There's bits of your post that have gone way over my head, but if you're
saying that the text as we have it is the result of an attempt to collect
together and reconcile variant versions that have arisen as the tale has
been spread orally, then I agree with you. I also agree that some kind of
monolithic tradition is an illusion - the degree of creativity and
consistency of characters we see in the existing versions of the stories
says to me that the cycle as we have it was still being written, not
something that was simply recorded from immemorial traditions. The
difference between the Ulster Cycle and the County Cavan folklore you
mention is, at the time of writing of the stories we have at least, it was
not a folk tradition, but a literary one.

It was of course based on and developed from earlier traditions - early
poems like Conailla Medb Michuru show that certain elements of it at least
were in circulaton in the early 7th century, and were probably part of a
common historical tradition even then - but how much of what we know know as
the Ulster Cycle was associated together then is impossible to say. Conailla
Medb Michuru uses the story of Fergus's exile with Ailill and Medb as a part
of the history of a Munster dynasty, and mentions Conchobar but not
Connacht - Fergus seems to go into exile at Tara. There's mention of raiding
Ulster's cattle, but not to a bull, and nothing that can be taken to refer
to Cú Chulainn. Perhaps there were a number of distinct story-cycles - a Cú
Chulainn cycle, a Conchobar-Fergus-Medb cycle, a Conall Cernach-Cet mac
Mágach cycle, and so on, that became fused into one, similar to the way
stories and characters like Lancelot and Tristan and Iseult started out
independently but found themselves drawn into the Arthurian orbit. Then,
based on the fused story-cycle, new stories were generated that were
consistent with it.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Tarzia, Wade" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 3:09 PM
Subject: Re: [OLD-IRISH-L] Some thoughts on the origin of the Táin and Cú

Interesting post!  Perhaps a helpful approach is to think of the "cycle" as
never very monolithic but instead a sort of process combining both orality
and ethnogenesis, such that regional identity crystallized around variants
popular (and internally sensible) in locales, but once gathered up in an
editorial net, something that appears to be stratigraphy results.  I
remember how much I used to be excited thinking 'oh, this part has the
oldest language so it is the more original/less tainted by editorial messing
about' but in cynical old age I now wonder if age of language always helps
us get at some original or what an archaeologist might call a 'horizon',
itself suggesting a monolithic tradition that may be an illusion.  I am
sparked to think this way because, as I was collecting folklore in Co.
Cavan, I saw a miniature form of ethnogenesis occurring around a couple of
archaeological sites, one a folly tower in Ballinagh, Fleming's Folly, and
the other a dyke called Worm Ditch and The Black Pig's Race. The Race had
Protestant vs. Catholic politics attached to its lore, but also had other
traditions, contemporaneously held. The Folly may have had two traditions
depending on what side of Belville Hill you lived on (Protestant = folly
built as famine relief project;  and Catholic = folly built by a crazy
landlord who thought he'd see the sea from its height; the political
statements should be obvious).  I imagined a compiler combining these
traditions, and a thousand years later a student at Lunar University
(looking a little like me ;-)  studying these two traditions and looking for
an original or earliest form that editorializing had muddled together. Of
course you can't argue with 'age of language' evidence, at least not much,
though it may be hard to say *where* that language was captured, and did it
represent not a broad horizon of folkoric sentiment but rather a local
valley.  Has much scholarly thinking gone on in this area for the UC? --