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on 13 January 2010
I am old enough to have witnessed the very end of the way of life to which the beliefs and practices described in this book belonged. What first interested me in the book was the influence which these had had on the poetry and philosophy of W. B. Yeats. Though a complete sceptic myself and frankly bored by Yeats's wanderings in spiritualism, I was interested to see the influences which led him to his beliefs. As in any account of human actions and beliefs of a bygone age, the difficulty for us is to understand the mindset of that age. In rural Ireland, because of the manner in which historical events crippled social, political and economic development, the old beliefs survived while societies in other parts of the country and in other countries were changing rapidly. A consequence of this dichotomy was that people like Lady Gregory were aware of the existence and vulnerability of the ancient beliefs and equipped to record them. The statements of those she interviewed are set down verbatim and, because the beliefs of different individuals are similar, there is inevitable repetition. From personal experience of talking to people in the west of Ireland I can vouch for the accuracy with which the speech patterns were captured. For anyone interested in folklore, in the influences on a great poet or in glimpsing a past way of life this book will fascinate. There is also the bonus that there are two sections written by Yeats which indicate the links between his philosophy and the beliefs described.
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