Many have heard of The Cattle Raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cúailnge), the story of Connacht’s Queen Medhbh’s battle to steal a famous Ulster bull and how Cú Chulainn stood in her way.
Not as well known is the Mayo Táin (Táin Bó Mhaigh Eo), or The Cattle Raid of Mayo. The correct title is Táin Bó Fliodhais. Like the Táin Bó Cúailnge, it forms part of the Ulster cycle of early Irish literature.
The Mayo Táin story predates the Táin Bó Cúailnge, and is set around the first-century AD. Two versions are known – a short version from the Old Irish period and the more extensive 15th-century Glenmasan Manuscript version in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The Glenmasan Manuscript is believed to be a transcript from an earlier manuscript of the same name, transcribed by a monk in 1238 AD. In the early 1900s, Professor Donald McKinnon’s English translation of the Glenmasan Manuscript was published in four volumes of The Celtic Review.
It is such an interesting story. A strong woman from Roscommon (Medhbh) wants what a beautiful Mayo woman (Fliodhais) owns – a cow that can provide daily milk for 300 men and their families. In between, there are stories of love, lust, intrigue and murder. Mayhem also appears in abundance.
The story, with its intricacies, is captured in a wonderful new book – ‘Táin Bó Mhaigh Eo / The Cattle Raid of Mayo – The history and heritage of the Táin Bó Fliodhaise’ – published by Comhar Dún Chaocháin Teoranta in north Mayo.
This book celebrates 800 years of shared Scottish-Irish history and also Bliain na Gaeilge, which in 2018 celebrated 125 years since the Gaelic League’s 1893 revival of the Irish language. More than a history book, it is also about the present and the future. It links Mayo, Roscommon and Scotland and invites the reader to be part of Táin Mhaigh Eo. It is a seminal work, not just for Mayo but also far beyond.
There is bawdy humour, featuring well-endowed women with endless milk supplies thanks to well-endowed cattle, and well-endowed men with endless energy thanks to well-endowed swords.
But it is also about our native language, and the book also presents the story as Gaeilge alongside the north Mayo folklore version of the story. There are also essays, including Colman Ó Raghallaigh’s piece on the relationship between Fliodhais and Fergus (Medhbh’s lover). Fifty Shades eat your heart out!
Cattle ownership was a mark of a chieftain’s importance and wealth, as cattle were a currency of the day, and the book maps out the cattle raid route from Roscommon across Mayo.
The epilogue (iarfhocal), is by the pen of Mícheál Ó Seighin. It’s like St John’s Gospel, written on many levels! Mike McCarthy and Daniel Curley from Rathcroghan (Cruachán Aí), near Tulsk, write on townlands associated with aspects of cattle production, such as Corr na Lao and Corr na Mart.
Anthony Brogan writes about the archaeological heritage of the Táin, and he maps the areas mentioned in the Táin route. Could this route become a new camino or tóchar?
The book’s local folklore section contains input from Síle Ní Chearbhalláin, Muintir Uí Chéirín and Packy Kearns, as well as extracts from the Schools Collection 1937-38. For the scholar, there is a comprehensive bibliography and a character index that lists all the people mentioned in the Glenmasan Manuscript.
Údarás na Gaeltachta, Mayo County Council and Sinn Féin councillor Teresa Whelan were generous in supporting the printing, excellently executed by Fiona Tighe and KPS Colour Print, Knock, with beautiful illustrations from Jim Fitzpatrick and Diana Taylor.
Committee members – Treasa Ní Ghearraigh, Anthony Brogan, Jim Henry, Diana Taylor, PJ Lynn, Caitlín Ní Sheighin, Mícheál Ó Seighin, Jim Gilvarry, Niall King, Uinsíonn Mac Graith, Pat McLoughlin and Billy Lyons – take a bow.
A great book permeates all the senses – and this tome certainly does that.