The Destruction of Dá Dergas Hostel. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE VAST and interesting epic literature of Ireland remained practically inaccessible to English readers till within the last sixty years. In 1853, Nicholas OKearney published the Irish text and an English translation of The Battle of Gabra, and since that date the volume of printed texts and English versions has steadily increased, until now there lies open to the ordinary reader a very considerable mass of material illustrating the imaginative life of medieval Ireland.
Of these Irish epic tales, The Destruction of Dá Derga Hostel is a specimen of remarkable beauty and power. The primitive nature of the story is shown by the fact that the plot turns upon the disasters that follow on the violation of tabus, or prohibitions often with a supernatural sanction, by the monstrous nature of many of the warriors, and by the utter absence of any attempt to rationalize or explain the beliefs implied or the marvels related in it. The powers and achievements of the heroes are fantastic and extraordinary beyond description, and the natural and extra-natural constantly mingle; yet nowhere does the narrator express surprise. The technical method of the tale, too, is curiously and almost mechanically symmetrical, after the manner of savage art; and both description and narration are marked by a high degree of freshness and vividness.
The following translation is, with slight modification, that of Dr. Whitley Stokes, from a text constructed by him on the basis of eight manuscripts, the oldest going back to about 1100 A.D. The story itself is, without doubt, several centuries earlier, and belongs to the oldest group of extant Irish sagas.