Editor's Preface - Fairy Legends of Ireland

T is the feeling of attachment to an old friend only which has induced me to undertake the editing of the following pages. At the time when my acquaintance with Crofton Croker commenced, his thoughts were absorbed in the subject of fairy mythology—not that it was very near the period at which his legends were originally published, for they were already out of print, and he was contemplating a new edition, which, from various circumstances, soon afterwards took the abridged form in which it appeared in Murray's Family Library. Thus, as I also was then occupied with researches on the same subject, we became fellow-labourers in these interesting inquiries, and I became the confidential depositary of his most secret wishes in regard to the future of his own—and I think I may say his favourite—book. For he certainly looked upon the form it had taken in the Family Library as only a temporary one, and he cherished the hope of producing an edition more complete, if not enlarged, even upon his original plan. Death prevented the accomplishment of his wishes by himself, but I have now at last gladly assisted in carrying out one part of his plan, that of republishing the complete collection of his Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland.

It was one of the first regular collections of fairy legends published in our language, and I confess that I look upon it, taken altogether, as the best When these stories first appeared they presented a freshness and novelty seldom possessed by similar productions, and it obtained a success which contributed greatly towards bringing this class of literature into public favour. Its author had the merit of giving the stories as they are told simply by the Irish peasantry, and not, as is too generally the case, clothed in the artificial embellishments of the compiler.

These popular stories are no modern creations, but, like the language in which they are told, they have descended from generation to generation, from remote antiquity, undergoing in their way modifications in accordance with the gradual changes in the society which has preserved them. Hence these legends are found to be characteristic of different peoples, and where we can obtain any of them as they existed at early periods, and compare them with the same stories told in modern times, they enable us to trace the history of popular superstitions and mythology. This, however, we are not often able to do, although we can find enough to convince us of the strong hold which they have always had upon men's minds. But we can collect and compare together the legends of different countries as they now exist, and we thus discover by infallible marks the affinities of the tribes who inhabit them. Through all the branches of the Teutonic race we find a constant recurrence of the same stories, and, beyond this also, we meet with stories among the Celtic populations of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany, which bear that sort of resemblance to legends of undoubted Teutonic origin, proclaiming, on the one hand, the truth, which rests upon other evidence, that Celt and Teuton came originally from one stock, and, on the other hand, showing that these legends are of such remote antiquity that they must have been in existence before the first separation in that stock took place.

Till Mr. Crofton Croker collected the legends of the south of Ireland, the value and interest of such stories were very little appreciated in this country, and our popular traditions were generally despised, and were rapidly disappearing. The publication of the first volume, which contained the legends of the Shefro, the Cluricaune, the Banshee, the Phooka, and Thierna na Oge, produced so great a sensation, that its author began immediately to prepare for a second series, in order to make the subject more complete; and with the second volume, containing this new series, he also gave to the world a third volume, containing a translation of the Essay on Fairy Mythology by the Brothers Grimm, and some collections relating to the fairies of Wales. This volume was intended to gratify the interest in the subject of our popular superstitions which had been suddenly excited, and did not properly belong to the two previous volumes; it has therefore been omitted in the present edition. As I have said before, I knew it to have been Mr. Croker's wish to publish a complete edition of the Legends in one series, and it has been my aim in the present edition to edit them as nearly as possible according to the plan which I believe that he had designed.


Brompton, London.