Story Telling

Story telling was always prevalent in Ireland from ancient times. There are four groups of stories that all the stories can be divided into. One – mythological stories. They deal mostly with the Tuatha de Danann. Two – is the Ulster Cycle. That comprises stories about Conor Mac Neasa, Cuchulainn, Deirdre, the Red Branch, Ferdia and so on, that we all learned at school. Thirdly, there is the Fenian Cycle, dealing with Fionn Mac Chuaill, Oisin, Diarmuid and Grainne and fourthly, stories about the various kings that reigned between 300 B.C. and 800 A.D.

The manuscripts in which these stories are now compiled were compiled in the monasteries in the 12th century, but the origins of the stories are far more ancient. It was an oral tradition. It received a literary shape, with traces of Christianity thrown in, at the hands of the monastic scribes. The stories tell of the weapons, boastfulness and the courage of the warriors and some of their amazing deeds. There are elements in the Táin, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley which are lacking in the whole unit. For example, the motive for the raid, why the Ulster warriors were sick, why was he with the Connaught army? These are told in príomh scéalta or pre-tales. Scholars differ on the real meaning of the Táin. On one side, they argue, it was a struggle between the priestly and warrior classes. Secondly, the pillow talk, they maintain, was a conflict between the father dominants, which would be of Celtic origin and the mother dominants, which was pre-Catholic or Tuatha Dé Danann. A strong element in the sagas is their directness in bodily matters - how Conor was begotten and stories like that, [and] the picking of vermin. The pangs of Usna and how Cuchulain was begotten.

Of course, there are lovely stories, like the sons of Usna and Fergus Mac (Roy) and the stories of the sons of Usna in exile and their return to Eamhain Macha. But there is humanity in the story as in the courtship of Eimear and when Cu Chulainn killed his own son. He said that if he had five years with him, he would have captured all Tyrone. Then we come to the story of the two bee keepers who were friends and tell how the two bulls were begotten and the story of Maebh and her husband (Ailill) counting up their possessions which gives the reason for the brown bull of Cooley.

Fionn Banach, the white bull, was in Connaught with Maebh and the brown bull of Cooley was with Dara in Cooley and the Tain begins with the gathering of the army of the men of Eirea nn, Fidelma, the woman poet of Connaught, telling of her vision and the and then the story continues as they meander across the country and into Cooley and on their return journey, the death of the bull on the plains of Cooley, at Loch an Tarbh and the killing of Cu Chulainn at the standing stone, or cloch an fear mór and how he killed the otter as he came out of the lake. That lake is called Loch an (Claibh) ever since and how the armies would not approach him until they knew he was dead. They knew when the raven landed on his shoulder that he was really dead and then they approached him.