Along Dublin’s Nassau Street there is a mosaic mural, created in the 1970s by Belfast artist Desmond Kinney. Táin Bó Cúailnge (the driving-off of cows of Cooley), sometimes rendered The Cattle Raid of Cooley or The Táin is a legendary tale from early Irish literature, often considered an epic, although it is written primarily in prose rather than verse. It tells of a war against Ulster by the Connacht queen Medb and her husband Ailill, who intend to steal the stud bull Donn Cuailnge, opposed only by the teenage Ulster hero Cú Chulainn.
Traditionally set in the 1st century AD in an essentially pre-Christian heroic age, the Táin is the central text of a group of tales known as the Ulster Cycle. It survives in two main written versions or “recensions” in 12th century manuscripts, the first a compilation largely written in Old Irish, the second a more consistent work in Middle Irish.
The subject of the mosaic mural is part of the “Ulster Cycle” of myths, and is one of the most famous of these. In the tale, a machiavellian Queen Medb of the province of Connaught raises an army of warriors to attack the hero’s home province of Ulster in order to capture a famous and sacred bull that is kept by the local chieftain, Daire. But Daire’s army has been debilitated by a magical curse that has incapacitated them, leaving the province undefended except for a virile 17-year-old Cú Chulainn and his friend, who must fight the invaders single-handedly.
The mural depicts several events and characters from the story, including the duels of the fords, the bulls of Ulster, Queen Medb, young Cú Chulainn killing the hound of Cullan with his bare hands, and a later Cú Chulainn mortally wounded and tied to a tree, where the hero met his end.
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