Reading Irish Mythology I: Classifications

Even though Cycles are how we primarily categorise the stories of Irish Mythology, there exists no specific reference to the different cycles in the early Irish manuscripts. Instead, the manuscripts categorise stories under classifications, and these are as follows:

  • Destructions / Togla
  • Cattle-raids / Tána
  • Courtships / Tochmarca
  • Battles / Catha
  • Feasts / Fessa
  • Adventures / Echtrai
  • Elopements / Aithid
  • Slaughters / Airgne
  • Irruptions / Tomadma
  • Visions / Físi
  • Loves / Serca
  • Expeditions / Sluagid
  • Invasions / Tochomlada
  • Caves / Uatha
  • Voyages / Immrama
  • Violent-deaths / Oitte
  • Sieges / Forbassa
  • Conceptions and Births / Coimperta
  • Frenzies / Buili

The Book of Leinster suggests that poets memorised the stories under these headings. Suitably, in the manuscripts, accounts of heroic personae are not given in chronological order, but instead are given under the headings in this list.

The purpose of classifications

Since storytelling had been such an important feature of special occasions throughout Ireland, we can infer that each class of tale would be suited to a certain occasion. That is to say, Courthips and Loves would be told at weddings, Battles would be told before a King is to embark upon war, Voyages would be told before a Voyage, and Conceptions and Births would be told at Christenings.

Missing Categories

Unfortunately, many of the tales written down in manuscripts do not fall under these headings, so the list above cannot be treated as complete. Amongst others, some important classifications ommitted from the list are:

  • Assemblies
  • Annals
  • Prohibitions
  • Divisions
  • Placename-lore / Dindshenchas

Note

This website will not make any distinction between these ommitted-classifications and the official ones, unless demanded by context.

 

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