Did you know that Ireland has the longest unbroken vernacular literature in Western Europe? Just think about that – what a claim! But it must be true, because that’s what the immensely erudite (and extremely entertaining) Professor Alan Titley tells us on the Candlelit Tales storytelling podcast. Alan is NOT the author – merely, he insists, the re-teller – of Little Island’s new version of Ireland’s equivalent of the Iliad – The Táin.
The history of the Táin itself may be lost in the mists of time, but the history of Little Island’s interest in this amazing heroic tale is also long(ish). When our publisher, Matthew Parkinson-Bennett, was a little boy, he was utterly enthralled by a children’s version of the Táin by Liam Mac Uistín (published decades ago by The O’Brien Press), and ever since joining Little Island, he wanted to publish a new children’s version of this oft-retold story for today’s children.
So he began laying siege to Alan Titley, well known as a scholar, folklore fiend, teacher, storyteller, writer and Corkman (though not in that order) to produce a new version of this ancient tale for today’s young readers. Alan tried resistance. First he said no. Then he said he was busy. Then he went into hiding. But eventually Matthew’s persistence wore him down and Alan thought he might have a go at it. Some time. In the future. When he had time.
Well, the future finally arrived, and Alan’s retelling, with terrific comicbook-style illustrations by Eoin Coveney, was published earlier this year (2023) by Little Island.
As it happens, the chatty, likable and very knowledgable folks at Candlelit Tales have also had a long and deep history of interest in the Táin, and their very first podcast adventure was to do their own retelling, over several episodes, of this bumptious rattlebag of stories and subplots and digressions. With that experience under their belt, they are particularly well placed to understand the task that Alan Titley had before him in his battle to tame the fabulous writhing monster that is the Táin – with the added difficulty, in his case, of making it accessible to today’s young readers. Their shared history of finding ways to mediate Ireland’s great heroic epic for a new audience makes for a fascinating conversation – which is of course exactly what you want for a podcast.
Two podcasts, actually. The conversation between Candlelit Tales and Alan Titley was too long for a single episode, and so they made two episodes out of it. The second of these (episode 214) focuses on how Alan went about rewriting the story for Little Island’s young audience. Once you’ve heard Alan’s warm and luscious voice and been drawn in by his delightful personality, you’ll certainly want to go back to episode 213 also, to find out more about his personal history – which is very nearly as adventurous as the story of the Táin itself: you know, the usual sort of thing for an Irish writer and educationalist – a spot of incarceration in Nigeria, for starters. And in that episode you’ll also get a lot of background information from both Alan and the admirable storytelling duo, Sorcha and Aron, of Candlelit Tales, about Irish mythology, including some illuminating discussion on how our old gods differ from, for example, the gods of Greek mythology.
And after that you will (a) want to explore the rest of this terrific, rich storytelling podcast resource and (b) get hold of your own copy of Alan Titley’s The Táin – produced with young readers in mind, but a super starting point for anyone of any age wanting an approachable version of this seminal story of the canon of Irish mythology.
Candlelit Tales podcast episodes can be downloaded from wherever you get your podcasts.
The Táin by Alan Titley should be available in any good bookshop, or order it direct from us at littleisland.ie.
By Siobhán Parkinson