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A famous Irish saga from the seventh century, the tale of Queen Meabh’s Brown Bull is said to be Europe’s oldest recorded vernacular tale. It begins not with bulls however, but with two pig‐keepers, who worked for the kings of the Munster and Connacht sidhs. (Sidh being Irish for fairy mound).
After a falling out, the pig‐keepers fought with one another, transforming themselves into all sorts of human and animal forms, the last being worms. Swallowed by two cows, they were then reborn as bulls ‐ Donn Cuailnge and Finnbhennach (meaning ‘white‐horned’) ‐ the former owned by an Ulster cattle‐lord, the latter by Queen Meabh of Connacht.
Finnbhennach however, considered it beneath him to be owned by a woman and so moved to her husband, King Aihill’s, herds. Unfortunately for the queen, owning the white‐horned bull made Aihill more powerful and so Meabh agreed to hire Donn Cuailnge for a year, to even out the scales.
Queen Meabh's Brown Bull (Navy)
Queen Meabh's Brown Bull (Pale Blue)
When her messengers revealed they would have taken the bull either way however, the deal collapsed, and Queen Meabh raised a huge army to capture the bull. Cursed into a deep sleep, the men of Ulster were prevented from fighting, with only the 17‐year‐old Cuchullain remaining alert. He stopped Meabh returning home after she seized Donn Cuailnge however, invoking single combat and defeating various warriors. When the Ulstermen finally awoke from their enchanted sleep, they then forced Meabh to retreat ‐ though with the brown bull in tow.
Pitted against one another, Donn Cuailnge killed the white‐horned Finnbhennach, but was fatally wounded and so spent his remaining days wandering across Ireland, before returning to Cooley to die...