What is the Tain?
The Tain is Irish Mythology. Much like the Romans
and Greeks (and British, as we see from Beowulf),
the Irish have many tales that explain the history
and geography of their country.
The Tain is thought to have been written down in the
12th or 13th century, while the events take place in
It’s the story of a great hero, Cuchulainn. The
section you read this week is a short tale of him as
Basic Story of the Tain
The story begins with “pillow talk” between Queen
Maedb of Connacht and her husband, King Ailill. They
are comparing their possessions, item for item. The only
difference is that King Ailill has a beautiful white bull
(Finnbennach), and Queen Maedb doesn’t have one.
The only possible equivalent is a brown bull (Donn
Cuailnge), owned by a man who lives in Ulster. In order
to match her husband, she decides to raid Ulster & steal
(note: leaving quite a bit out…)
Cuchulainn, a great warrior from Ulster, confronts the
armies and a great battle ensues…
Before the army sets off from Connacht, a fortune teller
named Fedelm has a vision which frightens Queen
'I see him moving to the fray:
take warning, watch him well,
Cúchulainn, Sualdam's son!
Now I see him in pursuit.
Whole hosts he will destroy,
making dense massacre.
In thousands you will yield your heads.
I am Fedelm. I hide nothing.'
A great warrior from Ulster, Cuchulainn’s exploits
were legendary from the time he was a young boy.
It was said that he was stronger than any other man
(remind you of anyone?)
Originally named Setanta. Earned his name
“Cuchulainn” after killing a fierce hound (it took
three chains to hold the dog, with three men holding
each chain) when he was six years old.
Known as the “Hound of Ulster”
King Ailill & Queen Medb (pronounced “Maeve”) – King
& Queen of Connacht
Cuchulainn – a 17 year old warrior from Ulster
Fergus – Cuchulainn’s stepfather, and a braver warrior in
his own right. Fights C. for Queen Medb.
Daire Mac Fiachna – the owner of the Brown Bull
Fedelm – the fortune teller
Ferdia – Cuchulainn’s foster brother, who has a coat that
no ordinary weapon can pierce. Stabs Cuchulainn, but is
Areas in Ireland related
to the Tain
Mound of Queen Medb (Knocknarea, County Sligo)
Note: It is said that Queen Madb was buried in her armour, standing up, facing her
Cuchulainn is a very important figure
in Ireland, even today.
This statue features Cuchulainn
carrying his friend Ferdia, after he
has been killed in battle with Queen
Medb. This statue is in County
A statue of Cuchulainn at the General
Post office in Dublin.
This statue is in memory of the
uprising of Easter 1916.
When Cuchulainn died, he strapped
himself upright to a pillar, so he could
die upright, facing his enemies. No
one dared to approach his body for 3
days, until they saw a bird land on him
and peck at his eyes.
Legacy of Cuchulainn
I was lucky enough to
see the statue on the
previous slide in person
this summer. The statue
was erected in memory
of the men who died
fighting for Irish
independence in 1916.
This plaque is
underneath the statue.
(Sorry about the glare
and my legs! Ha)
Why do you think that
mythological Irish figure,
would have been
imporant & inspiring
during the fight for Irish
Independence? Do we
have someone similar?
So why is Cuchulainn important?
Text on the next slide…
On the plaque
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of
Ireland and to the unfettered control of irish destinies. To be soverign
and indefeasible. The long usurption of that right by a foreign people
and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be
extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In ever
generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national
freedome and soverignty; Six times during the past three hundered
years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental
right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we
hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a soverign independent state,
and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the
cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the
nations. – Thomas J. Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada, Thomas
MacDonagh, P.H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, Joseph