Ever wonder what is the Táin Bó Cúailgne? Or how to pronounce Táin Bó Cúailnge?! Here’s your guide, covering: a summary of the main storyline; the manuscript sources and recensions or versions it was recorded in; and even an audio reading so you can follow along!
I’ve written a review of the Táin before, here, or at least of one version of it.
When you’re a beginner though, it can be a little difficult to get your head around everything from the Táin Bó Cuilnge pronunciation, to the characters, to the locations and the action.
This is, after all, Ireland’s epic legendary tale, telling of the raiding of Ulster by the Connacht Queen Medb and a host of men and women from all over the island, to secure the Donn Cuailnge bull – which was the only match to her husband’s mighty Finnbhennach.
It is a long, long story, populated by many well known names of Irish mythology such as The Mórrígan, CúChulainn, Fergus Mac Roich, and of course Queen Medb and her husband Aillil.
Medb and Ailill had a disagreement one night (the Pillow Talk) as to who had the most wealth, due to him presuming that he was keeping her in a grand style – even with her being the original Queen of Connacht.
After rousing the household and counting it all, it was found they had an equal amount, except for Ailill having the white bull Finnbhennach (who had originally been in her herds, but decided he didn’t want to be kept by a woman, so the story goes).
Medb was a bit pissed off at this, on account of it changing the power dynamic in their relationship, according to Irish law and custom.
She sent envoys around Ireland looking for an equal or better bull, and found the match of him – the Donn Cuailnge on the peninsula of Cooley, in County Louth.
Then, her envoys messed up the treaty talks with the bull’s owner Dáire Mac Fiachna and put her in the position of having to go raid the bull.
Though she was warned against it by Fedelm the Prophetess, Medb was committed by then. She gathered an army from all the men of Ireland, and travelled from Cruachán in County Roscommon (Connacht), across counties Westmeath and Meath in the central province (Midhe), and on to County Louth in Ulster.
All along the journey (the Táin Trail) CúChulainn was trying to stop them – him being the only Ulster ‘man’ who was available, on account of the Curse of Macha. The majority of the action in the Táin Bó Cúailnge is fights between this boy, and various heroes that Medb has to send against him.
The Mórrígan makes a fair few appearances, as do her sisters, as there’s a lot of Otherworldly elements to the whole tale, and of course they’d be in the thick of all that.
Eventually, the brown bull of Cooley was located and taken back to Connacht, the two bulls fought each other from Rath na dTairbh at Cruachán, following a similar route as the Táin had taken.
Finnbhenach (the white bull) was killed, but the brown bull died too from the strain of it all, once he reached his home in Cúailnge.
Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1318 cols 573–958 = section of the Yellow Book of Lecan [s. xivex/xvin] pp. 17a–53a (facsimile) cols 573–644 Beginning missing.
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 E 25 (1229) = Lebor na hUidre [s. xi/xii] ff. 55a–82b Interpolated by H. End missing.
London, British Library, MS Egerton 1782 [1516-1518] ff. 88r–105v Interpolated. End missing.
Maynooth, Russell Library, MS C 1  pp. 1–76 Interpolated. Beginning and end missing.
Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1339 (H 2. 18) = Book of Leinster [s. xii2] ff. 53b–104b
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS C vi 3 (740) [s. xvii] ff. 28ra–65vb
London, British Library, MS Egerton 93 [s. xv (?)] ff. 26r–35v. Fragment.
Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1319 (H 2. 17) [various] pp. 336–347, 334–335, 111–114, 348–349, 115–118, 350–351 Fragment.
Form – prose (primary), verse (secondary)
Source: CODECS main entry – here.
Want to hear the pronunciation? Go on a journey through the ancient Irish lore with me?
I’ll be adding episodes as often as possible to the playlist over on my YouTube Channel.
I’ll be reading from the English translation by Joseph Dunn (1914) with the Irish transcription of Ernst Windisch (1905) on screen side by side. If you want to get started yourself, you can find that here.
Does the Goddess Mórrígan have any children, and who are they, exactly?
My partner, An Scéalaí Beag, believes that Brighid is not only the daughter of his boss, the Dagda, but also of my boss, the Mórrígan.
(There is no evidence for either position, it must be noted.)
Brighid is pretty definitively a daughter of the Dagda, but there’s nothing to say or indicate that her mother is the Mórrígan, besides the relationship between that pair, that I am aware of.
But he has plenty of kids with other people, so… it is purely a matter of speculation and opinion.
I have my reasons for what I believe, and he has his, so we’ve respectfully agreed to disagree.
No really. There was none of this…
More recently, I decided to finish my draft post on ‘The Mórrígan’s Children’, due to the question from community member Nora, as part of my November Q&A for the Mórrígan series…
“I’ve been watching your series on the Morrigan, and a question has been coming up for me—does the Morrigan herself have any children? I’ve read that Brigid is a daughter of the Dagda, but haven’t found any information on who Brigid’s mother is. And I also read on Samhain about the consummation of the Dagda and the Morrigan. I presume Brigid is not daughter of the Morrigan—at least I don’t get that sense. But still it raised the question for me as to whether or not there is a lineage descended from the Morrigan.”
It seemed to warrant a more involved citation-rich answer than I can really give on YouTube (you can find the rest of the Q&A videos on my Mórrígan Playlist Here though).
The short answer is, Yes.
But it’s not quite that simple.
First, let’s give a brief mention to the daughter of the Badb (Badbh) – who in turn is referred to as the ‘daughter of Cailitín’ (a dead Druid).
This reference to the Badb having a daughter is a complicated meandering tale presented in a later version of the Oidheadh Con Culainn – ‘The death of Cú Chulainn’, and to my mind the daughter of Badb here seems to be a mortal witch/priest of the Badb, OR possible a Sidhe of the ‘Washer at the Ford’ type.
“Do you see, Little Hound,” asked Cathbad, “Badb’s daughter yonder, washing your spoils and armour? Mournfully, ever-sorrowfully she executes and tells of your fall, when she signifies your defeat before Medb’s great host and the sorcery of the children of Cailitín.”[Van Hamel, 1933]
This is not to be mixed up with the Badb in her role AS ‘The Washer at the Ford’ – as seen here.
The whole confusion between the roles/function of the Mórrígan and the Sisters, and the actual people – or Sidhe entities – who embody those roles in Irish tradition and folklore, is definitely a story for another day.
We’ll also put aside, for now, the stories of Macha – who most definitely has children (twins, at least)… but is not the Mórrígan.
This is the most commonly known example of the Mórrígan having children, so we’ll start here.
Berba (Poem 13)
The Barrow, enduring its silence,
that flows through the folk of old Ailbe;
a labour it is to learn the cause whence is called
Barrow, flower of all famous names.
No motion in it made
the ashes of Mechi the strongly smitten:
the stream made sodden and silent past recovery
the fell filth of the old serpent.
Three turns the serpent made;
it sought out the soldier to consume him;
it would have wasted by its nature all the kine
of the indolent hosts of ancient Erin.
Therefore Diancecht slew it:
there was rude reason for clean destroying it,
for preventing it for ever from wasting
above every resort, from consuming utterly.
Known to me is its grave where he cast it,
a tomb without walls or roof-tree;
its evil ashes,–no ornament to the region
found silent burial in noble Barrow.
(The Metrical Dindshenchas)
No mention of the Mórrígan there, or of Meche (Mechi) being one of her children.
She is specifically mentioned in the Bodleian Dindshenchas version though:
“Berba — into it the three snakes which were in the heart of Méche, son of the Mórrígan, were cast, after he was killed by Mac Cecht in Mag Méchi.”[ Stokes, 1892]
The origin story of the River Barrow (Berba) mentions Méche also in the Rennes Dindshenchas, and in Acallam na Senórach – ‘The Dialogue of the Ancients’.
Nowhere (that has survived) does it tell a story of Méche’s conception, or birth, or father, or any other relationship or interaction with the Mórrígan.
Ah, the oul incest addition. Sure it wouldn’t be a proper ancient tale without it, now would it?
In Lebor Gabála Érenn, we see the Mórrígan as a Daughter of Ernmas (her Mother, by the way, not Father as most folk first presume).
Her father is Delbaeth, who is also the father of some sons; including 3 boys named Brian, Iucharba, Iuchair.
This manuscript has many different versions though, called Redactions or Recensions, with different versions of who – exactly – the Daughters of Ernmas are.
And it’s not until Redaction 3 (Recension C) that we see those 3 boys as the Mórrígan’s children, by her own father.
“The Mórrígan, daughter of Delbaeth, was the mother of the other sons of Delbaeth, that is, Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchair…”.Macalister, R. A. S., Lebor gabála Érenn: The book of the taking of Ireland, 5 vols, Irish Texts Society 34, 35, 39, 41, 44, Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1932–1942.
Also in Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Mórrígan’s name is given as Anand – though she is also named as one of the Sisters – and Anand is given as the mother to 3 other sons: Glon, Gaim, and Coscar.
We’ve mentioned the text Acallam na Senórach, and in it we see a lad who’s hosting Fionn in an Otherworldly mound talk about how his household defends themselves each year, from those of the Tuatha Dé Danann who come to dig up their Sidhe (referring to the mound itself, in this case).
Included in the host who came against them were:
“The children of the Mórrígan daughter of Ernmas, with her twenty-six female warriors and her twenty-six male warriors.”[Stokes, 1900]
The Irish text says ‘Clann na Morrigna’ though, and while this is most often translated as ‘The Morrigan’s Children’, it technically means her family, but this phrasing was also used to indicate a warband.
(Huge thanks, as ever, to Morgan Daimler for helping me track down the source of this – go support their excellent work on Patreon!)
You’ll see multiple places online mentioning a daughter of the Dagda and the Mórrígan – Adair – as if they know what they’re on about… but I couldn’t for the life of me track down the source for this.
Until I went to the one person I’d seen mention it who definitely knows what they’re on about – Daimler.
They helpfully pointed me to the “index to persons” of the Cath Maige Tuired and provided a picture (thumb is Morgan’s own):
The reference reads: “The Morrigans daughter Adair (by the Dagda) is said to have been the wife of Eber in the glosses to the forty questions of Eochaid Úa Cérín, edited and translated by Thurneysen, ZCP 13 (1919), 133.”
Now, if anyone has access to a translated copy of the forty questions of Eochaid Úa Cérín, including the glosses… please comment below?!
So, imagine me, and every other Mórrígan scholar I know, sort of shrugging at this point – if you want a definitive answer.
Yes, the lore says she has multiple children.
Are they children or descendants in the usual sense? No, not really.
Is it possible that she is metaphorically, or symbolically, their ‘mother’? Yes, that’s likely.
‘The Mórrígan’ in the lore is often used as a title, role, or attribute to indicate anything bad, demonic (to the minds of the writers), or scary.
None of these references may actually refer to direct line descendants of the Mórrígan at all, but rather to people or entities who are aligned with what the Mórrígan represented – either in the society at the time of the stories, or in the minds of the authors who later wrote them down.
Hopefully that clears things up… somewhat, at least?!
(If you have any questions, please join the mailing list below for your best chance of a direct response on the blog or on my YouTube… my Q&A list is HUGE now. Comments below are also welcome!)
Funny story about the Mórrígan.
On Sunday 13th October, I was in Dublin presenting at Octocon – The National Irish Science Fiction Convention.
(Details for 2020 are here, by the way – https://2019.octocon.com/2019/10/14/octocon-returns-in-2020/)
It was a lovely day, filled with lovely people… and a small* amount of wine was consumed. By me.
AFTER the event (and some more wine), we decided to go for dinner with some lovely friends. We decided on Sushi, because, my friends, I am all about the sushi. Just give me all of the sushi, all of the time.
As we walked to dinner, the hunger came upon me, for a type of Sushi that has been made clear to me, by Herself (the Mórrígan), that I am not to have. Or at least, I am not to take lightly. But I love it the very best, of all the sushi.
That is, Unagi.
Yes, you guessed it. I am spiritually restricted from eating an Eel.
It’s not a ban, exactly. It’s not a ‘never ever’ geis, a taboo, a prohibition. But it is to be taken seriously.
There’s been a few times where I’ve really wanted it, and the contractual price in return just… wasn’t worth it.
Wine-imbibing Lora decided that eel was on the menu, that night, and consequences be damned.
No, I didn’t just go ahead and eat it and expect to pay the price – I was tipsy not brain damaged. I did what any reasonable person would do… I went into the restaurant bathroom and had a conversation with a Goddess.
The upshot of all this was…
I got my lovely unagi nagiri.
So, if you have any Mórrígan questions, comment below and ask.
I know some of you are laughing at me right now. I probably deserve that 🤷♀️
You can follow along on the Mórrigan Playlist at YouTube… Subscribe to my Channel here – https://www.youtube.com/user/loraobr – and hit the bell for notifications so you don’t miss any content updates.
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Slán go fóill
*I say a small amount… I’m very tall. Proportionally, the wine volume was small compared to my tall. My blood alcohol levels on the day may not have agreed with this analysis logic, but whatever.
Bruiden Da Choca, ‘Da Coca’s Hostel’, is known also as Togail Bruidne Da Choca(e) (‘The destruction of Da Coca’s Hostel’), and is one of the many Badb or Mórrígna stories often quoted or referred to, but rarely read or studied.
Let’s change that?
It is available online, though only in a translation by Whitley Stokes, unfortunately, who is not my favourite scholar by any means.
The Summary on CODECS reads:
After the death of Conchobar, the Ulaid debate who to give the kingship to, and decide on Conchobar’s son, Cormac Cond Longas, who is in exile in Connacht. They send envoys, and Ailill and Medb agree to allow Cormac to take up the kingship. He sets out with a retinue, but Craiphtine the harper, whose wife has slept with Cormac, causes Cormac to break his gessa on the journey. Cormac encounters the Badb in the form of an old woman washing a bloody chariot at the ford. A party of Connachta encounter Cormac’s party. They fight several battles, and heroes on both sides are killed. Cormac’s party spend the night at Da Coca’s hostel, which comes under siege by the Connachta, and Cormac is killed, along with nearly everybody on both sides.https://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Bruiden_Da_Choca
The bit with the Badb is what we’ll be looking at here today, though the rest is also quite fascinating with regard to the Ulster Cycle as a whole, and Queen Medb of Connacht in particular.
This is the excerpt that is pictured above, and appears on Page 157 of the Revue Celtique text that can be found here:
“Thence they went to Druim Airthir, which is now called The Garman, on the brink of Athlone. Then they unyoke their chariots. As they were there they saw a red woman on the edge of the ford, washing her chariot and its cushions and its harness. When she lowered her hand, the bed of the river became red with gore and with blood. But when she raised her hand over the river’s edge, not a drop therein but was lifted on high; so that they went dryfoot over the bed of the river.”
I was curious as to where this place might be located, as I’m a bit of a freak for finding and visiting (and tour guiding at!) locations associated with the Mórrígan in Ireland… so I did a bit of digging. And found this:
Druim Airthir, where coursed the steeds, was its name, before it was called Druim Criaich.The Metrical Dindshenchas – poem/story 13
This fits with Drumcree (Droim Cria), Gormanstown, Co. Westmeath. There are a number of lakes nearby, but as the text specifically mentions the Ford, I’m going to opt for somewhere along what is now called the River Deel as the likeliest location, with around the place that the road crosses over it as a likely fording point.
Anyway, on with the text, which all too commonly and very frustratingly, leaves out the verse and prophecy parts:
“Most horrible is what the woman does! says Cormac. Let one of you go and ask her what she is doing. Then someone goes and asked her what she did. And then, standing on one foot, and with one eye closed, she chanted to them, saying: « I wash the harness of a king who will perish » etc.
The messenger came to Cormac and told him the evil prophecy which the Badb had made for him. Apparently thy coming is a cause of great evil, says Cormac. Then Cormac goes to the edge of the ford to have speech with her, and asked her whose was the harness that she was a-washing. And then he uttered the lay: « O woman, what harness washest thou? » etc.
The Badb. « This is thine own harness, O Cormac, And the harness of thy men of trust, » etc. Evil are the omens that thou hast for us, says Cormac. Grimly thou chattest to us.”
The Badb appears again further on, once they get to the Hostel.
“Dâ Choca entered the house, together with fifty apprentices, and his wife, even Luath, daughter of Lumm Lond. They make Cormac and his army welcome. Then they (all) take their seats in the house.
Now when they were there, they saw coming to them towards the Hostel a bigmouthed, swarthy, swift, sooty woman, and she lame and squinting with her left eye. She wore a mantle threadbare (?) and very dusky. Dark as the back of a stag-beetle was every joint of her from crown to ground. Her filleted grey hair fell back over her shoulder. She leant her shoulder against the doorpost, and began prophesying evil to the host, and uttering ill words, so that she said this:
« Sad will they be in the Hostel: bodies will be severed in bloods,
Trunks will be headless, above the clay of Dâ Choca’s Hostel. »
Then the Badb went from them, and… “
This is reminiscent of her appearance in Togail Bruidne Da Derga, ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, an earlier tale which has many similar elements. Be careful not to mix them up, though a lot more scholarly work has been done on Da Derga than Da Choca.
In his footnotes, Stokes says:
“Chanting spells, standing on one foot and with one eye shut, is a common incident in Irish magic. So Lugh sings round the Irish army to ensure their success, Rev. Celt., XII, 98. So in the Bruden Dà Derga, LU. 86″32, Cailb chants her baleful prophecy… ‘(standing) on one foot and (using only) one hand and (breathing only) one breath’. Compare also the Dinnsenchas of Loch da Caech, Rev. Celt., XV, 432, where Cicul’s three hundred men come, each using only one foot, one hand and one eye.”Revue Celtique (1870)
Hopefully now, this has given you a clearer picture around the appearances of the Badb in the tale of Da Coca’s Hostel, and an exciting new physical location associated with the Mórrígan for us to visit.
Watch for that in the Patreon, where we do monthly Site Visits to sacred places in Ireland, and you get to come along!