the bull run. queen medb. cú chulainn. the history of the south was made in the north.

The Táin Bó Cuailnge forms part of the eighth century Ulster Cycle of tales. In this epic story Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster almost single-handedly resists the invading armies of the King and Queen of Connaught, Ailill and Medb.

Much of early Irish literature has been lost. Much of what remains is contained in a few large medieval scripts. These are broadly divided into four main groups:

  • Mythological stories regarding the Tuatha Dé Danann (The Tribes of the Goddess Danu) an ancient devine race who inhabited Ireland before the coming of the Celts.
  • The Ulster Cycle, dealing with King Conchobor and the champions of the Red Branch, chief of whom is Cu Culainn, Hound of Ulster.
  • The Fenian Cycle, the stories of Finn mac Cumaill, his son Oisín and the other fiana.
  • A group of stories centred on various kings who reigned between the 3rd Century BC and the 8th Century AD.

The oldest of these manuscripts, Lebor na hUidre, was compiled in Clonmacnoise Monastery in the 12th Century. It contains a battered text, part of the earliest known form of the Táin. But the origin is far more ancient. The language might date to the 8th Century, but some of the passages may be two centuries older, as scholars agree that early Irish Literature had a loing oral history before being comitted to text.

The Ulster Cycle was traditionally believed to refer to the time of Christ. It has many parallels with Greek and Roman writings describing the customs of the Gauls and Celtic tradition and practice. Due to Ireland’s unique and isolated postion on the Atlantic Board it is possible that the culture described might have survived in Ireland right up until the introduction of Christianity in Ireland around about the 5th Century. 

The Táin lacks a number of elements; an actual motive for the Connacht invasion of Ulster, the reason behind a mysterious debilitating illness that the Ulstermen suffer for the better part of the work among others. Fortunately, there exist many remscéla (pre-tales), which, while not strictly part of the story, help to furnish missing details and aid in understanding the main work.  

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