This Celtic romance by a great historical author, evokes the days of the Fianna, the finest warriors of Eireann. Niamh, a farmer's daughter, is flattered that warrior Bryan wants to court her at the Lughnasa fair. Wise to the ways of men she sets him a riddle, asking him to name the triad of things that women want from men. Only then will she consider him as a lover. Bryan has seen a fine horse lamed by the man who wants to be the king's successor, and can't trust a man who cares so little for his mounts. And Leary his younger brother was almost carried away by a malevolent spirit, the pooka, which takes the form of a black horse. Clearly this Lughnasa is going to be no ordinary midsummer fair.
DAUGHTER OF GOLD bewitches, a total immersion in the times, from brown woollen cloaks because the sheep are brown, to fine embroidery worn by the wealthy. Goods ready for barter, such as hound pups, bone-handled knives, linens, bilberries and honey, surround us on a stroll among the tents and wicker pens; we hear the laughter and songs, feel the excitement. Bryan asks golden-haired Niamh to be his Lughnasa Sister - a ladyfriend for the duration of the fair - but she prefers to seek a husband.
The pooka lurks in the vicinity, showing itself occasionally and making trouble, a danger to any who approach it. Bryan has to win three sporting challenges to take the place of the reckless prince - a mounted swim race, a javelin throw and a horse race. The tension mounts and the rivalry becomes deadly. Niamh feels that her simple clothes and background make her inadequate for Bryan's consort, but her innate understanding of the earth, fields and woodlands may be all that saves them from the wrath of the pooka.
I found this story tremendously enjoyable, vivid and romantic. In County Wicklow there is a lake called Poulaphouca, where the pooka supposedly drowned unwary travellers who tried to ride it. The legend has been reworked in splendid style by Janeen O'Kerry, who has written several Celtic romances. A meteorite shower is known as Lugh's Rain, a midsummer occurrence and fine detail. At midsummer young people could agree to marry for a year and a day, and next year could pledge a lasting marriage or part, any children being accepted. Triads were a customary way to pass on wisdom in the oral tradition and DAUGHTER OF GOLD keeps us guessing as to what should be the content of this one. Romance fans, naturalists and horse lovers equally will love this book.