The legend of Cú Chulainn is one of the greatest in Irish mythology. He is noted in Irish mythical sagas for his superhuman strength and amazing deeds on the battlefield.
His story was originally passed down by word of mouth, until it was written down more than 800 years ago in the Táin Bó Cúailnge. The story is so powerful that it is still taught in schools and written about today.
The Life of Cú Chulainn.
Cú Chulainn was an ancient Gaelic hero warrior who was gifted with superhuman strength, speed and skill. Setanta was his name as a young boy and his parents were Dechtire and Lugh. At the age of five Setanta left home to join the Red Branch Knights, the army of the king Conor Mac Nessa, who was his uncle. With him he took his hurley, his sliotar, his javelin and his spear. He would hit the sliotar with the hurley, leap forward and hit it a second time before it touched the ground, toss the javelin ahead and then the spear, run after them all, catch the ball and javelin with one hand and the spear with the other. When he reached the palace at Emain Macha, he beat 150 boys at hurling and other games.
Cú Chulainn achieved his name at the age of seven when he killed the watch dog of a blacksmith named Culann. One day Culann, who made spears for King Conor invited young Setanta to a feast. When Setanta arrived at Culann’s house his wolfhound leapt out of the dark to attack. Culann had the hound unchained as he thought the entire guests had arrived. Setanta hurled his sliotar down the hound’s throat and killed him. The feast party heard the hound growling and ran out. King Conor was amazed to find his nephew alive and proud of his great strength. Culann was relieved but also sad his hound was dead. “Let me take the place of your hound until you find another one to take its place” said Setanta to Culann. Culann agreed. From that day on Setanta was called Cú Chulainn, which means hound of Culann.
Cú Chulainn became the leader of the Red Branch Knights one of his enemies was Queen Maeve of Connaught. She was a jealous queen and when she learnt of a great Brown Bull in Cooley, County Louth, she wanted it for her own. The chieftan of Louth refused to let Maeve have his bull, so she resolved to get it by force. Her army marched to Kells and pitched camp. Maeve sought a meeting with Cú Chulainn. She offered him gold and great rewards if he would not go into battle against her. Cú Chulainn refused, but Maeve secured his agreement to fight one of her heroes each day, reckoning that this was better than losing one hundred every night to Cú Chulainn's sling.
Day after day Cú Chulainn fought Maeve's warriors, overcoming Morrigu, the water goddess, and mortally wounding the hero Loich. After more battles and deceitful trickery by Maeve, Cú Chulainn mounted his war chariot and attacked Maeve’s army. With most of her army defeated Maeve once again resorted to single combat. She finally forced Cú Chulainn's foster brother, Ferdia, to fight against him by threatening him with the spells of her Druids. After a great fight in which Ferdia almost proved a match for him, Cú Chulainn badly wounded, emerged as the tragic victor. While he recovered from his wounds, the men of Ulster began to collect themselves, and the two armies faced each other again. While this great battle was raging Maeve managed to steal the Brown Bull of Cooley, which she sent back to Connaught under escort. Eventually Cú Chulainn and the Ulster army defeated Maeve's followers and they fled back to Cruachan, where they had originally set out from.
Cú Chulainn lived on after his incredible feats of bravery, but not for long. After a period of time the jealous Queen Maeve once again brought an army together to seek revenge. But it was only by magic that Cú Chulainn was eventually pierced by his own spear. Mortally wounded, Cú Chulainn tied himself to a high stone. As a Gaelic hero he did not wish to die lying on the ground, it was standing that he wished to meet his death. And even though he was motionless for a very long time his enemies were afraid to approach him and it was only when a raven landed on his shoulder that his enemies knew he was dead.
With thanks to Lash Go Leor.
You can listen to the late Ronnie Drew telling the story of Cu Chulainn on our YouTube page here-