This is a place steeped in legend, and the site of the epic saga known as The Cattle Raid of Cooley, which tells of a battle between Queen Meabh of Connacht and the champion Cú Chulainn over the Brown Bull of Cooley, an animal of great size and reputation.
Apart from the sagas, plenty of evidence survives of the Cooley’s rich historical past in its passage graves, portal tombs and the well-preserved medieval town of Carlingford, where John, the Magna Carta king, had a great castle built. Like all places off the beaten track, the Cooley has an aura of agelessness and has become a popular place to escape to, however briefly, and overnight accommodation options are plentiful.
The Táin Way is a circular route that loops around Carlingford Mountain (590m) and its western outliers, touching the top of one at Clermont, which has a Bronze Age cairn. Terrain consists mainly of quiet roads, forestry tracks, and open mountain paths, and from the high points the views are spectacularly good, northwards across Carlingford Lough to the Mourne Mountains, and southwards down the east coast. Total aggregate ascent is about 1000m, including a few long ascents
An Tain Bó Cuailgne, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, is one of the great epics of Irish Literature, the moral of which is the futility of war and the worthlessness of material possessions. Perhaps as much as two thousand years old, it is also one of the most ancient sagas in northern Europe.
Queen Maeve of Connaught and her husband Ailill decided one night to compare their possessions. After much discussion, it became evident that Ailill owned a great white bull, Finnbennach, which Meave had no equal for. There was only one bull in Ireland the equal of Finnebennach, and that was the great Brown Bull of Cooley. Meave decided that she must have the Brown Bull and so began the story of the Tain Bó Cuailgne.
The saga continues with the journey of Queen Maeve and her rampaging army as they set forth from the Royal Palace at Rathcrogan in County Roscommon, to the Cooley peninsula in Co Louth in order to steal the Brown Bull of Cooley. They crossed into Longford at the Shannon Fords at Tarmonbarry. Between here and Longford Town was Trego, the Plain of the Spears, where the armies were attacked by the Celtic war-spirit, Nemain. After an overnight halt at Granard they advanced towards Crossakeel in County Meath, the scene of Cuchulainn`s first threat to the armies.
The battle for the Bull of Cooley continued for many months with fierce fighting been waged between Cuchulainn and Maeve’s army until finally Cuchulainn fights and kills his own foster brother Ferdia. It finally ends near Mullingar where Cuchulain and the Ulster armies sent Queen Meave’s armies back across the Shannon at Athlone, into their own province. The two bulls eventually met and began their own battle at the Hill of Emmoo, north-east of Roscommon Town. They fought, circling the whole of Ireland, with the Brown Bull emerging victorious, but mortally wounded. He made his final journey back across Ireland to his home in Cooley, with the remains of the white bull hanging from his horns, and there he too died. So ended this epic tale.
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