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PSU McNair Scholars Online Journal

Article Title

An Bó Bheannaithe: Cattle Symbolism in Traditional Irish Folklore, Myth, and Archaeology

Abstract

This paper explores the role cattle played in Iron Age Irish society, in their sociopolitical and economic systems, as a means of subsistence, and finally as a symbol within their belief system. Religious traditions play an integral role in any society and have a profound and systemic effect on many other aspects of culture, and should therefore be of great interest to archaeologists. However, belief systems might not be well-represented by material culture. In order to potentially understand the relationship between Iron Age Irish economy and religion, in this case as it pertains to cattle, it is necessary to make use of evidence from a variety of disciplines: Classical texts referencing Celtic culture, early historical Irish law tracts and mythologies, and archaeological evidence from known pre- Christian ritual sites. By comparing the evidence from each field, I illustrate how nearly every aspect of life in Iron Age Ireland was dependent on cattle and, as a result, cattle became a symbol of the entire society’s well-being.

Faculty Mentor: Cameron Smith