The Cycles of Irish Mythology
The stories and characters of Irish mythology broadly fit into 4 main cycles.
The Mythological Cycle is about the set of five Invasions Lebor Gabála Érenn that were core to the formation of Ireland. It is also about the Battles of Moytura where the Tuatha De Danaan were successful in establishing a culture based on the goddess. The final invaders, the Sons of Mil, then beat them at the Battle of Tailtiu to send the Tuatha De underground where they have remained. This cycle also includes the magical Midir and Etain and a number of Voyage Stories such as Bran and Máel Dúin.
The Ulster Cycle takes us from a world distinguished by intelligence and magic to one of warriors and fighting. This world is one where will-power and fearless action prevail. The cultural hero is now the physically strong young man who puts his neck on the line for the honour of his community, his tribe. The central story of this cycle is Táin Bó Cúailnge, the Cattle Raid of Cooley.
The Fenian Cycle, which also concerning the hero figure as warrior, but which has a very different feel, ethos and provenance. This is essentially the lore of the Fiana who were more nomadic in nature. They are a roving outlaw band whose main occupations were to hunt and to fight. This Cycle’s central figure is Fionn mac Cumhaill, the leader of the Fiana.
The King Cycle is also known as the Historical Cycle. These tales are essentially about Kingship, the fortunes of Kings, and Kingship as a marriage between the King and the realm (and sometimes the goddess, a symbol of the land). Prosperity in the realm was intimately connected to the quality of the King. In addition the king was frequently bound by certain restrictions, called ‘geasa’. The more power you had the more this needed to be contained.