Tales of the Celtic Bards, by Claire Hamilton
O Books, 9781903816548, 320 pp., 2003

Over the years there have been many tellings and retellings of the myths of the Celtic people, and this boom is another retelling. As the author (an MA in The Bardic Tradition in Ireland from Bristol University) notes “If this story is new to you then you must hear it. But even if you know it well, listen again, for there is always new wisdom to be found in it.” She is an accomplished harpist, and has produced a CD to accompany this book.

The initial tales are told by a bard, Bruach, to a young man and his village. Although the details surrounding the telling are sketchy, the stories themselves grab and hold your attention. They are told simply, as would have been appropriate to a rustic setting. Greater depth could have been achieved, but the simplicity increases the appeal and provides inspiration for further exploration.

After dealing with the Irish tales she moves on to the Scottish tales that share some stories with the Irish since, in ancient times, they were linked. These stories are drawn from the Finnian (or Ossian) Cycle. There are differences in these tales, especially noted in this telling of the story of Diarmaid and Grainne.

The tales conclude with stories from the Welsh collection known as the Mabinogion, ending with the story of Taliesin, drawn from the Hanes Taliesin (13th century), and the story of the lost city of Ys from Brittany.

The book is completed with some notes on the stories, a short glossary, an extremely short (14 entries), and a guide to Irish and Welsh pronunciation. None of these are extensive but they all contain enough information to be helpful.

My one regret is that I did not receive the CD of music which accompanied the hardcover edition of this book. The book has just been released, and they have not yet arranged the packaging of the book and CD. I am awaiting arrival of that CD and can honestly say that, if Ms. Hamilton plays a harp as well as she tells a bardic tale I am sure it will be a joy, and would add greatly to setting the mood for the various tales.

Although this is not the most extensive collection of bardic tales I have ever read, it is easily the most enjoyable. I was swept away and carried along by the images and pacing. I most heartily recommend this book. Since the holiday season is approaching I feel good saying that it would make a nice Yule gift.


Tales of the Celtic Bards, by Claire Hamilton
CD: LivingMyths.com, 32 tracks, 2003

This CD is an accompaniment to the book of the same name1 and will be shipped with it. It is intended to augment the stories contained therein. These 32 tracks run the gamut of emotions and styles. They evoke the images even more eloquently than the bard’s words as he relates the stories.

Ms. Hamilton’s inspired harp playing, accompanied solely by human voices, hearkens back to times gone by. You should feel yourself surrounded by family and friends, even if you are sitting alone when you listen to them.

The songs definitely enhance the experience of the bardic tales. My sole regret is that I read the book (and passed it along to my youngest daughter) before this CD arrived, and so I had to experience each as a separate entity rather than as the combination they are intended to be.

By all means, use this CD as you read the book and find yourself drawn into a mystic (and mythic) experience. It may be hard to evaluate as a “stand alone” disc, as that is not its intended purpose. As an augmentation and elaboration of the written word, however, it is almost unique. The words and music do their jobs wonderfully.

I highly recommend this book and CD combination.

  1. See my review of 18 November 2008. [–Ed. Published above.] []