Celtic Myths (Miranda Jane Green)

This little book packs a punch. Not even 100 pages and nicely illustrated, it still manages to be a nice, concise introduction to the belief system of the pre-Christian Celts. Of course, the brevity may owe something to how little we know with any certainty. Phrases like ‘there’s no direct archaeological evidence of…’ or ‘we can’t be certain that…’ appear with distressing regularity in any book about the Celts. It’s an inescapable problem. But if you’re looking for an entry point, there are worse places to start and not many better.

The Other British Isles (David W. Moore)

This book is a quick read about a topic you (or at least me) thought you already knew something about–the smaller islands around England–but it turns out you’re wrong.  The prose is informative without being dense, always a plus.  My brain is still scarred from years of parsing academic articles.  If I never hear the word ‘praxis’ again, fine by me.  Anyway, this book.  Victor Hugo lived for years in exile on Jersey?  Who knew?  I was hoping for more information about Iona, since one of my current projects is set there but the book was fascinating nonetheless, particularly in regards to explaining how/why/how much the scattered islands do/do not consider themselves part of England.  Spoiler alert:  more no than yes.  The only real problem with the book is now I want to go see a whole bunch more places, all of which are relatively difficult to get to.

Irish Bog Book

I was fortunate to see the Fadden More Psalter when I was in Dublin last August. Uncovered in a peat bog in 2006, it’s an awesome discovery on so many levels.

Not because of its fabulous illumination, like the Book of Kells and other insular manuscripts. Not so much. When 1000 years in a peat bog you have, look as good you will not. But its the first major find of this sort in 200 years and the first in an archeological context.

The conservation was probably an interesting project, since the parchment of many leaves had been eaten away but not under the letters because of the ink’s acidity, leading to an odd alphabet soup.

The cover is as important, if not more, as the book itself, telling us for the first time what the outside of early Irish books would have looked and how they were kept. It looks like nothing so much as a 9th century Trapper-Keeper, the book sliding into the cover but not attached to it.

But the icing on the cake is the papyrus inside the front cover, suggesting a potential link between the early Irish church and Coptic Egypt. It’s not known how Christianity came to Ireland. There were enough Christians in Ireland by 410 AD that the Pope sent them a Bishop, Palladius. Saint Patrick gets the credit for converting Ireland but he has, alas, more PR than history on his side. The papyrus find makes one wonder if Coptic missionaries were the real source.

County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society

Since 1903 the County Louth Archeaological and Historical Society has been encouraging interest in and research about County Louth’s past.  They publish a Journal as well.  It’s quite a useful resource for people (*ahem!*) working on historical fiction set in the area.

My understanding is that most if not all counties have some sort of historical society, and certainly a local museum, so if your research happens to take you to County Cork or County Mead rather than County Louth, most likely you’ll find a local historical society there as well.

Fake Mermaid Mummy

Goodness sakes, real history is difficult enough to piece back together without the added confusion of intentional fakery. But humans being what we are, fakes exist.

This particular fake, supposedly a mummified mermaid, is mid-19th century in origin. But of course faux relics, etc., were being painstakingly (Shroud of Turin) or not-so-painstakingly (pig bones substituted for saints’ bones) by at least the 12th century.

It’s easy to guffaw, I suppose, about the gullibility of our forebears, who might have thought this proved mermaids existed. But of course this is the same time period in which dinosaur fossils are coming to light for the first time in significant numbers. If those beasties were real, why not this one? She sure looks real.

I find myself simultaneously appalled at the fakery and utterly impressed with the skill and ingenuity that went into creating it.