Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley)

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2134

Aengus An Ulster warrior who turned aside the whole Connacht army, pelting them with flagstones. The Connacht army eventually overwhelmed and killed him.

Aife A woman warrior living on the island of Britain. When Cúchulainn defeats her, he spares her life on the understanding that she will give hostages to his teacher Scáthach and bear him a son. She is to name the boy Connla and send him to Cúchulainn when he is big enough to wear the gold thumb ring Cúchulainn leaves for him. He tells her the boy must never reveal his name to any man, never give way to any man, and never refuse any man combat.

Ailill Medb's husband and the owner of the white bull, Finnbennach. He is a cynical man who generally accepts his wife's decisions, but seems curiously detached throughout the Táin Bó Cúailnge.

Amargin Amargin is the husband of Finnchaem and father of the hero Conall Cernach.

Brown Bull of CúailngeSee Donn Cúailnge.

Cathbad A Druid and the father of Conchobor. Because he is a druid, Cathbad has prophetic powers.

Conall Cernach Cúchulainn's cousin and foster brother. Connall is one of the Ulster exiles with Medb's army.

Cú ChulainnSee Cúchulainn.

Conchobor The son of Ness and Cathbad the druid. Conchobor was conceived because his mother learned from Cathbad that the hour was propitious for the conception of a king. Conchobor is the most celebrated king of the Ulster cycle. The character of Conchobor is deeply ambivalent. On one hand, his Ulstermen idolize him. But on the other, he has lost some of the finest men of his kingdom through duplicity.

Connla The son of Aife and Cúchulainn. Cúchulainn told Aife that the boy must never reveal his name to any man, never give way to any man and never refuse any man combat. When he comes to Ulster these promises prove Connla's death. He refuses to give his name or give way. He matches Condere mac Echach in eloquence, stuns Conall Cernach and ties him up with his own shield strap. Cúchulainn goes out to fight him. Emer recognizes that the boy must be her husband's son and pleads with him not to kill his own child. Cúchulainn insists, however, that he must kill him for the honor of Ulster. He kills Connla with a weapon that Scathach had taught only him to use. Cúchulainn acknowledges his dying son, and the boy greets the hero of Ulster and dies.

Cormac Connlongas Conchobor's son. Cormac is one of the Ulster exiles with Medb's army.

Cúchulainn Cúchulainn is the son of Conchobor's sister, Deichtine. Both the human Sualdam mac Roich and a sídh prince are identified as his father. He is the Achilles of the Táin, fated to die young, but to leave a glorious memory. He holds off the combined forces of the other three provinces of Ireland and the Ulster exiles while the warriors of Ulster suffer the effects of Macha's curse. Cúchulainn, young, mercurial, and glorious, does what he can do and what only he can do, while all around him is deceit, treachery and chaos. Many of his fantastic deeds can be paralleled in Greek and Latin accounts of Celtic champions and warrior society.

Deichtine Conchobor's sister and wife of Sualdam mac Roich. She is the mother of Cúchulainn by a strange series of events that lead the Táin Bó Cúailnge to identify both the human Sualdam mac Roich and a sídh prince as his father.

Derdriu Derdriu is often compared to Helen of Troy. Cathbad predicted before her birth that she would be the most beautiful...

(This entire section contains 2134 words.)

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of women and the destruction of Ulster. Conchobor ordered that she be raised in complete seclusion until she was old enough to become his wife. Derdriu, however, falls in love with Noisiu, Uisliu's son. He tries to refuse her because of the prophecy and the king's decree, but she put him under a magical compulsion orgeasa, and they ran away together with his brothers and their followers. Eventually, Fergus, Dubthach and Cormac, Conchobor's son, give them their word that they could come safely back to Ulster and make their peace with the king. Conchobor had, however, tricked them all and had Noisiu and his brothers murdered. Fergus, Dubthach and Cormac burnt the king's stronghold at Emain Macha and went into exile with their warriors. Derdriu committed suicide rather than be given to Noisiu's murderer, Eogan mac Durthacht.

Donn Cúailnge A bull belonging to Dáire mac Fiachna. Medb tried to buy and then to steal the bull so that her wealth would match Ailill's.

Dubthach One of the Ulster warriors who stood surety (to stand in promise) for the return of Uisliu's sons. Dubthach went into Ulster with Fergus and Cormac.

Emer The daughter of Forgall Monach. She becomes Cúchulainn's wife.

Etarcomol A foster son of son of Ailill and Medb. Fergus was against Etarcomol coming along on the parley to establish the single combats, but took him there under his protection. Etarcomol picks a fight with Cúchulainn, who tried to avoid killing him, out of courtesy to Fergus, but must kill him in the end.

Fedelm A poetess and prophetess of Connacht. She returns from study in Britain and meets Medb's army about to set out on the cattle raid. Medb demands that she prophesy the expedition's outcome. The girl predicts their slaughter at the hands of Cúchulainn.

Finnchad Fer Benn Finnchad is called the Horned Man because of the silver horns he wore. He is Conchobor's son and was sent to call up the warriors of Ulster.

Finnabair Finnabair is the daughter of Ailill and Medb. She had been promised to one warrior after another to induce them to fight Cúchulainn. She is eventually even offered to Cúchulainn and was sent to him in the disguise of her father. Cúchulainn saw through the disguise, cut off Finnabair's hair, and thrust a pillar stone under her cloak and tunic, shaming her without defiling her. She is said to have committed suicide when she learned of the killing of so many princes on her account. In a variant tradition, she goes off with Cúchulainn at the end of the Táin Bó Cúailnge.

Finnbennach The bull of Ailill's herd and a calf of one Medb's cows. This bull would not stay with a woman's herd and switched sides.

Finnchaem Finnchaem is the sister of Conchobor and Deichtine. She was Conall Cernach's mother and Cúchulainn's foster-mother.

Horned ManSee Finnchad Fer Benn.

Ferchu Loingsech A Connachtman who had never accepted the rule of Ailill and Medb. He proposed to his band that they kill Cúchulainn and win their favor. All twelve attacked Cúchulainn but were killed.

Crunniuc mac Agnomain Crunniuc is the husband of Macha. His boasting of his wife leads to her race against the king's chariot and her curse on the men of Ulster.

Buide mac Báin Medb's cowherd. Cúchulainn kills him.

Bricriu mac Carbad A mean-minded man who loved stirring up trouble; it was said of him that if he heard something unfavorable about any decent person he could not rest until he had told it. He was chosen to judge between the two bulls because it was well known that 'he favoured his friend no more than his enemy.' He was killed by the bulls.

Ferdia mac Damáin Cúchulainn's foster brother and closest friend. He was the son of a king of Connacht. He did not want to fight Cúchulainn, but Medb shamed him into fighting by telling him that Cúchulainn had boasted, "he wouldn't count it any great triumph if his greatest feat of arms were your downfall." They fight for four days, and Cúchulainn finally defeats Ferdia with the gae bolg, a terrible javelin only he can use. He laments his friend. His beautiful lament for Ferdia is one of the high points of the Táin Bó Cúailnge with its repetition of the highest praise for Ferdia's ability.

Eogan mac Durthacht Eogan is the king of Fernmag. He came to make peace with Conchobor and was chosen to kill Noisiu and his brothers.

Dáire mac Fiacha The owner of the Bull of Cooley. He was going to lend the bull until he learns that had he not accepted Medb's offer, the bull would have been taken by force.

Fiacha mac Fir Febe Fiacha is the son of Conchobor's daughter. He was one of the Ulster exiles with Medb's army. Fergus sent him to bring news of the fight when Gaile Dána and his twenty-seven sons and his sister's son simultaneously attacked Cúchulainn's with their poisoned weapons and fists. Fiacha broke the compact of the Ulster exiles and went to the hero's aid. To protect the Ulstermen from Medb's wrath, Cúchulainn and the two sons of Ficce killed all twenty-nine.

Lugaid mac Nois Allchomaig Lugaid is the king of Munster. He goes to parley with Cúchulainn on several occasions on the behest of Ailill. He is on good terms with Cúchulainn. At his request his brother Láréne is the only man who escapes alive from single combat with Cúchulainn.

Laeg mac Riangabra Laeg is Cúchulainn's charioteer. He was the hero's confidant, counselor, and right-hand man.

Sualdam mac Roich Cúchulainn's mortal father who died when he cut his head off on the rim of his own shield trying to rouse the warriors of Ulster.

Mac Roth Mac Roth is the messenger of Ailill and Medb. He is sent to borrow the Bull of Cooley from Dáire mac Fiacha.

Noisiu mac Uislenn Noisiu is Derdriu's lover and one of the finest men in Ulster. He tries to escape the love of Derdriu but she puts a geasa on him, binding him to do as she requires. Despite a safe conduct from Conchobor, the king of Ulster, he and his brothers were murdered by Eogan mac Durthacht on Conchobor's orders, despite Fergus's own son throwing himself across Noisiu to save him.

Lug mac Ethnenn Cúchulainn's síde father, he comes to take his son's place holding the ford against the invading army when Cúchulainn is on the edge of collapse from his wounds and lack of sleep.

Macha Macha is the daughter of Sainrith mac Imbaith. She gave birth to twins after the race against the King of Ulster's chariot. She curses the men of Ulster with labor pains for their cruelty towards a woman in childbirth. Her story not only explains why Cúchulainn had to stand alone against the combined forces of three provinces of Ireland, but also explains the name of the royal fortress, Emain Macha, "the twins of Macha."

Medb Medb is the daughter of the High King of Tara who gave her the province of Connacht for her own. Originally, Medb was the goddess of sovereignty, the patroness of every true king. In the Táin Bó Cúailnge, she is a cold, amoral, power-hungry woman who treats her own daughter as a commodity to be bargained with for a moment's advantage. Her own adulteries are merely a form of leverage. She is, however, one of the most fully realized and internally consistent of the characters.

Morrígan Morrígan is the goddess of war. She was a presence on the battlefield but did not participate in combat. She caused panic in the Connacht army and attempted to seduce Cúchulainn. It is worth noting in reference to the setting of most of Cúchulainn's fights that she was traditionally associated with fords where she would be seen washing the clothing of those fated to die in a coming battle. This manifestation has passed into Scottish Highland folklore as the Bean-nighe, who is seen washing the clothing of those about to die.

Nes The mother of Conchobor by the druid Cathbad. She marries Fergus on the understanding that her son Conchobor can be king for a year, ensuring that his children will be the children of a king and giving them both status and a place in the succession. She then manipulates the situation to ensure that the warriors of Ulster will not allow Fergus to resume the throne.

Scáthach A woman warrior and prophetess of Albu, the island of Britain. She completes Cúchulainn's education as a warrior. He defeats her greatest enemy, the woman warrior Aife, by whom he has a son, Connla. Scáthach prophesied to him that he would have a short life, but everlasting fame.

SetantaSee Cúchulainn.

Warped OneSee Cúchulainn.

White HornedSee Finnbennach.




Critical Essays