| English Literature for Boys and Girls|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Delightful introduction to the writers of English literature whose works hold the greatest appeal for the youthful reader. The life and personality of each author is given in outline, with enough material quoted from his works to give an idea of what he wrote. For most authors suggestions for further reading are included. The outline of historical background enables the young reader to grasp the connection between the literature and the life of the time. Excellent as a companion to a chronological study of English literature. Ages 12-15 |
THE STORY OF THE CATTLE RAID OF COOLEY
 OUR earliest literature was history and poetry. Indeed, we might
say poetry only, for in those far-off times history was always
poetry, it being only through the songs of the bards and
minstrels that history was known. And when I say history I do
not mean history as we know it. It was then merely the gallant
tale of some hero's deeds listened to because it was a gallant
Now the people who lived in the British Isles long ago were not
English. It will be simplest for us to call them all Celts and
to divide them into two families, the Gaels and the Cymry. The
Gaels lived in Ireland and in Scotland, and the Cymry in England
It is to Ireland that we must go for the very beginnings of our
Literature, for the Roman conquest did not touch Ireland, and the
English, who later conquered and took possession of Britain,
hardly troubled the Green Isle. So for centuries the Gaels of
Ireland told their tales and handed them on from father to son
undisturbed, and in Ireland a great many old writings have been
kept which tell of far-off times. These old Irish manuscripts
are perhaps none of them older than the eleventh century, but the
stories are far, far older. They were, we may believe, passed on
by word of mouth for many generations before they were written
down, and they have kept the feeling of those far-off times.
 It was from Ireland that the Scots came to Scotland, and when
they came they brought with them many tales. So it comes about
that in old Scottish and in old Irish manuscripts we find the
Many of the manuscripts which are kept in Ireland have never been
translated out of the old Irish in which they were written, so
they are closed books to all but a few scholars, and we need not
talk about them. But of one of the great treasures of old Irish
literature we will talk. This is the Leabhar Na h-Uidhre, or
Book of the Dun Cow. It is called so because the stories in it
were first written down by St. Ciaran in a book made from the
skin of a favorite cow of a dun color. That book has long been
lost, and this copy of it was made in the eleventh century.
The name of this old book helps us to remember that long ago
there was no paper, and that books were written on vellum made
from calf-skin and upon parchment made from sheep-skin. It was
not until the twelfth century that paper began to be made in some
parts of Europe, and it was not until the fifteenth century that
paper books became common in England.
In the Book of the Dun Cow, and in another old book called the
Book of Leinster, there is written the great Irish legend called
the Tain Bo Chuailgne or the Cattle Raid of Cooley.
This is a very old tale of the time soon after the birth of
Christ. In the book we are told how this story had been written
down long, long ago in a book called the Great Book Written on
Skins. But a learned man carried away that book to the East.
Then, when many years had passed, people began to forget the
story of the Cattle Raid. So the Chief minstrel called all the
other minstrels together to ask if any of them knew the tale.
But none of them could remember more than a few verses of it.
 the chief minstrel asked all his pupils to travel into
far countries to search for the rest which was lost.
What followed is told differently in different books, but all
agree in this, that a great chief called Fergus came back from
the dead in order to tell the tale, which was again written down.
The story is one of the beautiful Queen Meav of Connaught. For
many years she had lived happily with her husband and her
children. But one day the Queen and her husband began to argue
as to which of them was the richer. As they could not agree,
they ordered all their treasures to be brought before them that
they might be compared.
So first all their wooden and metal vessels were brought. But
they were both alike.
Then all their jewels, their rings and bracelets, necklets and
crowns were brought, but they, too, were equal.
Then all their robes were brought, crimson and blue, green,
yellow, checked and striped, black and white. They, too, were
Next from the fields and pastures great herds of sheep were
brought. They, too, were equal.
Then from the green plains fleet horses, champing steeds came.
Great herds of swine from forest and glen were brought. They,
too, were equal.
Lastly, droves and droves of cattle were brought. In the King's
herd there was a young bull named White-horned. When a calf, he
had belonged to Meav's herd, but being very proud, and thinking
it little honor to be under the rule of a woman, he had left
Meav's herd and joined himself to the King's. This bull was very
beautiful. His head and horns and hoofs were white, and all the
rest of him was red. He was so great and splendid that in all
the Queen's herd there was none to match him.
 Then Meav's sorrow was bitter, and calling a messenger, she asked
if he knew where might be found a young bull to match with White-
The messenger replied that he knew of a much finer bull called
Donn Chuailgne, or Brown Bull of Cooley, which belonged to Dawra,
the chief of Ulster.
"Go then," said Meav, "and ask Dawra to lend me the Bull for a
year. Tell him that he shall be well repaid, that he shall
receive fifty heifers and Brown Bull back again at the end of
that time. And if Dawra should seem unwilling to lend Brown
Bull, tell him that he may come with it himself, and that he
shall receive here land equal to his own, a chariot worth thirty-
six cows, and he shall have my friendship ever after."
So taking with him nine others, the messenger set out and soon
arrived at Cooley. And when Dawra heard why the messengers had
come, he received them kindly, and said at once that they should
have Brown Bull.
Then the messengers began to speak and boast among themselves.
"It was well," said one, "that Dawra granted us the Bull
willingly, otherwise we had taken it by force."
As he spoke, a servant of Dawra came with food and drink for the
strangers, and hearing how they spoke among themselves, he
hastily and in wrath dashed the food upon the table, and
returning to his master repeated to him the words of the
Then was Dawra very wrathful. And when, in the morning, the
messengers came before him asking that he should fulfill his
promise, he refused them.
So, empty-handed, the messengers returned to Queen Meav. And
she, full of anger, decided to make good the boastful words of
her messenger and take Brown Bull by force.
Then began a mighty war between the men of Ulster and the men of
Connaught. And after many fights there
 was a great battle in
which Meav was defeated. Yet was she triumphant, for she had
gained possession of the Brown Bull.
But the Queen had little cause for triumph, for when Brown Bull
and White-horned met there was a fearful combat between them.
The whole land echoed with their bellowing. The earth shook
beneath their feet and the sky grew dark with flying sods of
earth and with flecks of foam. After long fighting Brown Bull
conquered, and goring White-horned to death, ran off with him
impaled upon his horns, shaking his shattered body to pieces as
But Brown Bull, too, was wounded to death. Mad with pain and
wounds, he turned to his own land, and there
"He lay down
Against the hill, and his great heart broke there,
And sent a stream of blood down all the slope;
And thus, when all the war and Tain had ended,
In his own land, 'midst his own hills, he died."
The Tain, by Mary A. Hutton.
The Cattle Raid of Cooley is a strange wild tale, yet from it we
can learn a great deal about the life of these old, far-away
times. We can learn from it something of what the people did and
thought, and how they lived, and even of what they wore. Here is
a description of a driver and his war chariot, translated, of
course, into English prose. "It is then that the charioteer
arose, and he put on his hero's dress of charioteering. This was
the hero's dress of charioteering that he put on: his soft tunic
of deer skin, so that it did not restrain the movement of his
hands outside. He put on his black upper cloak over it
outside. . . .
The charioteer took first then his helm, ridged like a
board, four-cornered. . . . This was well measured to him, and it
was not an over weight. His hand
 brought the circlet of red-yellow,
as though it were a plate of red gold, of refined gold
smelted over the edge of the anvil, to his brow as a sign of his
charioteering, as a distinction to his master.
"He took the goads to his horses, and his whip inlaid in his
right hand. He took the reins to hold back his horses in his
left hand. Then he put the iron inlaid breast-plate on his
horses, so that they were covered from forehead to fore-foot with
spears, and points, and lances, and hard points, so that every
motion in this chariot was war-near, so that every corner, and
every point, and every end, and every front of this chariot was a
way of tearing."
The Cattle Raid of Cualngé,
by L. W. Faraday.
We can almost see that wild charioteer and his horses, sheathed
in bristling armor with "every front a way of tearing," as they
dash amid the foe. And all through we come on lines like these
full of color and detail, which tell us of the life of those folk
of long ago.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics