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Cuchulain [Cuhoolin] - Hound of the Culann & the Red Branch of Ulster

Cuchulain [Cuhoolin] ©Shers Gallagher 2012
- Hound of the Culann and the Red Branch of Ulster

Cuchulain is best described as the Hercules of Irish folk legend because he was the biggest and strongest of his people. He was given the name Sétanta at birth, his mother sister to Conor MacNessa, Ulster chieftain and High King of Ireland. His suspected father was not the mortal married to his mother, but the ancient Celtic god Lugh the Long-Armed, who seduced Sétana’s mother by deceit and trickery. 

‘Hound of Culann’ is what ‘Cuchulain’ actually means, and the boy's name came from killing a ferocious watchdog – an Irish Wolfhound - with his bare hands. 

But how did this happen?

Culann, a well-known blacksmith of the region, had invited the king of Ulster to his house to partake in a banquet, which you could liken to a modern BBQ...but of yore. On the way there, King MacNessa saw his young nephew Sétanta playing hurling, an Irish game of two teams with 15 players each and quite similar to hockey. The king was impressed by how Sétanta used the stick like a third arm to hit the ball to make his goal and invited him to join him at the feast. Like most young lads, Sétanta was absorbed in the game and told HRS [his royal self]: "Later, I'll catch up with ye later when it's game over."

The dinner party progressed with a lot of ale drinking and merrymaking--good craic but the 'same old same old' crowd. Smithy Culann, himself, was growing bored with the louts and yawned, asking the king: "Will there be anyone else dropping by, or can we soon call it a night?" 

Too much ale had fogged old HRS's bean, and he hiccupped and drooled, completely forgetting about his poor nephew who was still hurling with the lads. Culann took that as a 'no'. Then he quickly unleashed his watchdog while hoping with his migraine setting in that the juice of the barley would run out soon.

When Sétanta did finally make his appearance, the fiercely loyal wolfhound came upon him, baring his incisors. The poor lad had no choice but to protect himself by knocking the ball with his hurling stick down the unfortunate dog's throat. Sétanta knew that he had killed his host's prized hound and yet was no insensitive lad. With his quick mind he thought of an even quicker solution: he would take the dead dog's place--aye, that he would--until a replacement could be reared. And because of doing such a doggedy-dog deed, Sétanta was renamed Cú Chulainn - "Culann's hound". He was also thrown the occasional dog biscuit or two. And, later, he received the most honoured title of all--the Hound of all Ulster--woof!

Cuchulainn was admittedly daft but also quite the handsome lad, which many of the minor kings were not. They feared that if the hound didn’t marry soon he'd come sniffing at their doors and do more doggedy-dog deeds, this time with their own wives! So they were after seeking the matchmaker of Lisdoonvarna and, instead, stumbled upon Emer, the daughter of Forgall. Even though Emer's mother also had a strange name, she (the daughter) was a looker too. Cuculainn fell in love instantly--puppy love. Emer’s father, however, forbade marriage until Cuchulainn completed his warrior training. 

But Cuculainn wasn't taught by a fierce male barbarian, no. He was taught to fight like a girl. And this girl was a warrior from the Scottish Isle of Skye. Her name was strange as well, even stranger than his and Emer's mother's. She was called Scáthach [Skáha], and she watched a lot of Jackie Chan films because she was trained in the martial arts. 

Cuchulainn--hound dog that he was---ended up having an affair with Skáha's daughter. You would think this would have been cause for a shotgun wedding, but not for these Irish of yore. No, Cuchulainn was given a present for his love interest in the form of a lightning spear called Gáe Bulg--the strangest name of all and made from the bone of a sea monster. It is said that Gáe Bulg was blood thirsty and sang a chilling tune, singing for the blood of its enemies. It had sharp, screw-like daggers too; and, when embedded in a man, it would tear his guts out. Cuchulainn, himself, went into a warrior’s frenzy when he used it, much like the Norse berserkers.... Hmm, at this point we may be thinking: don't look a gift Gáe Bulg in the mouth. Or at least don't name that tune!

There are many battle stories about Cuchulainn but my favourite has to do with Queen Maeve, the queen of Connacht in Western Ireland, specifically north of Kerry and Clare (if you know Ireland's territory this will be important to you. Otherwise, fogettaboutit!). One evening, Maeve’s husband, King Ailil, was three sheets to the wind. And, after a brandy and a smoke, he began bragging as a sort of bed sport that Maeve wasn’t as rich as he was. Evidently, she had one less bull in her private stock. (Yes, people bragged about such important things in yore :)). 

Well, Maeve was no shrinking violet either. In fact, she went all 'purpley' with rage. In those days, the richer had power over others. Geez, not like today! And Purpley Maeve did NOT like it that her man could be so rich. She shook her own booty throughout the kingdom, gathering her army hither and yon before high-tailing it over to HRS's digs where she stole his prize Brown Bull of Cooley (the incident now known as the Raid of Cooley). 

Cuchulainn, himself, was no sleeping dog but defended the honour of Ulster by single-handedly battling and defeating Maeve and her booty bound army. Not even the Queen’s champions could go against Cuchulainn when his warrior's frenzy came upon him. And Gáe Bulg did more damage than any Killer Tomato singing 'Puberty Love' (but that's another story). The dying warriors, loyal to their queen, were still able to distract him long enough to steal the Brown Bull...and fifty heifers. 

When the Brown Bull of Cooley arrived in Connacht he immediately challenged the white bull of King Ailill. And, in terrible battle, the Brown ripped the White to pieces, tossing his loins as far as Athlone and his liver to Antrim. But then the Brown Bull went berserk. And in a rage not at all unlike Cuchulainn's frenzies, he went on a killing spree without stopping until his own heart burst from too high a blood-lust. And so he died, ending the saga of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. As for Maeve, she too had got a taste for, not bed sport, but for the nagging of her man six ways to Domhnach (which is 'Sunday' in Irish). And to this day, if you're alone meditating atop the mountains of Connacht you may still hear her nagging like a sharp wind. But you don't need to give a toss, especially if you're just a visiting tourist. That's only silly Maeve, ye old Irish Queen--bossing around her people still--as is her frenzied right.  


  1. Well, thanks so much for that! I'd heard the names but did not know the stories, and you told them in such a fun colloquial way.

    This is Manicddaily by the way, but I fear that your blog is making me comment using an old blogspot account of mine that I do not use. Anyway, take care. k.

    1. Trying again! That was me, Manicddaily! Thanks! k.

  2. ThX a mil, Outlawyer - enjoyed so much your clever take on this prompt as well.

  3. oy all the more reason to not be meditating there...smiles...this is a fascinating tale....i take it this is based on actual legend...seriously one of my favs of the week...really enjoyed...

  4. They (the rich) were and, still are all so outrageous when it comes to power and influence, no matter what country it is. Loved all the details in this. Fascinating :)

  5. You know, Shers, how in the blogosphere, we frequently cut and paste snippets of one another's posts to highlight in comments our favorite portions of said post? Well.......I would have to re-post the post, which would be just daft. Absolutely fitting, but daft.

  6. Whew! I have read parts and pieces of these before- Really WILD and unpredictable! thank you for the brief telling I do like being amazed!

  7. I enjoyed your account but don't ask me to repeat it from memory this time of night!

  8. 'Tis the Oirish blarney, shure enough. Great stuff. Great Magpie.

  9. A great story! I was all 'purpley' with rage this morning after a van drove through a puddle and soaked me!

  10. @Brian: Hahaha - you're too funny. But wasn't your take incredibly good this week!
    @Daydreamer: I couldn't have said it better myself. So far it's become a 'gobbledyglobal' start to the New Millennium.
    @Lydia: You've touched me beyond words. Thank you, thank you, thank you, darlin'.
    @Izzy: Oh, I DO SO LOVE to amaze!
    @Rinkly: LOLOL - what a true delight you are, yourself.
    @Dr FTSE: 'Tis, 'tis. ;~P
    @Helena: Oh my! Poor you - ROFL

    N.B. Loved reading all your blogs too. Tess gave us a good prompt this time, don't you think? YAY, Tess! And I got around to all those listed above my name--PHEW--commenting on most of them as well. The rest of you please forgive. But I really enjoyed all the wonderful writings coming out of our talented group this week.
    Cheers all - and all see 'youse' :) after summer holiday! TA

  11. Fascinating stuff...nice post Catfish!

  12. fascinating indedd Catfish...thanks for sharimng all your words

  13. Ah theyre all in this one Shers, my granny was an irish woman who came to Australia in the potato famine, so it stirs something in me. Ned Kelly the great australian statesman and instigator of " the fair go " was irish too.

  14. It's the way you tell 'em! I had several giggles through all of this and now I'm a little wiser about the Irish of yore. Thanks for sharing :)

  15. Very interesting post...I like the tales specially of Queen Maeve ~ Hope you will continue sharing more stories ~ Thanks

  16. I have a little Penguin 60s Classics book downstairs entitled TALES OF CU CHULAIND - Irish Heroic Myths. So this tale is familiar to me. I like this part , by Fand, wife of Manandan:

    Farewell to you, dear Cu!
    I leave you with head held high.
    I wish that I were not going -
    Every rule is good, until broken.

    And how the druids gave him a drink of forgetfulness so that he could forget her. The world over, what would we do without this potion of forgetfulness?


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