John Behan

ARTIST: John Behan

Title of work: The Táin

1: Cú Chulainn’s Birth

2&3: Cú Chulainn and his wife, Emer, meet

4: Cú Chulainn battles the combined forces of the men of Ireland

5, 6, 7, 8: The Men of Ireland

9: The Death of Cú Chulainn with the crow goddess, Morrígan, on his shoulder

Date: 1989

Medium: bronze, glass

Dimensions: varying

Location: Market Square, Dundalk, Co. Louth

More about this work:

The Táin Bó Cuilgne, or The Cattle Raid of Cooley, is one of Europe’s oldest tales. Featuring Cú Chulainn, Irish mythology’s greatest hero, the tale recalls the efforts of Maeve, Queen of Connacht, to steal the fabled Brown Bull of Cooley in an attempt to match the wealth of her husband, Ailill. Ultimately, Meave’ plans are defeated but not before a series of battles that culminate in the death of Cú Chulainn following a bloody fight with his foster brother and best friend, Ferdia. These sculptures by John Behan highlight some of the key aspects of the Táin, including Cú Chulainn’s birth (1), his first meeting with his first love, Emer (2&3), and the death of Cú Chulainn (9), with the crow goddess, Morrígan, on his shoulder. This story is very associated with Dundalk and North Louth. The Cooley Mountains are located 20km north of Dundalk and Cú Chulainn lived as a child on the plains of Muirheimhne, today a townland in the Dundalk area.

Biographical Information:

John Behan was born in Dublin in 1938. He studied at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin; Ealing Art College, London; and the Royal Academy School, Oslo. He helped establish the Project Arts Centre in 1967 and the Dublin Art Foundry in 1970. Beginning in the 1960s he exhibited in major group shows such as the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Oireachtas; in addition, he has had frequent solo shows in Ireland and abroad, all combining sculpture and drawing.

The Táin sculptures were commissioned by Mrs. Irene Quinn and were displayed in The Imperial Hotel in Dundalk until the hotel was refurbished in the 1980’s. Mrs. Quinn presented the sculptures to Dundalk Town Council to mark Heritage Year in 1989. The sculptures were subsequently attached to the exterior of the Tourism Office on Market Square, where they all remained until 2011. They were moved to the display cases as part of the overall redevelopment of market Square, having been cleaned by sculptor Leo Higgins at the CAST Bronze Foundry, Dublin.