The Island of the Mighty
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By Padraic Colum
Padraic Colum ranks the Welsh among the world’s greatest storytellers; “after nearly a thousand years,” their legends are “still beautiful to us.” Culling fifteen tales in total from the Mabinogion (the earliest Welsh prose stories, dating from between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries), The Island of the Mighty tells of Kilhuch and King Arthur—their quest for Olwen, their trials with the Giants, and their encounter with the Sorceress—and of the Companions of King Arthur—the Knight Owen; Peredur; Geraint; and the Dream of Ronabbway. Amongst these folktales Colum intersperses two of the Mabinogion’s mythological stories: of Puil, Prince of Dyved, and his journey to the Realm of Faeries and marriage to Rhiannon; and of Branwen, and her marriage to the King of Ireland and the terrible war that breaks between Britain and Ireland.
There came three birds, the Birds of Rhiannon, and began singing unto them a certain song, and all the songs they had ever heard were unpleasant compared to this song…
The telling of Celtic lore in The Island of the Mighty brooks no rival as literature for the young of heart and mind. As Colum himself writes, “No other book in all the world gives us better than this book youth and youth seen with youth’s eyes.… In these stories we seem to see immortal youth moving through a world that knows no change or decay.”
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Padraic Colum (1881–1972) was an Irish poet, novelist, and playwright. A leading figure in the Irish Literary revival, he wrote over sixty books and numerous plays and collections of poetry. In 1961, Colum received the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association, “awarded annually to a living exemplar of the words…only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.’”