The Hound and the Bull: How Is the Táin Bó Cuailnge Representative of the Irish Iron Age?

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Vickrey, Finn
Issue Date
Working Paper
Scholarship Sewanee 2024 , University of the South , Ireland , Folklore , Iron Age , Mythology
This independent study paper discusses the text of the Táin Bó Cuailgne, an Irish epic from the Ulster cycle that had been passed down orally for centuries in the Celtic tradition before being transcribed by English Christian settlers in the Medieval Age. While being a fictionalized account of the Irish Iron Age, the Táin provides a glimpse into the social and cultural dynamics of Ireland at the time, especially regarding the regional and tribal differences found between the Ulaid and Connachta kingdoms who battle against each other in the text. The Táin also contains supernatural phenomena such as the Celtic pantheon, the fae, and Druidic prophecy, all of which contribute to the Celtic “identity” which is shaped by folklore such as this. The Ulster cycle in particular is heavily location-based, and attributes the names of many historical landmarks to the supernatural events that occur in its stories. This paper highlights the importance of Irish folklore in the early forms of oral tradition and Medieval transcription as a means of preserving cultural history. Little to none of Irish history is documented in a literary form due to a reliance on oral preservation over the written word, which was a Druidic tradition, so what is available today as a means of understanding the cultural and social dynamics of Iron Age Ireland can be found in folklore. This paper also dissects the key characteristics of Irish folklore and the Táin in comparison to other mythological works created at the time, especially those which indicate its original oral composition such as its utilization of both poetry and prose. Finally, there is a connection drawn between the social hierarchy found within the Táin and archaeological evidence found in Ireland of tribal kingdoms and the unification of groups under Druidic religious and storytelling practices.