Tain Bo Cuailnge

The story of the cattle raid of Cooley


Long ago Conor Mac Neasa ruled Ulster and Queen Maeve and her husband Ailill ruled over Connacht. One night Maeve and Ailill sat boasting of their riches. They compared their clothes, their gold, their horses, everything they had. They both were equal until Ailill boasted he had a great white bull. Meave fell silent. She filled with rage and jealousy for she had no bull to compare to Ailill’s.

The next day Maeve asked her messenger Mac Roth if there was any bull in Ireland that could equal the strength of Ailill’s bull. “There’s not one as good but one twice as good” Mac Roth answers, “its called the Brown Bull of Cooley and it belongs to Daire of Cooley”. Maeve was delighted, she told Mac Roth she must have it.

Maeve sent Mac Roth and a number of messengers to Ulster requesting a loan of the bull for one year. She offered Daire fifty cows and a large piece of land if he accepted. Daire agreed to the offer and then held a feast for Mac Roth and his men. During the feast Daire over heard one of the men say “Daire was a wise man for giving the bull to Meave, for if he hadn’t she would of taken it by force”. Daire was furious. He shouted “if she wants my bull she better come here and take it by force for she is getting it no other way”.

When Mac Roth returned to Connacht and told Queen Meave what had happened she was raging. She told Mac Roth to gather her fighting men, they were going to march to Ulster and take the bull. And so began the cattle raid of Cooley.


Continue: Cuchulainn defends Ulster