02 January 2009

Cattle Raiding In My Youth

I was visiting with Braja over at Lost and Found in India reading a delightful post on COWS yesterday, and as usually happens when I read her posts, it got me to thinking. I know what you must be thinking: Cows? Delightful? Come on, Gumbo, you must be yanking my chain.

I yank not your chain! I like cows anyway, so I may be predisposed to like reading about cows. In this case, though, the photos were so cute and so well done (especially considering they were taken with a cell phone camera), and the writing itself very engaging. I have to say it was one of the few times I was looking at cows without thinking of cheese, fine tooled leather or a pot roast. (Forgive me, Braja, I am still struggling with my animal nature.) The calf in the pics is also goshdarnded cute, too. What the pictures got me to thinking about was, instead, Irish folklore and my own childhood. Go figure.

It was the “Cattle Raid of Cooley” (Táin Bó Cúailnge) that sprang to mind, an amazing story from Irish (way, way back) folklore. I read about this many moons ago and the whole thing just stuck with me. ‘Cattle Raid’ doesn’t exactly scream ‘epic’, but the Irish have a knack (ahem) for storytelling, in case you hadn’t noticed. The gist of it involves marital jealousy, a pissed off bull and a tidy business arrangement undone by drunkenness. Somehow that escalates into a knockdown, drag-out battle involving magic, sex and mass slaughter. In other words, a typical day in the land of the Celts.

The hero of this story, who I sometimes wish was me, is Cúchulainn (pronounced ‘Cu-hoo-lin’. I know, it doesn’t make sense. This is Irish myth, remember?); Cúchulainn is the fierce-looking lad in the tricked-out chariot, pictured below:

Cúchulainn first big task was to defend the kingdom of Ulster from the army of the jealous queen Medb, who was out to get Donn Cuailnge*, the ‘Brown Bull of Cooley’ (the pissed off bovine I mentioned earlier). Brown Bull is a hot commodity, because he was, shall we say, ‘potent’. Potent as in, some sort of mega-stud that all the cattle-crazy Celts were quite keen on adding to their herds, cattle being the prime form of wealth. Cúchulainn, in typical lunkhead teenage boy fashion, manages to screw up his big task because he was off ‘trysting’ (i.e. getting’ his freak on) with some fair Irish lass**. So Medb and her army manage to waltz in and take Ulster like it ain’t no thang. (What’s Gaelic for ‘thang’?). Anyway, Cúchulainn does manage to get his breeches up and he makes a good effort to finally stops the invaders. Thing is, he fails to get his mitts back on our boy the Brown Bull. Half-assed attempts at redemption (heroic but unnecessary, because preventable) are endemic to teenage boys all over the world; a major reason I identify with the story.

The bull is also a central attraction for me in all this, and not because of my capacity to generate a fair amount of it, all on my lonesome! My association with bulls began many, MANY years ago, back when I was a little Gumbo biting the ankles of my blessed Mom. Back in the day, budgets were tight for my Ma and Da, so sometimes she would make her own baby clothes to save a few dead presidents. She made a little yellow shirt, like a tunic, stitched together with red thread. I don’t remember wearing the shirt, but by some miracle Mom had kept it for all the years since I was a toddler. I was delighted when I received it as a gift this Christmas:

Wow. That shirt is about forty years old now! Looking down in the lower right hand corner of the photo, you’ll see where she took a marker and wrote on it ‘The Bull’. The reason she wrote that is because supposedly I was a rather stubborn, contrary lad. (I know! Shocked, aren’t you?) And in my family, if one was being stubborn, that typically garnered one the epithet ‘bull-headed’. In my case I earned the title when I was quite the wee one. Hence, in honor of my clear identification with a heroic figure (big bull, a stud: a natural fit, yeah?) from Irish myth, Mom made this shirt as a memento. This set me on the road to a lifelong aspiration to be a hero.

My Ma and Da will tell you I was called ‘The Bull’ because I was stubborn and difficult. I prefer to think it is because I am perseverant, strong and virile. And hey, who are you going to believe, me or my Mom? (Wait, don’t answer that…)

* ‘Donn Cuailnge’ would be my Irish gangster boss name. Donn = Don. Get it? Ha! But only if I was an Irish gangster. Which I am not. At least, I wouldn’t admit to youse.
**In all fairness, I also probably would have chosen the lass over boring guard duty. That Cúchulainn and I, we like the ladies! See also ‘
Goddess Belly: On Your Knees, Boy!

Images courtesy of Wikipedia (Cúchulainn) and something I found on Amazon called
‘Shee-eire’ (Donn Cuailnge).


  1. I don't know why, but I know this story (the Irish myth part).

    I like the way you wove all of these together... the cows in Braja's post, the myth, your Christmas gift...


  2. Just noticed your new sidebar? What's with the Catskills?

  3. Youse guys totally need an Irish mobster. Come out here to Jersey and I'll hook youse up.
    Great post as always. Full of bull. :)

  4. OAM: That's a line from a Beck song called "High 5 (Rock the Catskills)" - 'rockin' the plastic like a man from the Catskills!'

    It's on his album 'Odelay'. If I rocked plastic, it would be like that!

  5. I totally stole your music sidebar...well not yours but stole the idea anyway : ) Love the post as usual. Am way too tired to add anything even remotely witty or engaging. Happy Weekend!

  6. Also it is the year of the cow in Japan, plus my sign is Taurus. Coincidences abound. You owe me a dollar.

  7. Irish. Just like the Bailey's I'm about to pour into some hot chocolate and cozy up too. A Guinness would be nice, but it's too damn cold.

  8. OK Gumby...
    #1 I love the story!
    #2 I love the outfit.
    Your mom is awesome!
    Totally cute!

    #3 It says The Bull...because she could tell you would become a 'Master Bullshitter'. This is a most prestigious title! I'm jealous. Congratulations to you, my friend! :)

  9. Love the shirt. I like Ma's style ;)

  10. Finally a blogger who digs Irish mythology! Give me one good reaaon why yoi won't be at my hoise on Patrick's Day! Actually give me one why you won't be here this weekend raising a pint of the black stuff to Cucuulainn. Ah forget it. I'll just go look for a Java applet that'll let us clink glasses over the net. (Cheers!)

  11. So you're saying bullheaded as a child spells some modicum of success as an adult? Then I'm raising a Nobel Prize winner.

    And is there truly such a dish as Irish Gumbo?

  12. Dang this thing! I just misspelled Cuchulainn!

  13. I have a thing about cows. I think it's their long eyelashes. How can anyone not love a cow with long eyelashes?

  14. Those Irish names get my little doggy head all in a kerfuffle. Mum used to have a friend who she called "Neeve" then I found out it was spelt Niamh and I decided never to learn Irish;) Nice story though and a cute ending - by the way, mum & me believe your mom. PS: mum's just noticed your 'play list' on the side there and says it's cool. She loves Dropkick Murphys, Specials, Clash and Foo Fighters. She says many moons have passed since she listened to the Specials & The Clash - she says it takes her back to her teenage years;)

  15. I, like 24@Heart, have a thing for cows, but it's not their eyelashes. I am quite fond of their rump roasts, though. To say nothing of their filet mignons. I'm even partial to the ground up bits.

    The girl loves her beef, yes she does.

  16. I am so fascinated with mythology but never thought about Irish folklore and mythology before.

    Must go visit Amazon.com now.

  17. I love the Irish folklore! As I get older, I find I'm more and more interested in my Irish ancestry. I think I need a trip to Barnes and Noble for some good Irish folklore.

    Did I tell you my son, Timothy was born on St. Patrick's Day? I couldn't name him Patrick because his initials would have been PP (pee pee). I do worry though.... Tim will be 21 this St. Patrick's Day... away at school. The only thing worse is if he went to school in Boston or Notre Dame!

  18. Lotta bull floatin' around here lately... :))

  19. I could hear about the crazy Celts all day.Thanks for choosing a white background, love the new look.I should have something up for you Sunday on my blog...
    I am reading American Eve. The story of Stanford White, his teenage girl obsession and his eventual murder. I recall you are an architect.

  20. Love the legend and love the way it ties to you! And what a cute piece of history your mother saved for you!

  21. What is your connection with Ireland Pls? Where you born there, and if so which part?

  22. my mother once got me a shirt that said "drama queen". It nearly killed me (this line was then followed by me fainting onto the floor) WTF is she talking about?

  23. I got my daughter a shirt last year that said "I had a bowl of bitchy for breakfast". She'll probably blog about THAT some day.........

  24. Robin: I may have to take you up on that. I should probably introduce you to MIW over at http://irishcatholicpottymouthdeux.blogspot.com/ She’s probably going to be my ‘protection’…

    Sarah: Steal away! It’s a cool little gadget, and I loves me some music!

    Grant: I did not know that. I bow to your superior knowledge. I’ll have my accountant get in touch with you. Would a beer suffice in place of the dollar?

    Captain: Bailey’s. MMM. May I suggest an ‘Irish Rain’? – 1/3 Baileys, 1/3 Irish whiskey, 1/3 milk or half and half. The last time I had some of those, I was dancing on tables and I walked 3 miles home, at about 1:00 in the morning. At least, that’s what people tell me I did.

    Sweet Cheeks: Thank you! And I agree, my Mom is awesome. BTW, my formal ‘Master Bullshitter’ certification is pending, just waiting for the signed papers…

    Michelle: I kinda wish I could still fit into it. Mom, she’s alright…

    The Mister: St. Patrick’s Day- who knows, depends on how things go in the first part of the year. I may be making some road trips this year…Set out a glass for me! BTW, ancient Irish names will probably blow up most spell checkers!

    Phd: Congratulations! Remember, we should encourage our wee ones in ALL their endeavors (grin). As to the Irish Gumbo, I think there is, but I’d have a real hard time giving the recipe. It’s more of a METHOD than a list of ingredients…

    24@Heart: Those eyes, they get me most every time.

    Henry: ‘Kefuffle’: Love it! That’s the second time today I’ve seen it in a post! And I figured most folks would believe my Moms (sigh). And kudos to your mum on the musical tastes: a kindred spirit. I got a lot of funny looks back in the day, for listening to that stuff.

    Jan: Braja will probably smack me for this, but I do like the occasional roast. And as Mama Dawg (see below) can tell you, I rarely pass up the opportunity to make a risqué comment of the double-entendre sort; but this time I will resist temptation and let the ‘girl loves her beef’ statement slide. Because I’m classy that way ;)

    MD: Like fine stout and Celtic music, it has a lot to offer: magic, sex, booze, pretty lasses, handsome fellows and lots of fights and parties. All seasoned with a dash o’ tragedy! Life, itself!

    Joanie: Dig in! See MD above. And good call on the initials, kinda like ‘A Boy Named Sue’: good song or joke material, but probably a whole lot of hassle!

    Braja: No, really, it’s all true! :))

    CG: I think of it less as ‘crazy’ and more as ‘interesting and fun’. The new look was a must, it was time. Ahh, Stanford White: McKim, Mead and White – a fellow architect, we have a lot in common. Except I’m alive. And I don’t have an obsession with teen girls. And I am not famous. But other than that, we could be twins!

    SK: Thank you! My mom is good with stuff like that.

    Branwen: Alas, I wish I could say I was native born Irish. I am 3 (?) generations removed, having been born in the US in Virginia. My father’s side of the family is heavy on the Irish antecedents. I haven’t done exhaustive research, but family oral history tells me that most of my ancestors were from County Cork or thereabouts.

    Bernthis: Why, whatever could she have meant (grin)? I don’t know as I could say…

    VM: Ha! Of course she will. BTW, is a bowl of bitchy similar to pornflakes?

  25. Thank you for your comment on my blog. Also, I apologize, for in my blog, I surmise you may not be Irish, but it seems, in fact that you may be. Cheers!

  26. ahhh... great post! Those Irish mums are good at that sort of sentiment. When my MIL passed this past fall, she left my hubby his Christening outfit.

    I have a box full of baby clothes in the basement, but alas, I didn't sew any of them... but you can be sure that I'm gonna run down there and write "Stubborn as hell!" on that little one's onesie as soon as I sign off here.

    By the way, the O's were from County Cork as well! Perhaps our ancestors once shared a pint, or a brawl.

  27. WC: You're most welcome! No problem, somedays I'm not sure what I am! I am a lot Irish by ancestry, not by land of birth. I've been told being Irish is also a state of mind, so I think I'm in..

    Adlibby: Write 'Donn Cuailnge' instead, give it some mystery. Stubborn? What gave you that idea? :) And cheers to County Cork! If we are lucky, our ancestors shared a pint AND a brawl! SLAINTE!


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Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

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