An TÁin BÓ Cuailgne - from The Book of Leinster

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The Composition

Subtle textures and layers of tone and rhythm combine in this sumptuous, sonic imagining, of the tribal Celtic world of late Iron-Age Ireland. Performed by four of the most progressive avant-garde talents in improvised and traditional music this is a breadth-stealing interpretation of the most visually powerful texts in Celtic mythology, An Táin.

Lorcán Mac Mathúna, Martin Tourish, Eoghan Neff, and Seán Mac Erlaine; with utterly modern sensibities, and an appreciation for the drama of an oral literature; have created “a seemingly ancient sound out of instrumentation that is anything but ancient". Performing An Táin they create massively dramatic soundscapes that shift from peaceful lullaby to turbulent invocations of sorcery and battle. With this music they have captured the mood and themes of An Táin .

Possibly the most unique feature of this composition is its reuse of texts from the dawn of Celtic history. This retelling of The Táin involves the use a text, that was first transcribed in the 8th century AD, to explode an Iron-Age epic of Celtic mythology on the modern senses.

This is one of the great legends of the earth. It deserves to be told like this.




The theme - A timeless epic of tribes and chariots

an badbh


The villainous Meadhbh, driven by greed and the quest for power, invades the kingdom of Ulster with the ultimate aim to steal the prize bull of the Ulster people, the Donn Cuailgne.

The kingdom of Ulster is left defenceless because of an ancient curse, and but for the stand of the lone warrior, the youthful Cú Chulainn, she would advance unchecked through the plains of Muirthemna, despoiling and looting. Will she win her prize, or will her web of lies and manipulations come undone?

Meadhbh cannot get the better of Cú Chulainn until she cajoles and extorts Cú Chulainn's foster brother, Ferdia, into challenging him to single combat. And so she sets the scene for the tragic and titanic battle of the blood brothers which raged so furiously that the water of the ford boiled and the river diverted its course.

An Táin is an heroic epic more than 2000 years old. It describes a Celtic warrior society and an epic campaign which revolves around two of the most enigmatic and powerful characters in Irish mythology.

A tale of political intrigue, bloodshed, and betrayal, it is amongst the great legends of the world.


The music

Lorcán's An Táin delves the depths and currents of this ancient masterpiece to create evocative music which, like the extraordinary exploits of The Táin, exists on the boundaries of musical form and style.

This treatment of Gaelic Ireland's foundation tale, An Táín Bó Cualaigne, is as rooted in the ancient style of Sean -Nós as it is in the Avant-Garde

An Táin (The Tain) is perhaps the most significant piece of Irish literature because, not unlike the Iliad, it is a story of a shared epic; that all the tribal peoples of a culturally mixed Iron age Ireland see as a formative founding tale. It is an heroic epic formed in the cauldron of a nascent Gaelic culture.

The music for this piece was composed by Lorcán Mac Mathúna and the words were taken from the mediaeval Irish manuscript, The Book of Leinster. The lyrics are in their original form, un-translated and unaltered.

An Avant-garde epic of staggering antiquity

Lorcán's interest in Old-Irish mythology and the oral prose tradition of pre-Christian Ireland is synonymous with his development as an improvisational singer. His performances with Mac Erlaine, Tourish, and Neff, in this expands this appreciation of flow and tonally based improv within a collective. As Ciarán Carson, the Belfast author who compiled the most recent translation of An Táin, puts it: “Much of the action in The Táin takes place at fords. …There are deep ends to these fords. In Irish mythology streams and rivers are liminal zones between this world and the Otherworld.”

An Táin is truly music on the boundaires of genre with powefully emotional, deep flowing, currents


First Performance

An Táin was first performed in St Patrick's Cathedral Armagh in 2010. It was written as a commission for the William Kennedy Piping festival. That Premiere was described by An Píobaire as "Spelbinding" and by Piping Today as "a compelling piece that engaged and enthralled"