Celtic consciousness makes for musical reading aloud; just be sure to have a lilt in your voice and a bit of a brogue.