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1001 Stories Collection

Does Greth Eat Curds?

1001 Does Greth Eat Curds Corina Rainer
Added on 27th August 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from Northern Ireland

An unusual tale of poets and prophecy from Ulster in the north of Ireland.

Story

Once, the most famous smith in Ulster had a son named Amergin. He was born hideously ugly, with a huge grey belly, dribbling nose and a nobbly spine, and for the first fourteen years of his life he did not speak. His favourite foods were all under or over done – boiled curds, red blackberries, green berries, burnt corn, wild garlic and empty nutshells. One day, a servant named Greth was sent to visit the smith and met Amergin. Suddenly, for the first time in fourteen years, the boy opened his mouth, and began to speak strange poetry…

Why we chose it

The unusual story of a boy who doesn’t speak for 14 years and when he does he speaks in poetry that makes the chief poet of Ulster jealous.

Where it came from

The first record of the story Does Greth Eat Curds? is found in the Ulster Cycle. The Ulster Cycle is a group of ancient Irish legends and tales depicting the heroic age of the Ulaids, who lived in Northeast Ireland and from whom the modern name Ulster comes. The stories are set in the 1st century BC and recorded from oral tradition between the 8th and 11th centuries. They are preserved in two 12th century manuscripts, The Book of the Dun Cow and The Book of Leinster, as well as some later compilations. In these pre-Christian tales the legendary and the mythological mingle.

Where it went next

The tales in the Ulster Cycle have influenced many writers and works of literature. The tale Bricriu’s Feast, for example, includes a beheading game thought to be the source for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Fates of the Sons of Usnech, a tragic love story, has influenced much later Irish literature, and has been retold by both John Millington Synge and W. B. Yeats.

Associated stories

There are many other stories in the Ulster Cycle, most of which centre around King Conor (a semi-historical figure) and his Knights of the Red Branch. The hero of these knights is the warrior Cuchulainn. Most of the stories are short prose pieces, but the most epic is The Cattle Raid of Cooley, which depicts the war between King Conor’s Ulster men and the rival court of Connaught, begun by one of Connaught’s leaders, Queen Medb.

Added on 27th August 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from Northern Ireland