Place-making heroes and the storying of Ireland’s vernacular landscape

in A landscape of words
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Chapter 2 traces the development of the poetics of space in Ireland’s heroic literature (ca. 900–1160) through a focus on the warrior Cú Chulainn. I situate narratives from Táin Bó Cúalnge alongside other Ulster Cycle texts to track a spatial hero’s construction. Cú Chulainn is initially named Sétanta—suggesting ‘path-finder’ or ‘journeyer’—and tales of his birth, boyhood deeds and defense of Ulster in the Táin emphasize his ability to navigate new environments and internalize storied maps of the territory. Cú Chulainn’s increasing mastery of placelore and the erotics of space are examined in Tochmarc Emire. A brief look at Mesca Ulad queries how Ulster’s spatially savvy hero is not ultimately immune to displacement: Cú Chulainn loses himself and the men of Ulster in hostile territories, and their frenzied ride transforms the landscape—their journey levels hills, clears trees and drains rivers—and generates a (mis)reading of the drunken, careening heroes as environmental features rather than humans, which also problematizes violence and heroic excess. The chapter concludes with Saint Patrick raising Cú Chulainn from the dead to tell his tale, an account that highlights the chapter’s key themes: spatial narrative, textuality and the redemptive function of storytelling.

A landscape of words

Ireland, Britain and the poetics of space, 700–1250

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