The myth of Ireland's two greatest warriors - Iseult Gillespie
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The tale survives in three medieval manuscripts, which would have been written as Gaeilge, or in Irish. The direct translation from the Book of Leinster can be found here, while pages of the medieval manuscript Lebor na hUidre (The Book of the Dub Cow) can be viewed here. Pages from the Yellow Book of Lecan can be viewed in detail here.
The Táin is the most well-known tale in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Cú Chulainn is the cycle’s hero, who earns his warrior status by acting as a guard dog (and earning the nickname The Hound of Ulster). Cú Chulainn is renowned for his fearsome ríastrad, a battle trance during which he loses full control of his body. An exploration of these spells can be found in this article.
The other strong presence in the Táin is the fearsome Queen Meadhbh (also spelt Medb or Maeve), who guards the province of Connaught fiercely. Today, she is rumored to be buried under the hill of Knocknarea in County Sligo, which you can hike today. Goddesses, magic, and strange predictions also flow through the story – the shapeshifting Goddess of War, The Morrigan, appears to make life harder for both sides of the battle; the Goddess Macha strikes the men of Ulster down with the pangs of childbirth, and the prophet Fedelm appears to warn the Queen against the blood battle.
Even with its rich history and surviving versions, the Táin is no easy tale to decipher. As recent translator Ciaran Carson explains here, the original texts are a maze for the modern interpreter. But the adventure is worth it for many: this essay reflects on the Táin as a national epic that still has resonance today, while this piece explores the poetic potential of the language.
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