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An Tain Bo Cuailnge

An Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley), often simply referred to as The Táin or The Brown Bull of Cooley, is the most famous ancient Irish saga and is Europe’s oldest recorded vernacular tale, said to date way back to the 7th century.

In this ancient saga, Queen Medb of Connacht and her husband Ailill decide one night to compare possessions. After much discussion, it became evident that Ailill possessed something of which Medb could not equal – the great white bull, Finnbeannach. At that time, the head of the household was the person owning most wealth. There was only one bull in the whole of Ireland that could match Finnbeannach; the great Brown Bull of Cooley, Donn Cuailnge – Medb had to have him.

Medb and her armies set off from Rathcroghan in Co Roscommon to take the Brown Bull of Cooley back to Connacht and so began the Cattle Raid of Cooley, with Queen Medb’s army in battle with King Conor’s Ulstermen to take the Brown Bull by force. As the Ulster Red Branch warriors were afflicted with the curse of Macha, which prevented them from fighting when most needed, Cúchulainn – unquestionably the greatest Celtic warrior of them all – defended the Brown Bull and Ulster.

There were many battles between Cúchulainn and Medb’s army; she sent his foster brother Ferdia to fight him in Ardee and after a three-day epic battle, Cúchulainn was the victor by killing Ferdia. Medb eventually captured the Brown Bull and set off for Connacht. In Connacht, the White Bull of King Ailill was no match for the Brown Bull, who gored the White Bull to pieces. The Brown Bull headed back to Cooley but died of his exertions at Druim Tarb, thus ending the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

 

Clochafarmore Standing Stone in Knockbridge, Co Louth where Cúchulainn is believed to have died