Cú Chulainn

Cú Chulainn



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Cú Chulainn (pron. Koo-kul-in), also Cúchulainn, is one of the greatest heroes of Irish-Celtic mythology, particularly the Ulster Cycle. The son of another cultural hero-figure, Lugh, Cú Chulainn is a mighty warrior whose weapon is Gáe Bolga, a terrible spear that inflicts 30 wounds on its target from only a single strike. Cú Chulainn is involved in many adventures such as defending Ulster from a Connacht army, amorous engagements with warrior-queens and fairies, and the tragic killing of his own son Connla. Cú Chulainn is known for his tremendous agility and skills but is ultimately undone by sorcery and killed by another hero, Lugaid mac Con Roi.

Lugh & Birth

Cú Chulainn's father is Lugh the Celtic god of the sun and light who became a heroic figure in Irish epic myths like the Cath Maige Tuired (aka 'The Battle of Mag Tuired'). Lugh led the Tuatha Dé Danann to victory against the Fomorians, a semi-divine race of demonic pirates. Lugh then ruled Ireland for 40 years when the kingdom witnessed only prosperity and bountiful harvests. Cú Chulainn's mother is Deichtine who either swallows a miniaturised version of Lugh while drinking a cup of water or dreams of the god so that she miraculously becomes pregnant with Cú Chulainn. At the mythical capital Emain Macha, Deichtine chooses seven prominent nobles to become the child's foster fathers, amongst them is Sultam mac Róich (often taken as the real father).

Cú Chulainn is known to transform himself into a tower of raging fury just before a battle.

Cú Chulainn's name, which comes in a myriad of spelling variations, means 'the hound of Culann' after the great smith of Irish mythology. This story is told in the Macgnímrada Con Culainn ('Cú Chulainn's Boyhood Deeds'). Cú Chulainn, who is first called Sétanta, acquires his more familiar name because he kills, albeit in self-defence, Culann's guard dog, which was so ferocious it had to be kept on three chains and held by nine stout warriors. In repentance for this deed, he offers to replace the hound with another and in the meantime to guard Culann's cattle himself. All of this happened when Sétanta was aged seven and also takes up the first part of the 7-8th century CE epic Táin Bó Cuailnge ('Cattle Raid of Cooley') which tells of a raid on Ulster by an army from Connacht to steal a sacred bull, Donn Cuailnge, and the efforts of Sétanta, now Cú Chulainn, who holds off the invading army single-handedly. The name Sétanta may in some way be connected to the Setantii of ancient Britain, who are mentioned by Roman writers.

Appearance

Cú Chulainn is frequently envisaged as a small, dark, beardless figure with incredible speed, agility, and energy. In many ways, then, he is like the Gaulish Mercury who is similarly equated with Lugh. Indeed, some scholars suggest that Lugh and Cú Chulainn may be one and the same or at least derived from the same inspirational source.

Cú Chulainn certainly has a unique appearance. His hair has three colours: brown, blond, and bright red. Each of his cheeks has four dimples which are blue, red, yellow, and green. He has seven toes on each foot, seven fingers on each hand, and seven pupils in each of his eyes. Despite, or even because of, this peculiar appearance, Cú Chulainn is considered handsome and women are greatly attracted to him. Finally, Cú Chulainn is known to transform himself into a tower of raging fury just before a battle. During this fury, his body is warped with parts shifting about, his crown spurts columns of blood and a great light, the lón láith, shines from his forehead.

Emer

His wife is Emer, younger daughter of Forgall Manach, king of Lusca (Lusk). Forgall Manach wished that his elder daughter be married before Emer and he is not impressed with Cú Chulainn's lack of reputation. To these ends, the king sets our hero a series of difficult tasks. Cú Chulainn eventually returns to Lusca, kills 24 of the king's best men, and elopes with Emer and a quantity of loot. The pair settle in the fortress of Dún Delga (Dundalk), which overlooks the plain of Mag Muirthemne. The marriage has its rocky patches because of Cú Chulainn's many affairs, notably with the fairy Fand (aka Fann), the wife of Manannán mac Lir, the sea god ruler of the Otherworld. Thanks to a magic cloak of forgetfulness, though, all is forgiven and forgotten. In other, less well-known versions, Cú Chulainn's wife is Eithne Ingubai, but it is possible she and Emer are one and the same character.

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Scáthach & Ferdiad

Cú Chulainn is trained in weaponry by Scáthach, a female warrior who lived on the Isle of Sky or the Scottish mainland. Cú Chulainn also learns here his ability to make prodigious leaps (and hence today many prominent coastal rocks in Ireland are called 'Cúchulain's Leap'). Scáthach and Cú Chulainn may have been lovers as he is described as gaining 'the friendship of her thighs', although this may refer to some martial ritual whose significance has now been lost.

Cú Chulainn's spear Gáe Bulga was made from the bones of a mighty sea monster & it could travel with lightning speed.

Scáthach gives Cú Chulainn his terrible barbed spear called Gáe Bulga (aka Bolga) which, when striking an enemy, creates another 30 internal wounds. The spear was made from the bones of a mighty sea monster, and it could travel with lightning speed. His swift and unbreakable sword is Caladbolg, and his two trusty horses are Liath Macha and Saingliu, both are magical beings whom our hero trained personally.

With him in this period is his great friend and sworn brother-in-arms, Ferdiad who is also trained by Scáthach. Cú Chulainn and Ferdiad one day fight each other, actually a might battle that takes three days. Ferdiad had been duped into fighting his great friend by the goddess/warrior-queen Medb, wife of King Ailill mac Mágach of Connacht. Ferdiad was able to resist our hero for so long because he wore impenetrable armour made of horn, but eventually, Cú Chulainn dispatched his friend with his spear. Cú Chulainn's other notable martial adventures include a contest with a giant to see how many victims they could each decapitate and the killing of the one-eyed Goll mac Carbada, another giant.

Aife & Connla

Cú Chulainn defeated in battle and then has an affair with Aife, the female chief who was thought to have resided in Scotland (then known as Alba). Aife and Scáthach may be the same individuals or two different aspects of the same character. The pair had a son, Connla, who was unknowingly killed by his father. The story is told in the Aided Óenfhir Aife ('The Tragic Death of Aife's Only Son'). Connla appeared off the coast of Ireland one day rowing a bronze boat with golden oars. Connla defeated two champions in combat and so Cú Chulainn was called upon to fight this stranger who refused to give his name. The fight was a tremendous tussle, but Cú Chulainn finally got the upper hand as they waded into the sea, and he speared the stranger with Gáe Bulga. It was then, as the dying youth revealed that his teacher in weaponry had been Scáthach, the victor realised he had killed his son.

Lugaid mac Con Roi & Death

Lugaid mac Con Roi was a legendary warrior who hated Cú Chulainn because the latter had had an adulterous affair with his mother, Bláithíne when on a raid in Scotland. Even worse, Cú Chulainn killed Con Roi, the father of Lugaid mac Con Roi. The pair meet in battle, and Cú Chulainn's charioteer Loegh (aka Láeg) is killed by the spear of Lugaid mac Con Roi which was aimed at Cú Chulainn. Another spear is launched and hits Cú Chulainn in the abdomen but he does not die. Lugaid mac Con Roi then decapitates Cú Chulainn. The hero's death after such a long run of successes in battles is sometimes explained as divine retribution for having broken a taboo or geis, in this case, Cú Chulainn ate the meat of a dog.

In another version of our hero's demise (and there are many), he fights and is the last man standing in a battle with followers of Medb. Cú Chulainn even chains himself to a column so that he can fight on with his many wounds. Eventually, a raven comes and plucks out his eyes and he dies. The column is said to be still standing and visible at Knockbridge in County Louth. Cú Chulainn may have died young but at least he got his wish for he had once said "Provided I am famous, I do not care whether I live but a single day in this world" (Eleure, 143).


The Legend of Cú Chulainn

There are a number of versions of the story of Cú Chulainn’s birth. In the earliest version of Compert C(h)on Culainn (The Conception of Cú Chulainn), his mother Deichtine is the daughter and charioteer of Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, and accompanies him as he and the nobles of Ulster hunt a flock of magical birds. Snow falls, and the Ulstermen seek shelter, finding a house where they are made welcome. Their host’s wife goes into labour, and Deichtine assists at the birth of a baby boy. A mare gives birth to two colts at the same time. The next morning, the Ulstermen find themselves at the Brug na Bóinde (the neolithic mound at Newgrange) – the house and its occupants have disappeared, but the child and the colts remain. Deichtine takes the boy home and raises him to early childhood, but he falls sick and dies. The god Lug appears to her and tells her he was their host that night, and that he has put his child in her womb, who is to be called Sétanta. Her pregnancy is a scandal as she is betrothed to Sualtam mac Róich, and the Ulstermen suspect Conchobar of being the father, so she aborts the child and goes to her husband’s bed “virgin-whole”. She then conceives a son whom she names Sétanta.

In the later, and better-known, version of Compert Con Culainn, Deichtine is Conchobar’s sister, and disappeared from Emain Macha, the Ulster capital. As in the previous version, the Ulstermen go hunting a flock of magical birds, were overtaken by a snowstorm and sought shelter in a nearby house. Their host was Lug, but this time his wife, who gave birth to a son that night, was Deichtine herself. The child was named Sétanta.

The nobles of Ulster argue over which of them is to be his foster-father, until the wise Morann decided he should be fostered by several of them: Conchobar himself Sencha mac Ailella, who would teach him judgement and eloquent speech the wealthy Blaí Briugu, who would protect and provide for him the noble warrior Fergus mac Róich, who would care for him and teach him to protect the weak the poet Amergin, who would educate him, and his wife Findchóem, who would nurse him. He is brought up in the house of Amergin and Findchóem on Muirthemne Plain in modern Co Louth (at the time part of Ulster), alongside their son Conall Cernach.

The stories of Cú Chulainn’s childhood are told in a flashback sequence in Táin Bó Cúailnge. As a small child, living in his parent’s house on Muirthemne Plain, he begged to be allowed to join the boy-troop at Emain Macha. However, he set off on his own, and when he arrived at Emain he ran onto the playing field without first asking for the boys’ protection, being unaware of the custom. The boys take this as a challenge and attacked him, but he had a ríastrad and beat them single-handed. Conchobar put a stop to the fight and cleared up the misunderstanding, but no sooner had Sétanta put himself under the boys’ protection that he chased after them, demanding they put themselves under his protection.

Culann the smith invited Conchobar to a feast at his house. Before going, Conchobar went to the playing field to watch the boys play hurling. He was so impressed by Sétanta’s performance that he asked him to join him at the feast. Sétanta had a game to finish, but promised to follow the king later. But Conchobar forgot, and Culann let loose his ferocious hound to protect his house. When Sétanta arrived, the enormous hound attacked him, but he killed it in self-defence, in one version by smashing it against a standing stone, in another by driving a sliotar (hurling ball) down its throat with his hurley. Culann was devastated by the loss of his hound, so Sétanta promised he would rear him a replacement, and until it is old enough to do the job, he himself would guard Culann’s house. The druid Cathbad announced that his name henceforth would be Cú Chulainn – “Culann’s Hound”.

One day at Emain Macha, Cú Chulainn overheard Cathbad teaching his pupils. One asked him what that day is auspicious for, and Cathbad replied that any warrior who took up arms that day would have everlasting fame. Cú Chulainn, though only seven years old, went to Conchobar and asked for arms. None of the weapons given to him withstood his strength, until Conchobar gave him his own weapons. But when Cathbad saw this he grieved, because he had not finished his prophecy – the warrior who took arms that day would be famous, but his life would be short. Soon afterwards, in response to a similar prophecy by Cathbad, Cú Chulainn demanded a chariot from Conchobar, and only the king’s own chariot withstood him. He set off on a foray and killed the three sons of Nechtan Scéne, who had boasted they had killed more Ulstermen than there were Ulstermen still living. He returned to Emain Macha in his battle frenzy, and the Ulstermen are afraid he would slaughter them all. Conchobar’s wife Mugain led out the women of Emain, and they bared their breasts to him. He averted his eyes, and the Ulstermen wrestled him into a barrel of cold water, which exploded from the heat of his body. They put him in a second barrel, which boiled, and a third, which warmed to a pleasant temperature.

In Cú Chulainn’s youth he was so beautiful the Ulstermen worried that, without a wife of his own, he would steal their wives and ruin their daughters. They searched all over Ireland for a suitable wife for him, but he would have none but Emer, daughter of Forgall Monach. However, Forgall was opposed to the match. He suggested that Cú Chulainn should train in arms with the renowned warrior-woman Scáthach in the land of Alba (Scotland), hoping the ordeal would be too much for him and he would be killed. Cú Chulainn took up the challenge. In the meantime, Forgall offered Emer to Lugaid mac Nóis, a king of Munster, but when he heard that Emer loved Cú Chulainn, Lugaid refused her hand.

Scáthach taught Cú Chulainn all the arts of war, including the use of the Gáe Bulg, a terrible barbed spear, thrown with the foot, that had to be cut out of its victim. His fellow trainees included Ferdiad, who became Cú Chulainn’s best friend and foster-brother. During his time there, Scáthach faced a battle against Aífe, her rival and in some versions her twin sister. Scáthach, knowing Aífe’s prowess, feared for Cú Chulainn’s life and gave him a powerful sleeping potion to keep him from the battle. However, because of Cú Chulainn’s great strength, it only put him to sleep for an hour, and he soon joined the fray. He fought Aífe in single combat, and the two were evenly matched, but Cú Chulainn distracted her by calling out that Aífe’s horses and chariot, the things she valued most in the world, had fallen off a cliff, and seized her. He spared her life on the condition that she call off her enmity with Scáthach, and bear him a son.

Leaving Aífe pregnant, Cú Chulainn returned from Scotland fully trained, but Forgall still refused to let him marry Emer. Cú Chulainn stormed Forgall’s fortress, killing twenty-four of Forgall’s men, abducted Emer and stole Forgall’s treasure. Forgall himself fell from the ramparts to his death. Conchobar had the “right of the first night” over all marriages of his subjects. He was afraid of Cú Chulainn’s reaction if he exercised it in this case, but was equally afraid of losing his authority if he did not. Cathbad suggested a solution: Conchobar should sleep with Emer on the night of the wedding, but Cathbad would sleep between them.

Eight years later, Connla, Cú Chulainn’s son by Aífe, came to Ireland in search of his father, but Cú Chulainn took him as an intruder and killed him when he refused to identify himself. Connla’s last words to his father as he died were that they would have “carried the flag of Ulster to the gates of Rome and beyond”, leaving Cú Chulainn grief-stricken. The story of Cú Chulainn and Connla shows a striking similarity to the legend of Persian hero Rostam who also killed his son Sohrab. Rostam and Cú Chulainn share several other characteristics, including killing a ferocious beast at a very young age, their near invincibility in battle, and the manner of their deaths.

During his time abroad, Cú Chulainn had rescued Derbforgaill, a Scandinavian princess, from being sacrificed to the Fomorians. She fell in love with him, and she and her handmaid came to Ireland in search of him in the form of a pair of swans. Cú Chulainn, not realising who she was, shot her down with his sling, and then saved her life by sucking the stone from her side. Having tasted her blood, he could not marry her, and gave her to his foster-son Lugaid Riab nDerg. Lugaid went on to become High King of Ireland, but the Lia Fáil (stone of destiny), failed to cry out when he stood on it, so Cú Chulainn split it in two with his sword. When Derbforgaill was mutilated by the women of Ulster out of jealousy for her sexual desirability and died of her wounds, Lugaid died of grief, and Cú Chulainn avenged them by demolishing the house the women were inside, killing 150 of them.

At the age of seventeen, Cú Chulainn single-handedly defended Ulster from the army of Connacht in the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Medb, queen of Connacht, had mounted the invasion to steal the stud bull Donn Cúailnge, and Cú Chulainn allowed her to take Ulster by surprise because he was with a woman when he should have been watching the border. The men of Ulster were disabled by a curse, so Cú Chulainn prevented Medb’s army from advancing further by invoking the right of single combat at fords. He defeated champion after champion in a stand-off lasting months.

Before one combat a beautiful young woman comes to him, claiming to be the daughter of a king, and offers him her love, but he refuses her. The woman reveals herself as the Morrígan, and in revenge for this slight she attacks him in various animal forms while he is engaged in combat against Lóch mac Mofemis. As an eel, she trips him in the ford, but he breaks her ribs. As a wolf, she stampedes cattle across the ford, but he puts out her eye with a sling-stone. Finally she appears as a heifer at the head of the stampede, but he breaks her leg with another slingstone. After Cú Chulainn finally defeats Lóch, the Morrígan appears to him as an old woman milking a cow, with the same injuries he had given her in her animal forms. She gives him three drinks of milk, and with each drink he blesses her, healing her wounds.

After one particularly arduous combat Cú Chulainn was severely wounded, but was visited by Lugh, who told him he was his father and healed his wounds. When Cú Chulainn woke up and saw that the boy-troop of Emain Macha had attacked the Connacht army and been slaughtered, he had his most spectacular ríastrad yet:

“The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front… On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child… he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane couldn’t probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his lungs and his liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram’s fleece reached his mouth from his throat… The hair of his head twisted like the tange of a red thornbush stuck in a gap if a royal apple tree with all its kingly fruit were shaken above him, scarce an apple would reach the ground but each would be spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.”—Thomas Kinsella (translator), The Táin, Oxford University Press, 1969, pp. 150-153. He attacks the army and kills hundreds, building walls of corpses.

When his foster-father Fergus mac Róich, now in exile in Medb’s court, is sent to face him Cú Chulainn agrees to yield, so long as Fergus agrees to return the favour the next time they meet. Finally, he fights a gruelling three-day duel with his best friend and foster-brother, Ferdiad, at a ford that was named Áth Fhir Diadh (Ardee, Co Louth) after him. The Ulstermen eventually rouse, one by one at first, and finally en masse. The final battle begins. Cú Chulainn stays on the sidelines, recuperating from his wounds, until he sees Fergus advancing. He enters the fray and confronts Fergus, who keeps his side of the bargain and yields to him, pulling his forces off the field. Connacht’s other allies panic and Medb is forced to retreat. At this inopportune moment she gets her period, and although Fergus forms a guard around her, Cú Chulainn breaks through as she is dealing with it and has her at his mercy. However he spares her because he does not think it right to kill women, and guards her retreat back to Connacht as far as Athlone.

The troublemaker Bricriu once incites three heroes, Cú Chulainn, Conall Cernach and Lóegaire Búadach, to compete for the champion’s portion at his feast. In every test that is set Cú Chulainn comes out top, but neither Conall nor Lóegaire will accept the result. Cú Roí mac Dáire of Munster settles it by visiting each in the guise of a hideous churl and challenging them to behead him, then allow him to return and behead them in return. Conall and Lóegaire both behead Cú Roí, who picks up his head and leaves, but when the time comes for him to return they flee. Only Cú Chulainn is brave and honourable enough to submit himself to Cú Roí’s axe Cú Roí spares him and he is declared champion. This beheading challenge appears in later literature, most notably in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Other examples include the 13th century French Life of Caradoc and the English romances The Turke and Gowin, and The Carle off Carlile.

Cú Roí, again in disguise, joins the Ulstermen on a raid on Inis Fer Falga (probably the Isle of Man), in return for his choice of the spoils. They steal treasure, and abduct Blathnát, daughter of the island’s king, who loves Cú Chulainn. But when Cú Roí is asked to choose his share, he chooses Blathnát. Cú Chulainn tries to stop him taking her, but Cú Roí cuts his hair and drives him into the ground up to his armpits before escaping, taking Blathnát with him. Like other heroes such as the Biblical Samson, Duryodhana in the Mahabharata and the Welsh Llew Llaw Gyffes, Cú Roí can only be killed in certain contrived circumstances, which vary in different versions of the story. Blathnat discovers how to kill him and betrays him to Cú Chulainn, who does the deed. However Ferchertne, Cú Roí’s poet, enraged at the betrayal of his lord, grabs Blathnát and leaps off a cliff, killing her and himself.

Cú Chulainn had many lovers, but Emer’s only jealousy came when he fell in love with Fand, wife of Manannán mac Lir. Manannán had left her and she had been attacked by three Fomorians who wanted to control the Irish Sea. Cú Chulainn agreed to help defend her as long as she married him. She agreed reluctantly, but they fell in love when they met. Manannán knew their relationship was doomed because Cú Chulainn was mortal and Fand was a fairy Cú Chulainn’s presence would destroy the fairies. Emer, meanwhile, tried to kill her rival, but when she saw the strength of Fand’s love for Cú Chulainn she decided to give him up to her. Fand, touched by Emer’s magnanimity, decided to return to her own husband. Manannan shook his cloak between Cú Chulainn and Fand, ensuring the two would never meet again, and Cú Chulainn and Emer drank a potion to wipe the whole affair from their memories.

Medb conspired with Lugaid, son of Cú Roí, Erc, son of Cairbre Nia Fer, and the sons of others Cú Chulainn had killed, to draw him out to his death. His fate was sealed by his breaking of the geasa (taboos) upon him. Cú Chulainn’s geasa included a ban against eating dog meat, but in early Ireland there was a powerful general taboo against refusing hospitality, so when an old crone offered him a meal of dog meat, he had no choice to break his geis. In this way he was spiritually weakened for the fight ahead of him.

Lugaid had three magical spears made, and it was prophesied that a king would fall by each of them. With the first he killed Cú Chulainn’s charioteer Láeg, king of chariot drivers. With the second he killed Cú Chulainn’s horse, Liath Macha, king of horses. With the third he hit Cú Chulainn, mortally wounding him. Cú Chulainn tied himself to a standing stone in order to die on his feet. This stone is traditionally identified as one still standing at Knockbridge, Co Louth. Due to his ferocity even when so near death, it is only when a raven landed on his shoulder that his enemies believed he was dead. Lugaid approached and cut off his head, but as he did so the “hero-light” burned around Cú Chulainn and his sword fell from his hand and cut Lugaid’s hand off. The light disappeared only after his right hand, his sword arm, was cut from his body.

Conall Cernach had sworn that if Cú Chulainn died before him he would avenge him before sunset, and when he heard Cú Chulainn was dead he pursued Lugaid. As Lugaid has lost a hand, Conall fought him with one hand tucked into his belt, but he only beat him after his horse took a bite out of Lugaid’s side. He also killed Erc, and took his head back to Tara, where Erc’s sister Achall died of grief for her brother.

The story is told that when St Patrick was trying to convert king Lóegaire to Christianity, the ghost of Cú Chulainn appeared in his chariot, warning him of the torments of hell.

Cú Chulainn’s appearance was occasionally remarked on in the texts. He is usually described as small, youthful and beardless. He was often described as dark: in The Wooing of Emer and Bricriu’s Feast he is “a dark, sad man, comeliest of the men of Erin”, in The Intoxication of the Ulstermen he is a “little, black-browed man”, and in The Phantom Chariot of Cú Chulainn “his hair was thick and black, and smooth as though a cow had licked it… in his head his eyes gleamed swift and grey” yet the prophetess Fedelm in the Táin Bó Cúailnge describes him as blond. The most elaborate description of his appearance comes later in the Táin:

And certainly the youth Cúchulainn mac Sualdaim was handsome as he came to show his form to the armies. You would think he had three distinct heads of hair – brown at the base, blood-red in the middle, and a crown of golden-yellow. This hair was settled strikingly into three coils on the cleft at the back of his head. Each long loose-flowing strand hung down in shining splendour over his shoulders, deep-gold and beautiful and fine as a thread of gold. A hundred neat red-gold curls shone darkly on his neck, and his head was covered with a hundred crimson threads matted with gems. He had four dimples in each cheek – yellow, green, crimson and blue – and seven bright pupils, eye-jewels, in each kingly eye. Each foot had seven toes and each hand seven fingers, the nails with the grip of a hawk’s claw or a gryphon’s clench.” —Thomas Kinsella (translator), The Táin, Oxford University Press, 1969, pp. 156-158.

The image of Cú Chulainn is invoked by both Irish nationalists and Ulster unionists. Irish nationalists see him as the most important Celtic Irish hero, and thus he is important to their whole culture. A bronze sculpture of the dying Cú Chulainn by Oliver Sheppard stands in the Dublin General Post Office (GPO) in commemoration of the Easter Rising of 1916. By contrast, unionists see him as an Ulsterman defending the province from enemies to the south: in Belfast, for example, he is depicted in a mural on Highfield Drive, and was formerly depicted in a mural on the Newtownards Road, as a “defender of Ulster from Irish attacks”, both murals ironically based on the Sheppard sculpture. He is also depicted in murals in nationalist parts of the city and many nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

Samuel Beckett once asked a friend to go to the GPO and “measure the height of the ground to Cúchulainn’s arse”, as Neary in his novel Murphy wished to “engage with the arse of the statue of Cúchulainn, the ancient Irish hero, patron saint of pure ignorance and crass violence, by banging his head against it.” The statue’s image was also used on the ten shilling coin produced for 1966.

The statue of Cú Chulainn carrying the body of Fer Diad stands in Ardee, Co Louth, traditionally the site of their combat in the Táin Bó Cúailnge.

Augusta, Lady Gregory retold many of the legends of Cú Chulainn in her 1902 book Cuchulain of Muirthemne, which closely paraphrased the originals but glossed over some of the more sexual extreme content, given the conventional prudery of her day. Where he is surrounded by 150 naked ladies, Lady Gregory described them as only having bared breasts. This first translation was a great success, supported by the Celtic Revival movement. It featured an introduction by her friend William Butler Yeats, who wrote several pieces based on the legend, including the plays On Baile’s Strand (1904), The Green Helmet (1910), At the Hawk’s Well (1917), The Only Jealousy of Emer (1919) and The Death of Cuchulain (1939), and a poem, Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea (1892). Modern novels which retell Cú Chulainn’s story include Morgan Llywelyn’s 1989 historical novel Red Branch, Randy Lee Eickhoff’s series of adaptations, Manfred Böckl’s German language novel Der Hund des Culann, and Holly Bennett’s The Warrior’s Daughter, which tells the story from the point of view of his daughter, Luaine.

Image | Statue of Cú Chulainn by Oliver Sheppard in the window of the GPO, Dublin | Commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising


Appearances

Cu Chullain was one of the leading heroes of Irish legend, alongside Finn mac Cool, and a major figure in the Ulster Cycle. He was the son of Lugh, one of the greatest of the Tuatha de Danaan (a race of beings in Irish mythology somewhere between gods and faerie-folk), by Dechtire, the sister of King Conchobar of Ulster. His original name was Setanta, which he held until he slew the great hound of Culainn the Smith at the age of seven. He offered to replace the hound until Culann could obtain a new one, and although his offer was not taken up, he received from that time on the name of "Cu Chullain" or "Hound of Culainn". Contrary to the animated series, there was no separate "Hound of Ulster" that was a nickname of Cu Chullain's, related to "Hound of Culainn".

Cu Chullain's most famous exploit was defending Ulster single-handedly against the entire army of Queen Maeve of Connacht, when she sought to invade Ulster to capture a magical brown bull. All the other warriors of Ulster were incapacitated by a magical curse at the time, and he held off her entire war-host alone, as recorded in the Irish epic, "The Tain." Maeve, filled with fury at Cu Chullain's having bested her followers, plotted his death. She learned that he had two geasa or magical strictures placed upon him: he must never eat the flesh of a dog, but he must also eat whatever food he was offered. So she had three sorceresses intercept him on the way to meet her in battle at the Plains of Muirthemne, and offer him roast dog for food. Because of his second geas, Cu Chullain was bound to eat the dog-meat, but in so doing, he lost much of his superhuman strength. He was thus overcome at Muirthemne and slain, fighting with his back against a standing stone. When he was mortally wounded, he slew a nearby otter, called by the Irish a river-dog thus, his last great feat, as well as his first one, was slaying a dog.


Cú Chulainn: Irish mythology's Incredible Hulk

Humanity has long been obsessed with individuals who, in a fit of rage, transform into something not-quite human. Irish mythology serves up another example.

  • There are plenty of cultural figures who are known for their inhuman transformations: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Incredible Hulk, werewolves. the list goes on.
  • One infrequently mentioned example is the Irish version of Achilles: Cú Chulainn.
  • What does the mythological Irish hero represent?

Famed comics creator Jack Kirby was inspired to create the Incredible Hulk when he saw a woman lifting a car to save her trapped baby underneath. "It suddenly came to me that in desperation we can all do that," he said. "We can knock down walls, we can go berserk, which we do."

Though the Hulk is maybe the most modern take on this idea, it's one that humanity has been obsessed with for a long time. History features a number of references to transformation of individuals into something terrifying and awe-inspiring: There's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Scandinavian berserkers, and werewolves. But perhaps one of the most striking and least-discussed example of a Hulk-like character comes from Irish mythology's Cú Chulainn.

Cu Chullainn's "warp spasms"

Stories of Cú Chulainn date back to the first century. Said to be the son of Lug, an Irish god associated with warfare, kings, and craftsmen, and a mortal princess, Cú Chulainn was born under the name Setanta. At the age of six, he gained the name Cú Chulainn, meaning "Culann's hound," after he killed a guard dog in self-defense by driving a hurling stone down its throat. (Hurling was an ancient Gaelic game that resembles lacrosse, which is still practiced in Ireland today). Culann, the smith who owned the hound, was dismayed at its loss. Setanta offered to serve as Culann's guard until a replacement guard dog could be found, gaining the name Cú Chulainn in doing so.

Where Cú Chulainn begins to resemble the Hulk, however, comes from his ríastrad, commonly translated as a "warp spasm." Here's an excerpt from Thomas Kinsella's translation of the Táin Bó Cúailnge describing Cú Chulainn's warp spasms:

The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins and knees switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front. The balled sinews of his calves switched to the front of his shins, each big knot the size of a warrior's bunched fist. On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child. His face and features became a red bowl he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane could not probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared his lungs and liver flapped in his mouth and throat his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram's fleece reached his mouth from his throat. His heart boomed loud in his breast like the baying of a watch-dog at its feed or the sound of a lion among bears. Malignant mists and spurts of fire flickered red in the vaporous clouds that rose boiling above his head, so fierce was his fury.

When Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk, he grows larger, turns green, and miraculously preserves the integrity of his purple jorts so, not entirely similar to the eyeball-popping transformation of Cú Chulainn. The incredible strength Cú Chulainn gains from this transformation and his inability to distinguish between friend and foe, however, remain significant parallels.

At the age of 5, Cú Chulainn experienced the first of these warp spasms when he traveled to join a troop of boys playing hurley. He walked onto the playing field, unaware of a local custom to ask for protection first. The 150 other boys saw Cú Chulainn entering the playing field as an affront and sought to kill him, but Cú Chulainn transformed and fought all 150 off until Conchobar, the king of Ulster, puts a stop to the fight.

Cú Chulainn's other significant warp spasm occurred when he defended Donn Cúailnge, a particularly fertile bull and the central figure of the Táin Bó Cúailnge (or, The Cattle Raid of Cooley), from an invading army. After defending against the army, Cú Chulainn is seriously wounded, but a figure, "one of my friends of fairy kin," approaches Cú Chulainn and tells him to sleep:

Then it was that the warrior from Faery laid plants from the fairy-rath and healing herbs and put a healing charm into the cuts and stabs, into the sores and gaping wounds of Cuchulain, so that Cuchulain recovered during his sleep without ever perceiving it.

Cú Chulainn sleeps for three days and three nights, and when he awakes, he finds that a troop of boys from Emain Macha, his home, has been slaughtered. This sends him into a fit of rage he transforms, killing or wounding all nearby:

Ten and six-score kings, leaders and men of the land, Cuchulain laid low in the great slaughter on the Plain of Murthemne, besides a countless horde of dogs and horses and women and boys and children and common folk for there escaped not a third man of the men of Erin without a lump or without having half his skull or an eye hurt, or without an enduring mark for the course of his life.

What Cu Chullainn represents today

Cú Chulainn has an important role in Irish mythology, one that parallels Achilles's in Greek mythology. As such, he's often used as a symbol by Ireland's different cultural groups. The symbol of Cú Chulainn has been adopted by unionists from Ulster, or Northern Ireland (where Cú Chulainn was born), who consider him to be a hero defending Ulster from southern enemies, while nationalists also claim Cú Chulainn as a national symbol that represents all of Ireland and its history. It's unclear whether the character of Cú Chulainn ever had its basis in a real historical figure, but it can be safely said that the real Cú Chulainn, if he existed, likely did not transform into a gruesome figure with one dangling eyeball and sharp, spiky hair.


Visit Uí Néill’s Rest

After collecting the five Uí Néill Artifacts, you can deliver them to the tomb at Uí Néill’s Rest. The tomb is located about 330m SE of the town of Durrow in Meath. Walk through the waterfall to enter the cave containing the chest. Use the artifacts to unlock the chest and earn the Cú Chulainn Shield!

Once you fully enhance the Cú Chulainn Shield it'll have a completely golden appearence! Looking for more weapons in Ireland? Check out our guide explaining How to Get the Mythical Spear Gae Bolg.


Development [ edit | edit source ]

He is a tragic Servant, who embodies the cynical notion that "wishes don't come true". ⎗]

Reception [ edit | edit source ]

  • In the first Popularity polls of Fate/stay night in 2004, Lancer was ranked 8th and the third most voted male character.
  • In the second Popularity polls of Fate/stay night in 2006, Lancer was ranked 6th and the second most voted male character.
  • In the Type-Moon's 10th Anniversary Character Poll, Lancer from Fate/stay night was ranked 20th and the seventh most voted male character. Lancer from Fate/EXTRA was ranked 156th. Lancer from Fate/hollow ataraxia was ranked 232nd.

Cu Chulainn

The great Irish hero Cu Chulainn is to Irish Mythology, what Achilles is to Greek Mythology. Both brave warriors were undefeatable in battle and both were demi-gods. Cu Chulainn was the most prominent of Hero of Ulster and his story is told largely in within the Ulster Cycle of Irish Mythology.

The legend of Cu Chulainn tells how he was the son of the God Lugh and was born at Newgrange, Ireland's most prominent Neolithic monument. The most famous of Cu Chulainn's legends is the Cattle Raid of Cooley as told in the Tain. In this tale Cu Chulainn, single-handed fought the armies of Queen Mebh of Connacht. After the army of Ulster had been put to sleep by Queen Mebh's magic, Cu Chulainn was left to defend Ulster's lands taking on champions after champion one in single combat that lasted months.

Cu Chulainn was eventually killed after Queen Mebh contrived with his enemies to bring him to battle. She put a spell on the mighty warrior and he became mortally wounded by the spear of Lugaid. But Cuchulainn fought on causing his enemies to retreat. Cu Chulainn then tied himself to a rock to keep himself standing so that his enemies wouldn't think he was wounded. The ploy almost worked, when a raven landed on his shoulder. Cu Chulainn's enemies returned to finish him off but not before Cu Chulainn was able to deliver a fatal blow to Lugaid.

Today Cu Chulainn is still hailed as one of Ireland's great heroes. In Ulster he is hailed as a hero by both Irish Nationalists and Ulster Unionists and is regularly depicted in poetry, literature and other art forms in Ireland.

If you would like more information on Ireland, on our suggested Ireland travel packages or Escorted coach tours of Ireland please contact one of our Ireland based representatives who can provide you with a free quote.


Story [ edit | edit source ]

Cú Chulainn was once a legendary warrior of ancient times who fell in battle. He was resurrected by Bella when she acquired a horse-mounted idol in the hero's image that was in the possession of House Geneolgia. As the idol had been damaged by a young Yew, Bella's inexperience fused the revived Cú Chulainn onto his steed. He has since then followed Bella out of loyalty.

When Bella returns after losing to Yew and Edea Lee, Cú Chulainn refuses to allow Bella's execution and defies Kaiser Oblivion to the point of almost taking his own life. The kaiser spares Bella's life on the condition that she and Cú Chulainn hunt down Yew and either kill him or die in battle. The latter occurs when Yew's party is joined by Magnolia Arch.

When Yew and his group use the SP Hourglass to go back in time to stop the kaiser before he can kidnap Agnès Oblige, it negates Cú Chulainn's demise, with him appearing to gain memories of his previous timeline as a consequence. Alongside Bella, Cú Chulainn offers himself to cover the unmasked Denys Geneolgia's escape to the Skyhold. Yew spares Cú Chulainn's life and asks that he and Bella be taken to see Agnès so that the cycle of death and hatred does not continue. With Bella agreeing to the terms of the surrender, Cú Chulainn is taken into custody after being asked to remove his numerous weapons.


Cú Chulainn – The Legendary “Incredible Hulk” of Irish Mythology

Cú Chulainn is known for transforming into a powerful creature when angry and is long associated with the color green. However he isn’t the Incredible Hulk.

This formidable hero – pronounced “Koo hoo lin” – is a defining figure from Irish mythology, though he’s sometimes compared to Bruce Banner and his struggles with gamma radiation. Cú Chulainn’s battles are recounted in Táin Bó Cúailnge, a first century legend which translates as “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”.

Referred to as “the oldest vernacular tale in western Europe” by the BBC, the hero’s shape-shifting adventures are immortalized in the text. The transformation is “hideous and shapeless, unheard of…His heart boomed loud in his breast like the baying of a watch-dog at its feed or the sound of a lion among bears. Malignant mists and spurts of fire flickered red in the vaporous clouds that rose boiling above his head”.

Like many superheroes, Cú Chulainn came with his own trademark weapon, the “Bellows Spear” (‘Gae Bolga’), a barbed weapon that snags in the body upon impact.

“Cuchulain in Battle”, illustration by J. C. Leyendecker in T. W. Rolleston’s Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911

“These sagas contain a wealth of material for the historian,” the BBC writes. “They show us a land where the men were herdsmen, tillers of the soil, hunters, bards, seers, but, above all, warriors.”

But where did it all begin for Cú Chulainn? His origin story is more Grimm’s Fairy Tale than Stan Lee. Originally called Sétanta, he was destined for great things from birth. Not dissimilar to the mighty Thor, his father was rumored to be Lugh the sky god. His mother was Dechtire – her surreal journey into motherhood involved passing out after she swallowed a fly and being approached by Lugh in a dream. Despite tying the knot elsewhere, she turned into a bird and flew away before fluttering back with young Cú Chulainn in tow.

“Cu Chulainn Carries Ferdiad Across the River”, illustration by Ernest Wallcousins from Charles Squire, Celtic Myths and Legends, 1905

The story gets darker when he was taken under the wing of his uncle, the legendary King Conor of Ulster. Through the King’s negligence, Sétanta turned into the fearsome Hound of Ulster. It happened when Conor was attending a banquet and wanted his nephew to go along. Sétanta arrived late, by which stage the King had forgotten he’d asked him.

The venue had activated its ancient security system, in the form of a huge guard dog. When Sétanta appeared the animal went to attack, but to everyone’s astonishment the lad overcame the hound and fatally subdued it.

“Setanta Slays the Hound of Culain”, illustration by Stephen Reid from Eleanor Hull, The Boys’ Cuchulain, 1904

Culain, the host of the banquet and a blacksmith, was devastated that his canine protector had died and worried his cattle were now vulnerable. Sétanta told the blacksmith he would carry on where the top dog left off, becoming Cú Chulainn – the hound of Culain – in the process.

The meat of The Cattle Raid of Cooley lies quite literally in a proud brown bull, Donn Cuailnge. This property of the Ulstermen chief was coveted by royal couple Maeve, the Queen of Connacht, and Ailill who owned their own bull but wanted control of Donn Cuailnge and the land. Maeve tried to take her prize in the raid of the title, only to encounter Cúchulainn, by then 17 years old.

Cuchulainn as a boy, drawing by Stephen Reid (1912)

When the monstrous warrior proved too hot for her forces to handle, Maeve summoned Fer Díad, Cú Chulainn’s foster brother. A great note of tragedy was struck after Cú Chulainn did away with Fer Díad, and the hero’s fate was soon to follow. Cú Chulainn suffered a gory end at the hands of a vengeful clan.

Calatan the sorcerer had met his end at the hands of Ireland’s champion. His sons and daughters were determined to see young Cú Chulainn fall. They succeeded after he was speared and his head was removed, though not before the hero rallied after salvaging his own intestines!

“Cu Chulain’s death”, illustration by Stephen Reid in Eleanor Hull’s The Boys’ Cuchulain, 1904

Yet while he was dead, his legacy endured. Embedded in Irish history, the image of Cú Chulainn and the freedom he represented has been used by various groups for both political and artistic purposes. Nationalists, Unionists and Loyalists have all depicted the half-man, half-dog. But the popular conception of Cú Chulainn can partly be put down to an American President – Theodore Roosevelt.

As described by the Irish Times in 2015, he has “Long hair flowing from under his helmet, spear and shield in hand” and is “the epitome of the valiant Celt.” Roosevelt, together with artist JC Leyendecker, presented Cú Chulainn’s tale afresh in a 1907 article for Century magazine. The effect was powerful, coming after a renewed interest in Celtic history during Victorian times.

Statue of Cuchulainn by Oliver Sheppard in the window of the GPO, Dublin – commemorating the 1916 rising. Photo by Kman999 CC by 3.0

Roosevelt’s contribution led to a popularizing of the legend and a generalized approach to Irish and Celtic culture. “Above all else, the diverse manifestations of the Cú Chulainn myth underline not so much its enduring appeal as its cultural malleability,” the Times argues. “In Ireland it underlined a rising nationalism and cultural differentiation… These stirring tales of heroes sacrificing themselves against the odds struck a chord with the wider mood… Cu Chulainn is a mantle of resilience against invaders, depending on who you class as invaders.”

In 1935 a sculpture of Cú Chulainn was unveiled, created by Oliver Sheppard and located at the General Post Office in Dublin. It is the official memorial to 1916’s Easter Rising. More recent interpretations include folk rock albums by the band Horslip and even a Marvel Comics character who battled the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Maybe Cú Chulainn isn’t too far removed from the Incredible Hulk after all…


Cu Chullainn's "warp spasms"

Stories of Cú Chulainn date back to the first century. Said to be the son of Lug, an Irish god associated with warfare, kings, and craftsmen, and a mortal princess, Cú Chulainn was born under the name Setanta. At the age of six, he gained the name Cú Chulainn, meaning "Culann's hound," after he killed a guard dog in self-defense by driving a hurling stone down its throat. (Hurling was an ancient Gaelic game that resembles lacrosse, which is still practiced in Ireland today). Culann, the smith who owned the hound, was dismayed at its loss. Setanta offered to serve as Culann's guard until a replacement guard dog could be found, gaining the name Cú Chulainn in doing so.

Where Cú Chulainn begins to resemble the Hulk, however, comes from his ríastrad, commonly translated as a "warp spasm." Here's an excerpt from Thomas Kinsella's translation of the Táin Bó Cúailnge describing Cú Chulainn's warp spasms:

The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins and knees switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front. The balled sinews of his calves switched to the front of his shins, each big knot the size of a warrior's bunched fist. On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child. His face and features became a red bowl he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane could not probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared his lungs and liver flapped in his mouth and throat his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram's fleece reached his mouth from his throat. His heart boomed loud in his breast like the baying of a watch-dog at its feed or the sound of a lion among bears. Malignant mists and spurts of fire flickered red in the vaporous clouds that rose boiling above his head, so fierce was his fury.

When Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk, he grows larger, turns green, and miraculously preserves the integrity of his purple jorts so, not entirely similar to the eyeball-popping transformation of Cú Chulainn. The incredible strength Cú Chulainn gains from this transformation and his inability to distinguish between friend and foe, however, remain significant parallels.

At the age of 5, Cú Chulainn experienced the first of these warp spasms when he traveled to join a troop of boys playing hurley. He walked onto the playing field, unaware of a local custom to ask for protection first. The 150 other boys saw Cú Chulainn entering the playing field as an affront and sought to kill him, but Cú Chulainn transformed and fought all 150 off until Conchobar, the king of Ulster, puts a stop to the fight.

Cú Chulainn's other significant warp spasm occurred when he defended Donn Cúailnge, a particularly fertile bull and the central figure of the Táin Bó Cúailnge (or, The Cattle Raid of Cooley), from an invading army. After defending against the army, Cú Chulainn is seriously wounded, but a figure, "one of my friends of fairy kin," approaches Cú Chulainn and tells him to sleep:

Then it was that the warrior from Faery laid plants from the fairy-rath and healing herbs and put a healing charm into the cuts and stabs, into the sores and gaping wounds of Cuchulain, so that Cuchulain recovered during his sleep without ever perceiving it.

Cú Chulainn sleeps for three days and three nights, and when he awakes, he finds that a troop of boys from Emain Macha, his home, has been slaughtered. This sends him into a fit of rage he transforms, killing or wounding all nearby:

Ten and six-score kings, leaders and men of the land, Cuchulain laid low in the great slaughter on the Plain of Murthemne, besides a countless horde of dogs and horses and women and boys and children and common folk for there escaped not a third man of the men of Erin without a lump or without having half his skull or an eye hurt, or without an enduring mark for the course of his life.

What Cu Chullainn represents today

Cú Chulainn has an important role in Irish mythology, one that parallels Achilles's in Greek mythology. As such, he's often used as a symbol by Ireland's different cultural groups. The symbol of Cú Chulainn has been adopted by unionists from Ulster, or Northern Ireland (where Cú Chulainn was born), who consider him to be a hero defending Ulster from southern enemies, while nationalists also claim Cú Chulainn as a national symbol that represents all of Ireland and its history. It's unclear whether the character of Cú Chulainn ever had its basis in a real historical figure, but it can be safely said that the real Cú Chulainn, if he existed, likely did not transform into a gruesome figure with one dangling eyeball and sharp, spiky hair.


Watch the video: The Tale Of Cú Chulainn by Miracle Of Sound IRISHCELTIC FOLK METAL