Why the Moon Travels, penned by Oein DeBhairduin and illustrated by Leanne McDonagh is, its publisher says, "as far as we know, the first collection of folktales written by a Traveller about Travellers and illustrated by a Traveller".
One word comes to mind after reading this book: generosity. We are all, as DeBhairduin remarks in his gracious introduction, "made of stories" and to share a story is an intimate act. It invites trust. In sharing Irish Travellers' folktales, he is drawing back a curtain and showing us a way of life that is often dismissed. When we understand the stories that guide an individual, a community or a country, we come closer to a place of respect.
Many of us have moved away from storytelling in its old, more traditional form. Reading these tales - written with the attentive ear in mind - are a reminder of its pulsing power. They also allow non-Travellers to enter the same space as a community with whom settled people may not often interact, and that in itself is reason enough to read them. As the title story puts it: "When you don't see or hear yourself anywhere else, stories like this become important as an anchor to where and why you live."
DeBhairduin has included 20 folktales of particular significance to him, written and recorded predominantly in English with enriching smatterings of the Traveller language Gammon - also referred to as Cant or Shelta - and thoughtful introductions. McDonagh's illustrations add an inky richness that solidifies the stories, moving them from ear to pen and helping to conjure images in lieu of a storyteller's expressive face.
Each story tells of a communion with the earth which will make green liberals near-envious. There is a touch of John O'Donohue to the wisdom at the heart of many tales and DeBhairduin's continued dialogue with the flora and fauna around him is one of the utmost respect. He is never punitive in his introductions - not once does he criticise the deteriorating relationship so many of us have with the earth beneath our feet, and therefore the reader is afflicted by a certain melancholy after each tale.
Take the line where he introduces the story 'The Hedgehog and its Coat', "so there we sat, eating sandwiches with a gráinneog, on a fresh spring day, in a field with a tree that carried our names, making memories" or his simple and weighted remark in the introduction to 'Airmid's Voice', "we only know a plant to be poisonous because someone has suffered to give us that knowledge".
The tales are brief and simple to follow, populated by nature and featuring cameo appearances from the Tuatha Dé Danann. In the story 'The Old Man of the Mountain', an old man reluctantly welcomes a woman named Gidge into his home. Gidge takes part of the old man's beard and uses it as a pillow to sleep on. Some time later, the old man meets Gidge once more and cuts off his beard, declaring her company warmer than his whiskers. From that discarded beard, the boglands were formed. Another story, 'The Dance of Smoke and Midges' recounts how midges were born from the ashes of a vengeful spirit called 'The Féin'.
Take these folktales, with all their wisdom and knowledge of the lives they continue to nourish, and heed DeBhairduin's parting line: "May we each live a life worth retelling."