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Review of section 1
Having worked through the previous section, you should be aware - where the Britons and the Irish thought they came from. - who the Túatha Dé Danann were, and what role their main characters played, particularly the Dagda and Lug. - what the importance of Merlin and Arthur was.
Lesson II: The Ulster Cycle and Táin Bó Cuailnge
The Ulster Cycle got its name from the fact that all its texts are set in the North of Ireland, mainly in the province of Ulster. These texts display a thematic unity of topics and participants. The central tale of the cycle is the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge 'The Cattle Raid of Cooley' .
Táin Bó Cuailnge, also known as An Táin, can be translated as ‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’. This story is the most extensive narrative text in early Irish. This text is found in some of the most important early manuscripts, namely: 1. Lebor na hUidre, 'The Book of the Dun Cow' (in short LU). 2. Lebor Laigneach, 'The Book of Leinster' (LL). The Táin is also found in the Yellow Book of Lecan (YBL). Details of these manuscripts will be found in the section 'Early Manuscripts'.
The Táin has been transmitted to us in three different recensions or versions. Recension I is the earliest and dates in its present form to the 11th century but also contains earlier (possibly 8th century) material. The two later recensions represent reworkings of the first version in which the language has been modernised, inconsistencies removed and new material added.
The events of the Táin may be summarised as follows: Medb and Aillil, the queen and king of Connacht, lead an expedition into Ulster to capture the famous Brown Bull of Cooley. All of the Ulstermen, except for Cú Chulainn, are suffering from a sickness which leaves them as weak as women in childbirth. So Cú Chulainn must defend the province of Ulster single-handed and a large part of the tale recounts a series of single combats between Cú Chulainn and members of the Connacht army. Towards the end of the tale the Ulstermen revive from their sickness and the Connacht army is defeated. The tale ends with an account of how the Brown Bull meets the Connacht bull (Findbennach) and how the two fight. The Brown Bull is victorious, but its heart bursts when it reaches home.
The remscéla or the 'Fore-tales'
There is not only the text of the Táin, in its different versions, but also a number of shorter texts connected to it. These stories provide introductions and notes on the background of the Táin, and they also give us further information about its participants.
Echtrae Nerai ‘The Outing of Nera’. The tales in the two groups deal with parallel topics which lead up to the climax of the Táin: 1 and 6: youth and acquiring property. viewing the main protagonists as literary re-creations of Celtic gods. 8. 4. The one most frequently found is that when her husband boasted about Macha's superb skills in the presence of the king of Ulster. Whatever about this. it has been suggested that the fight between the two Bulls. The above tales are listed by medieval Irish scholars as fore-tales to the Táin. 2 and 7: marriage. and titles 6-10 feature human characters. pages 19-26). One of these has to do with the debility or curse of the Ulstermen which renders them inactive throughout most of the Táin. 7. she was forced to run a race against his horses. In an interesting article (in the journal Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 19. 2.Untitled document These remscéla consist of: 1. although this view is no longer generally accepted. De Chophur in dá Mucado ‘The Tale of the Two Swineherds’. Backhaus has pointed out that Tales 1. Tale 1) have in fact little connection to the Táin. Compert Conchobair ‘The Conception of Conchobur’. This curse was allegedly put on them by a woman called Macha. It was also thought that it provided a genuine picture of pagan Irish life in the fourth century AD and that it provided 'A Window on the Iron Age' (Kenneth Jackson in The Capuchin Annal. not without first putting a curse on the men of Ulster that when they need strength most they should only have the strength of a woman giving birth. Oxford University Press (repr. 1963).e. It has often been remarked that some of these tales (e. 2. while other tales which are necessary for an understanding of circumstances not explained in the Táin itself are not included in the list. 3 and 8: birth and transformations. The other tales can be found in the collections referred to in 'Course Content' and also on the Mary Jones website. The Táin along with a number of the fore-tales are translated in Thomas Kinsella. She wins the race. the Túatha Dé Danann and the two bulls. 9. Tochmarc Emire ‘The Wooing of Emer’. The Táin. who appear in the Táin itself. Táin Bó Flidais ‘The Cattle Raid of Flidas’. Compert Con Culainn ‘The Conception of Cú Chulainn’. There are three different explanations as to how this came about.) 2002. De Gabáil in tSída ‘The Taking of the Fairy Mound’. 5. 3. 6. .5 deal with super-human and non-human characters. but dies as a result. Táin Bó Regamna ‘The Cattle Raid of Regaman’. 10. i. is a cosmogonic legend in origin and that this was the core around which the other events of the Táin were formed (David Greene. Tochmarc Feirbe ‘The Wooing of Ferb’. Earlier scholars considered the Táin to be a story about ancient gods. with which the Táin concludes. 1990. Aislinge in Maic Óic ‘The Vision the Young Son’. Irish Sagas).g. even though she was heavily pregnant. The meaning of the Táin The ideas that various people had as to what the Táin means differ greatly. 4 and 9: cattle raids and provisions and 5 and 10: journeys to the otherworld and marriage.
However. because of the value of cattle. edited by J. Fergus Mac Róich. who defends Ulster on his own for half a year against Ailill and Medb. If Cú Chulainn is under attack. Note that in the story. as found in classical.P. partly based on the fact that his family name can be derived from 'ro' + 'ech' which would mean 'great horse'. All this is supposed to be a satire that discredits the contender for the abbacy. She was instrumental in introducing a law against stealing cattle. He is sometimes seen as Medb´s appropriate spouse. culture. He argues that it was deliberately set in an atmosphere of the pagan past at the time of Christ. is a former king of the northern province of Ulster. and Ailill seems to condone this relationship. King Ailill. where Medb and Ailill are supposed to have had their royal seat. especially Greek. the the central character and the greatest hero is undoubtedly Cú Chulainn. The first recension is thought to have been compiled around the 9th century. She is the paragon of the strong female. He argues that it is based on the struggle for the Abbacy of Armagh. Ruairí Ó hUiginn argues that the Táin is not in fact based on Iron Age lore. and rather than being a story about the mythic past. Recension II in the Book of Leinster. who is dominated by his wife. but is turned into a destructive force. here she does not represent the good powers of the Mother-Goddess. Patrick's main and very powerful church. also in 1994. but that it was deliberately composed around the 9th century. Ó Riain argues that the Táin satirizes contemporary events by portraying the Connacht side in the story as wanting to steal the famous bull from the Ulster people. of course). edited by J. who comes from Connacht. has very little personality. he is portrayed as a weak king. Modern Historical Approaches to the Táin In contrast to earlier. of course. it is an allegory on political struggles at the time. however. He is a super-hero. Finally. This famous prize is portrayed by bulls. Armagh is actually very close to the alleged royal seat of the king of Ulster. and Ulidia. and also the former foster-father of Cú Chulainn. the County Louth Bishop Torbach and his opponent. . She was often seen by earlier scholars as evidence that Celtic women were very powerful and promiscuous. Pádraig Ó Riain suggests that the first Táin copy emerged in Monasterboice. These are chosen for more than one reason: on the one hand. According to Ó Riain. Particularly in the later version. fought heatedly about who was to become abbot of Armagh. he undergoes a warp-spasm during which time he is nearly invincible. Her role is. the struggle for the bulls is an allegory for a famous prize fought over by Ulster and Connacht. Nuadu from the province of Connacht. but also shows influences from classical and biblical sources.Untitled document Presumed God-like Characters in the Táin One of the most central characters is Medb. It is sometimes stated that the reason for this is that the natural order of kingship is disturbed which makes her negative aspects come through. In the first of these volumes. on the other hand. Medb's husband. Mallory and G. The tale has its footing in native tradition. This was around 810. more recent scholarship has put an emphasis on trying to connect the events narrated in the Táin to historical events. there was another political event going on at the time: a new law was being introduced that was known as Cáin Dáire 'The law of Dáire' (Saint Dáire was a female saint from Connacht). He is a great fighter. Two important volumes which have made these approaches accessible to students and scholars are Aspects of the Táin. In the early 9th century. He is sometimes seen as a virile warrior-god. and that this was done to put this story in line with other early documents of world history. Conchobor. which is of course. Mallory in 1994. the person who owns the bull that Medb wants to steal is also called Dáire. On the other hand. embodying the land. which is right next door to Crúachan. This. mythological interpretations. Due to allegedly being the son of the god Lugh (who we met in the Battle of Moytura. he is the only person exempt from a sickness that always befalls the Ulster people. Nuadu was from the area of Easter snow.P. County Louth. Interestingly. He is Medb's consort. to be interpreted as that of a sovereignty and fertility goddess. places him into a conflict of loyalities which shows in his behaviour. Stockmann.
) 2002). Belfast: December. Ó hUiginn.ie/celt/published/T301012/index. one mentioned as a fore-tale above or a tale given in Myles Dillon's book) and describe in 100-150 words in what relationship this story stands to Táin Bó Cuailgne. R. Assignment: Pick one story from the Ulster cycle (e. P. 29-62. J. 1994 (ed. 31-37. Enter your discussion in the Ulster Cycle section on the discussion forum by the 30th of March. Oxford University Press (repr.ie/celt/published/T301035/index.html Alternatively. J. Ó Riain. from the Book of Leinster. P.): Aspects of the Táin.html Recension II.ucc. P. you can read Thomas Kinsella's translation referred to above (Thomas Kinsella. (in Mallory & Stockmann): ‘The Background and Development of Táin Bó Cuailgne’. Stockmann (eds. The Táin. Please also read a version of the Táin. . Mallory. Belfast: December.Untitled document References: Mallory. (in Mallory & Stockmann): ‘The Táin: A Clue to its Origins’. Recension 1 can be found at the following internet location: http://www. & G.) 1994: Ulidia. can be found here: http://www. Reading: Please read Myles Dillon's Chapter II of Early Irish literature on 'The Ulster Cycle' carefully.ucc.g.
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