The Táin

by Thomas Kinsella (Translator)

Other authorsLouis Le Brocquy (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1969




Dublin : Dolmen Press, 1969.


The Tain Bo Cuailnge, centre-piece of the eighth-century Ulster cycle of heroic tales, is Ireland's greatest epic. It tells the story of a great cattle-raid, the invasion of Ulster by the armies of Medb and Ailill, queen and king of Connacht, and their allies, seeking to carry off the greatBrown Bull of Cuailnge. The hero of the tale is Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, who resists the invaders single-handed while Ulster's warriors lie sick.Thomas Kinsella presents a complete and living version of the story. His translation is based on the partial texts in two medieval manuscripts, with elements from other versions, and adds a group of related stories which prepare for the action of the Tain.Illustrated with brush drawings by Louis le Brocquy, this edition provides a combination of medieval epic and modern art.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member PirateJenny
Ah, the great deeds of Cu Chulainn. How I love this story. And how wonderful to have a new translation. As Carson points out, there are places where his translation is nearly the same as Kinsella's, but that's bound to happen when you have two people translating from the same source material.

That being said, I do believe I like Carson's translation better. He tends to play with words a bit more and that lends a bit more immediacy to this translation--it sounds more like I imagine the oral versions would have. This is especially notable in the rosc passages, though as Carson says in his introduction, this is because strides in translating them have been made since Kinsella's translation. Everything I've read says they're extremely difficult passages. I did miss the remscela--the prequels to The Tain--that Kinsella included, though the important ones are told in the endnotes so it's a minor quibble.

But just once I'd like to see a version of The Tain without a bull on the cover.
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LibraryThing member xuebi
Ciarán Carson presents an accessible and highly readable translation of The Táin for a new generation of readers.

The Táin is part of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology and along with other similar works forms a distinct genre known as Táin Bó, or Cattle Raid.

In Táin Bó Cúailnge, Medb the Queen of Connacht goes to war against Ulster for the sake of Brown Bull of Cúailnge. Opposing her is the mighty hero Cú Chulainn who alone stands against the assembled armies of all Ireland. Cú Chulainn then singlehandedly goes about killing all the heroes and soldiers Medb sends against him in feats of supernatural martial skill. Eventually, the rest of the Ulster armies arise from the periodic curse that afflicts them and is victorious over Medb's armies. She however is able to take back the prize Ulster bull but it kills the prize bull of Connacht and escapes.

This is one of the defining stories in Irish literature and Carson has ably translated the prose text; the smaller sections of Irish verse are much more cryptic and do not lend themselves to a fluid translation. Also, the traditional tána literature include a number of remscéla, or preludes, that Carson has either not included or reduced to endnotes.

The list of heroes Cú Chulainn kills fighting against Connacht and the list of place names named thereafter does get repetitive yet the lively and engaging spirit of Ireland's own Iliad is never lost. This is truly a classic of world literature.
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LibraryThing member Sile
As this is the only translation I've read of this tale, I may not be best placed to write a review.

I found this book fairly easy to read, especially in comparison to the texts that are available online. The endnotes were especially helpful, though I am not sure if some matters were left out as there were references to, say, the history of the bulls themselves, but nowhere in the book was this history related. Perhaps I missed it? I would also have apprecited an pronuncation guide to the names when listed in the endnotes. As I am not an Irish speaker, this would have been invaluable.

I did have some difficulty with the poetry[?] sections, as I could not make sense of them, but I imagine this is because of the difficulty in translating from Irish, with its propensity for double meanings.

Overall, a good introduction to the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
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LibraryThing member PirateJenny
Really a reread, though it's been forever since I read it. I decided to read it again in anticipation of Ciaran Carson's translation that I'm told is less than literal--though if you want to get technical about it, Kinsella's translation also isn't a literal word-for-word translation. But I still love the story and the illustrations in this version, which are purposely primitive, add so much.

However, I can't always find I'm sympathetic to Ulster simply because of the origins of the pangs. Kind of serves them right--the king does speak for his people after all, and therefore he caused his people to suffer. That's not to say Maeve of the Friendly Thighs is not a bit greedy herself. Nor Ailill. Really, everyone's to blame, except our hero CuChulain, who just goes so crazy when challenged that he's never at fault. But then, that's what happens when your father is a god.
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LibraryThing member drneutron
The Táin Bó Cúailnge, or The Cattle Raid of Cooley, is a very old Irish folktale concerning the deeds of Cu Chulainn in defending his homeland from invasion by a competing army. The story is full of heroic deeds, warriors fighting, trickery and more - usually told over fires by bards. Ciaran Carson's new translation, The Tain, preserves that bardic sense, with text that just begs to be read aloud. If you like heroic mythology and epic stories, this is a great one!… (more)
LibraryThing member monta
Really fun to read, much more accessible than Kinsella’s translation and not as dry. As always Carsons use of language is a joyous experience. You get caught up in the story telling from the first chapter.
LibraryThing member jburlinson
A person develops a very special kind of relationship with the previous owner(s) of one's book. In this case, I believe I've grown to know a little something about "Jen." Let me share: on page 44, there is a passage that reads: "The boy set upon him and they struck at one another. The boy struck him bald-headed with his sword, in the stroke of precision. 'The joking has come to a head!' Cúchullain said. 'Now we'll wrestle.'" In the margin, Jen wrote "pun" and drew a cute little arrow to the line that starts with "the joking." Later, on page 132, Cúchullain's encounter with King Buan's daughter is annotated: "parallels to Ishtar comeing [sic] to Gilgamesh." Some sort of learning is going on.… (more)
LibraryThing member the1butterfly
I didn't like the vast majority of this saga. The one exception is the story of Etain. Otherwise, we're stuck with a whole bunch of stories about the overly stuffed with testosterone boy, Cuchulainn, who does nothing but steal from the queen (I was rooting for her). It's nothing but war and cattle- the Decemberists capture the feeling of the stories very well in their album "The Tain."… (more)
LibraryThing member shanaqui
I haven't read much Irish mythology at all, so it was high time I got round to reading The Táin. It's an epic based around the feats of Cù Chulainn, as he defends the land of Ulster from the armies of Ailell and Medb. It's (here's one of my favourite words again) hyperbolic and, well, it's an epic, what do you expect? There's verse and one-on-one combats and ridiculous feats of arms involving throwing spears through boulders and so on.

I was actually surprised by how little I knew about The Tain. I'm sure I've read plenty about Cù Chulainn, but knew very little about what goes on in the Cattle Raid.

The translation seems clear and is very easy to read, though I can't comment on accuracy. The introduction is helpful, and the notes are comprehensive and informative.
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LibraryThing member ex_ottoyuhr
I don't know Gaelic, so I don't know how true this statement is, but this book felt to me like reading the Tain in the closest to the original that I could get without learning its language. The grammar doesn't feel particularly English, and the wild images and events of the story are not softened for an English-speaking audience (as happens in Lady Gregory's retelling, for example). I strongly recommend the book for those interested in the Tain yet ignorant of classical Gaelic; but for those who don't know the Ulster Cycle, Lady Gregory's retelling (/Cuchulain of Murthemney/) or the Dover Books reprint /Myths and Legends of the Celts/ (T.W. Rolleston) might be a better starting point.… (more)
LibraryThing member Pencils
Queen Medb and King Ailill squabble about who is the most amazing and there's a war about a cow. Just when I think the genealogies and place naming is all a bit much, something loopy happens and it's enjoyable again. The hero of the story is Cuchulainn. He's a baby faced berserker hybrid of Rostam and Heracles, who likes to do battle party tricks. The descriptions of his strength and battle prowess are exaggerated to comical levels of wonder. I love the search for a fake beard, the preoccupation with rich clothing and the point where Cuchulainn has killed so many men the bard gives up using different names and starts grouping the dead by name: 'seven named Conall, seven named Aengus, seven named Uargus . . . '

While there's much to enjoy, I have mixed feelings about the story. I weary of the repetition - the same battle sequence over and over, with Cuchulainn killing someone at a place then named after the dead man. It's silly to say an epic tale is repetitive, because that's what traditional oral tales are like, but it's not engaging me in this particular story. I'm not sure why, but I do know there is more to this story than I'm willing to consider. My copy is translated by Thomas Kinsella and has some of Louis le Brocquy's illustrations. I can see other reviews here praise Ciaran Carson's translation for its liveliness, so another time I'd like to read it and see. I'm glad I read this version so I could experience Le Brocquy's illustrations, but perhaps the translation or my current mood are doing this tale an injustice.
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LibraryThing member amanda4242
This should replace Beowulf on all syllabi immediately. It's funny and violent and completely bonkers. And it features a queen that likes to sweeten deals by offering "the friendship of her own thighs." What's not to love? Okay, the lists of warriors Cú Chulainn kills do get old after the first 100 or so deaths, but they can be skimmed over without losing any of the mad wonderfulness of this epic.… (more)
LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
This ancient poem from Ireland is so entertaining even after these hundreds of years. If I had to compare it to anything, I would say its like Homer's Iliad but instead of a whining Achilles, you have this joke cracking, heart throbbing, berserker named Cu Chulainn who is so over the top I was laughing out loud throughout the whole book. It's basically a cattle raid that goes horribly wrong. Throw in some pagan gods, some sex, amazing feats of strength and acrobatics, faeries, enchanted weapons, druid spells and you got an amazing story. There are also lots of references to other myths from the Ulster Cycle with plenty of place name myths stories and "just-so" tales. It's a rare, great Pre-Christian story from the Celtic tradition of Ireland before the monks took over. Very fun. I look forward to investigating other remnants from the Ulster Cycle.

Furthermore, if you are a fan of the modern rock band "The Decemberists", check out their E.P. titled "The Tain" and then give this book a try. You won't be disappointed.
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