We did not climb so much as ascend, with effort, the flank of Slieve Foy, a peak of the Cooley Mountains, County Louth, Ireland. The group being cousin Sean, my wife, Pam, and myself.
The ridge of Golyin Pass loomed in the mist where the path dissolved in low cloud. Sean pointed above, to the right to Barnavave, also know as Maeve’s Gap for the queen who came from the west of Ireland to take Donn Cúailnge, the Brown Bull of Cooley, by force of arms with an army behind her.
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When cousin Sean named Cú Chulainn, the champion of Maeve’s opponents, the Ulstermen, he recalled a story once lost, Táin Bó Cúailnge. A hospitable siege different from Maeve’s and mist are part of the story of the recovery of this tale.
A gathering of 150 poets, 100 pupils, and attendants strained the patience and wealth of Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin, King of Connacht, when it extended to a year and four months.
On that 16th month, the king challenged the leader of his guests to the telling of a tale. Guaire demanded Seanchan Torpest, the chief poet of Connacht, to recite the whole of Táin Bó Cúailnge, known in English as the Cattle Raid of Cooley or The Táin (Cattle Raid).
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In this way the king was relieved of his guests: the book of the Táin was lost before their lifetimes, rumored to be abroad. Abashed at his failure, Seanchan Torpest withdrew. Fellow poets and followers trailed out from the castle.
Seanchan Torpest regrouped the host (an opened question is who then supported them) in conference to construct Táin Bó Cúailnge. It was a false hope as the gathering discovered while each poet knew a part of the whole, most of the story was lost. His honor, reputation and self-esteem in tatters the Chief Poet of Connacht, set off with Murgen, his son, and second cousin Eimena to return the Táin to Ireland.
Into mists such as those Pam, Sean and I ascended, the travelers soon were lost and separated.
Magically, Murgen finds the grave of the Uncle of Cú Chulainn in the mists, there to meet the shade of that enormous man, Fergus mac Róich is his name. In the Táin, as related in whole by Fergus to Murgen, Fergus was led by circumstances to ally with Maeve, to guide her army against the Ulstermen. As a deposed king, traitor to Ulster and Uncle to the champion Cú Chulainn, Fergus knew the tale entire.
It was from the mists that Murgen emerged, found his father and cousin, and returned together without the book, but with possession of the substance of the Táin.
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Views of Carlingford
Visit the opening chapter of our time on the Tain Way
Visit the next posting in this Ireland series, “Farmland Southeast of Carlingford”
A thank you to Wikipedia, my information source on the resurrection of the Táin.
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