Morgan Llwellyn: a trip through Irish history

One of my favourite writers is Morgan Llwellyn, an American author of Irish and Welsh ancestry. Although she has written stories set in Britain (The Wind from Hastings) and the European continent (The Horse Goddess and Druids), her most evocative novels are those that that bring the Irish past to life. If you fancy a guide through Irish mythology and history, you could do worse than to explore it through Llwellyn’s prose.

She enjoys rain for its wetness, winter for its cold, summer for its heat. She loves rainbows as much for fading as for their brilliance.
– From Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish

The furthest back in time is Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish, based on early Irish mythology and describing the arrival of the Celts. Red Branch (also published as On Raven’s Wing) is based on the ancient epic Táin Bó Cúailnge and focusing on the story of Cúchulan. Even if you’ve heard these stories before, Llwellyn gives them new life; I knew that Deirdre’s tale didn’t turn out well, but that didn’t stop me from shedding tears.

In a tentative voice he addressed the darkening grey sky. “I am the king,” he said, tasting the words.
– From Lion of Ireland

Fans of the TV series “Vikings” will enjoy the tale of Brian Boru in Lion of Ireland, who took on these fierce warriors and won. 2014 is the thousandth anniversary of his famous victory at Clontarf, so there’s another excuse to read this exciting tale. The story of Brian’s family is continued in Pride of Lions.

I am what they call me, a pirate, she mused. And several other things too, for have I not lived many lives in one?
From Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas

The English Tudor dynasty was a difficult time for Ireland, but that era produced some full-blooded heroes. Among them are the pirate queen, Granuaile (Grace O’Malley), portrayed in Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas. Another is Donal O’Sullivan Beare, depicted in The Last Prince of Ireland (also published as O’Sullivan’s March).

We’re born alone and we die alone, I accept that. But why, God, do we have to be alone in the middle?
From 1921: The Great Novel of the Irish Civil War

For more modern history, Llwellyn produced the “Irish century” novels, beginning with 1916, A Novel Of the Irish Rebellion and finishing with 1999, A Novel of the Celtic Tiger and the Search for Peace. Some of this may seem familiar to people who went to school in Ireland, but for others it is a great introduction to the country and its recent past.

Llwellyn has also written books for younger readers: Strongbow, Brian Boru (a YA version of Lion of Ireland), The Pirate Queen (a YA version of Grania), and The Young Rebels. I haven’t read any of these, but I’m confident that Llwellyn can enrapture young readers as well as older ones.

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