The Ulster Cycle

Heroic legends from Ireland

The Revealing of the Táin Bó Cúailnge

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So the poets of Ireland were summoned to Senchán Torpeist [A poet of Connacht, supposed to have lived c.570-617, who is said to have been leader of the grand assembly of poets and chief of all the poets in Ireland] to find out if they remembered the Táin Bó Cúailnge in its entirety, and they said they knew nothing but fragments of it only. Then Senchan told his pupils to find out which of them would go, in return for his blessing, into the land of Letha [Letavia, i.e. Brittany] to learn the Táin which the scholar carried east in exchange for the Cuilmenn [The Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville, an encyclopedia of science and the arts, which was considered the summit (cuilmenn) of wisdom].

Emine, grandson of Ninene, and Murgen, son of Senchán, went on their journey east, on which they came to the grave of Fergus mac Róich and past his stone at Énloch among the Connachta. Murgen sits on his own at Fergus’s stone, and meanwhile each of them went to find a guesthouse for them. So Murgen took to singing as if it was Fergus himself he was addressing, when he said to him then:

If it be not your stone.
resplendent, princely-white,
Mac Róich, that I have found,
by whom the drivings were driven
of the cattle of Cooley
on expeditions with heroes
on a day of contest
evident in each
O Fergus

At that a great mist comes around him so his people can’t find him until the end of three days and three nights, and he came to him then, Fergus himself, his appearance beautiful: a green cloak; a hooded shirt with red embroidery; a gold-hilted sword; bronze shorn shoes; a brown mane of hair. Fergus tells him then the whole Táin as it happened from beginning to end (others say it’s to Senchán it was told after fasting against saints of Fergus’s line, and it would not be surprising if it were so). They all go to Senchán then and told him about their travels, and he was pleased with them then.

These are fore-tales of the Táin Bó Cúailnge that are told, all twelve of them: [I know there are only ten titles given, but that’s what it says]

Some say the foretales include Cú Chulainn’s going to the house of Culann the smith, the taking of arms by Cú Chulainn and his trip in a chariot, and when Cú Chulainn went to Emain Macha to the boys, but it is in the body of the Táin these three stories are told.

Manuscript source

  • This anecdote comes from the Book of Leinster (c.1160), and the text is dated to the 9th century. This is my own translation, the bulk of it done in 2008, and the poem retranslated in 2009. © Patrick Brown 2008/2009.


  • R. I. Best, & M. A. O’Brien (eds.), The Book of Leinster, Vol 5, 1967, p. 1119
  • John Carey, “Varia II: The Address to Fergus’s Stone”, Ériu 51, 2000, pp. 183-187
  • Eduard Müller, “Two Irish Tales”, Revue Celtique 2, 1876
  • Thomas Kinsella, The Táin, 1969, pp. 1-2, 255

Written by paddybrown

November 7, 2009 at 11:10 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] story – but it’s included in the list of remscéla (fore-tales) of the Táin in The Revealing of the Táin Bó Cúailnge. This is my own translation, and is © Patrick Brown […]

  2. · Bardoi or singing poets: they told tales and composed poetry in praise of leaders and heroes.

    Molly E. Lowery

    February 7, 2013 at 11:42 pm

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