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The myth of Ireland's two greatest warriors - Iseult Gillespie


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Cú Chulainn, hero of Ulster, stood at the ford at Cooley, ready to face an entire army single handedly— all for the sake of a single bull. The army in question belonged to Queen Meadhbh of Connaught. Enraged at her husband’s possession of a white bull of awesome strength, she set out to capture the fabled brown bull of Ulster at any cost. Iseult Gillespie details the Irish myth Táin Bò Cuailnge.

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The Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley, tells the story of the most epic battle of Irish mythology. A full version can be found online in this translation by Winifred Faraday. For a vivid serialized web comic, visit this website.
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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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Carol Freeman
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt
  • Storyboard Artist Carol Freeman
  • Animator Carol Freeman
  • Composer Carol Freeman
  • Art Director Katie Sherlock
  • Sound Designer Chris McLoughlin, Chris McLoughlin
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma

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