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Reviewed by Astrid Iustulin for Readers' Favorite
Songs of an Irish Poet: The Mary O'Leary Story by Brian Brennan presents the life and poetic works of Mary O’Leary. O'Leary is one of the last representatives of the Gaelic literary tradition. She lived between the 18th and the 19th centuries when knowledge of the Gaelic language was declining, but nonetheless, her poems were popular during her lifetime. She wrote laments, love songs, and religious and humorous poems. Nowadays, she is little known both because her verses were not meant to be written and because she addressed only Gaelic-speaking people. Brian Brennan, the author, is an O’Leary descendant. In his book, he finally does justice to O'Leary's fascinating persona, collecting her poems and adding a detailed historical background.
I have already read some of Brennan's books, but Songs of an Irish Poet is the one that interests me the most. I like history and literature, and the story of Mary O’Leary presents the perfect blend of both genres. Brennan’s historical reconstruction is enlightening. Those who know little or nothing about the history of Ireland and have never heard about O’Leary will enjoy it. I also appreciate that the author makes it clear what his sources are because this makes his research more reliable. As for the poetic collection, I cannot read Gaelic, so I am grateful I can read O’Leary poems in translation at least. I like their vivid descriptions and moving honesty. I think that Songs of an Irish Poet is a valuable volume because it reveals more about a little-known but interesting piece of Irish literature.