The Ulaid Cycle was also called the Ulster Cycle or Ultonian Cycle or even the Red Branch Cycle. The Ulaid cycle contained collection of stories concerning Ulster and the military order known as the House of the Red Branch. The cycle centered on the greatest hero in Celtic myths, Cú Chulainn (Cu Chulainn or Cuchulainn).

The main part of the Ulaid Cycle was set during the reigns of Conchobar in Ulaid (Ulster) and Queen Medb in Connacht (Connaught). They ruled two powerful neighbouring kingdoms (provinces). Ulaid Cycle was supposed to be contemporary to Christ (1st century BC) since Conchobar's death coincided with the day Jesus was crucified.

The Ulaid Cycle also includes the story of Conaire Mór, high king of Ireland, because he was contemporary to Conchobar and Medb (Maeve), but the scene took place in Tara. Also, the heroes Conall Cernach and Cormac, son of Conchobar, appeared as supporters and champions of the Conaire Mor.

  Early History of Ulaid
  Conaire Mór
  Cú Chulainn


Genealogy:
      Ulster Cycle (Ulster and Connacht)








  Emain Macha
  Birth of Conchobar
  Conchobar and Medb
  Curse of Macha


Emain Macha
 

Emain Macha was Conchobar's capital - the seat of power in Ulaid (Ulster). The city, or should I say dun (hill-fortress), was situated near modern Armagh. The name Emain Macha was named after the red war-goddess Macha; Emain Macha means the "Brooch of Macha".

Macha was a daughter of Áed Ruad, a prince of Ulaid (Ulster). Áed Ruad was either a brother or cousin to Dithorba and Cimbáeth (Kimbay), whom Áed Ruad shared the kingship of Ulaid. They shared the throne, where each brother ruled for a period of seven years, before relquishing the throne to one of his brother.

However, when Áed Ruad had drowned before he finished his term of office. Macha should have ruled her father's incompleted term, but her two uncles opposed the young queen.

Macha refused to let her uncles ruled without her, and was determined to rule in her father's place. Macha led an army and fought in a war, where she killed Dithorba in battle. Macha then compelled her other uncle, Cimbáeth, to marry her, so she became queen, and they ruled together.

Dithorba's five sons had fled to Connacht, where they plotted to overthrown Macha. Macha however captured the brothers. Macha founded the city of Emain Macha, marking the boundary of her hill-fortress with her brooch. Macha forced Dithorba's sons into building Emain Macha as slaves.

Not long after being made king of Ulster, Cimbáeth received the high kingship of Ireland, where he ruled in Tara with Macha for 27 years. When Cimbáeth died, Macha refused to requislish power, so she continued to rule another seven years as "high queen", until Rechtad Riderg of Mumu (Munster) murdered her.


The name Macha appeared several other times before she appeared as daughter of Áed Ruad. The name first appeared as wife of Nemed, leader of the Nemedians. Macha appeared again, as the wife of Nuada, king of Ireland and leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Macha and Nuada died in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired.

The Danann Macha was identified as the Irish goddess of fertility, war and of horses. Macha was one of the aspects of Morrígan (Morrigan). As goddess of horses, Macha was the Irish equivalent of the Gallic horse-goddess Epona and the Welsh goddess Rhiannon. She was portrayed as red goddess, either because she was dressed in red or that she had red hair.

She reappeared in the Ulaid Cycle as wife of Crunnchu and was associated with the curse placed upon the men of Ulster (see Curse of Macha, in the article below).

 
Related Information
Name
Emain Macha - "Brooch of Macha".

Related Articles
Macha Morrígan, Epona, Rhiannon.

Áed Ruad, Cimbáeth.

Curse of Macha.

Genealogy: Early House of Ulster (Macha the Red Queen).



Birth of Conchobar
 

There are only two things we are certain about the birth of Conchobar. Firstly, Conchobar's mother was Ness (Nes or Nessa). The other thing is that it was his mother who manipulate event so that he would become king of Ulster. There is confusion over the identity of his father.

Ness was the daughter of Eochaid Sálbuide (Eochaid of the Yellow Heel). She had married Fachtna Fáthach, the half-brother of Fergus Mac Róich. It is possible that Fachtna was Conchobar's father, according to one version, but there is a more popular version, which say that his real father was Cathbad.

Cathbad was the ard-druid (high druid) of Ulster, who later became Conchobar's adviser.

Ness was sitting outside of Emain Macha when she saw the druid travelling from Tratraige of Mag Inis. She asked Cathbad what this hour was lucky for, and the druid replied that it was a good hour to beget a king from a queen. Ness seeing that her husband was to far away to reach, and that there was no other male nearby, the Queen had the druid to make love to her. So Cathbad was actually the father of Conchobar.

Some years later, after the birth of Conchobar, Fachtna Fáthach, Ness' husband, died. Clearly, Fergus Mac Róich would have rule in Ulster, in succession to his half-brother. But Fergus wanted to marry his brother's widow.

Ness seeing this as a great opportunity for her son, refused. She would only agree to a marriage if he would let her son be king for one year and a day. She wanted her son to be king even if it was only for a short time. This, Fergus foolishly agreed to. Fergus became Conchobar's foster-father.

During Conchobar's one-year reign Ness secretly spend her time to gather support for her son. She used the money from taxes to give away to many important people, particularly the warriors of Ulster. Also Conchobar had ruled with wisdom and justice that he became very popular with the warriors and the people.

When a year and a day had passed, Fergus returned, expecting to become king again. What he didn't expect was that the people didn't want Fergus back. The people clamoured that since Fergus gave away the kingdom so freely, let's Conchobar keep the throne.

Some say that Fergus accepted this decision, serving as the captain of the Red Branch. While other versions say that Conchobar had actually driven Fergus out of Emain Macha. Fergus fled to Tara, where he tried unsuccessfully rebellion against the young king. In the end, Conchobar and Fergus made peace and were reconcilled.

 
Related Information
Related Articles
Conchobar, Medb (Maeve), Ailill, Fergus Mac Roich, Cú Chulainn.

Genealogy: House of the Red Branch.



Conchobar and Medb
 

Conchobar was a very popular and powerful king in Ulster, but was not very popular to the kings of other provinces and the high kings of Ireland.

At home, Conchobar enjoyed a privleges that other kings failed to achieve with their own subjects.

Conchobar had enormaus sexual appetites for women. It became a custom that the newly wedded wife would spend her first night in bed with the king, instead of with her husband. It was the custom that the king would take the bride's virginity. And when Conchobar stayed anywhere outside of his palace, the host would immediately send his wife to Conchobar's bed to keep him company.

Not every Ulstermen would think that this custom as a high honour that the king could sleep with his wife. A major crisis arose when the hero Cú Chulainn brought home his new bride Emer. When Bricriu Mac Carbad reminded everyone of this custom, Cu Chulainn flew into a murderous rage, and went wild. Everyone knew that Cu Chulainn would kill anyone who sleep with his wife. To disfuse the situation, the King's druid, Cathbad. Conchobar sent his nephew gathered all the herds around Emain Macha until Cu Chulainn's anger was gone. It was arranged that Emer would spend the night with Conchobar, but Fergus and Cathbad would be present to protect Cu Chulainn's honour.

Conchobar had many wives, among them were the four daughters of Eochaid Feidlech. Each woman was his wife at different time of Conchobar's reign.

According to the Tochmarc Etaine (Wooing of Étaín), Eochaid Feidlech was the brothers of Ailill Anglonnach and the high king Eochaid Airem, who was the husband of Étaín. Eochaid Feidlech's wife and consort was probably Cruacha. Eochaid was the father of Medb, Eithne, Mugain and Clothra. He was also the father of three sons, known as the Finn Emna (Three Finns of Emain Macha).

Before I write more about Medb, I would like to point out a few things. Mugain appeared most frequently as Conchobar's wife. Mugain was definitely married to the Ulster king, when Cu Chulainn was young. She was always one to lead the women to strip naked in front of Cu Chulainn, when he was in his berserker rage. The only way to stop Cu Chulainn was that a group of women's nakedness, because it embarrassed the young warrior. Then there is Clothra. Clothra was the mother of Luguaid Ria nDerg, through incest with her three brothers (Finn Emna). Clothra would later commit incest with own son, and became mother of Crimthann Nia Náir. She was pregnant at the time with Conchobar's child, when her own sister, Medb, murdered her. The baby boy was saved and was named Furbaide Ferbend. It was Furbaide who avenged his mother's death, by killing Medb.

Medb was better known as the wife of Ailill Mac Mata and the Queen of Connacht. Though, Medb was most likely the first of the sisters to marry Conchobar, she was unwilling to be Conchobar's consort. It was also Medb's first marriage. Medb was ambitous and she wanted to be queen as Conchobar's equal. There seemed to be no children between Conchobar and Medb. The marriage didn't last long, and Medb left her husband, going to the neighbouring kingdom, Connacht. Medb became Conchobar's enemy.

Like Conchobar, Medb have immense sexual appetites, needing 32 men to satisfy her. Even when she was married to a king, she would take lovers to her bed. After her marriage with Conchobar, she married three successive men who became kings of Connacht. Tinde, son of Connea Cas, was the first to marry her, but he was killed by Conchobar. Then she married Eochaid Dála, but she was alway remembered as the wife of Ailill Mac Mata.

Sometimes Medb ruled as Ailill's equal, but at other time, she was dominant partner. She continued her sexual conquests while married to Ailill, but her long-time lover was Fergus Mac Roich, when he went into exile to Connacht. She had two sons by Fergus, named Ciar and Conmac. By her husband Ailill, Medb had three daughters, Finnabair, Cainder and Faife. She was also the mother of seven sons; all of them were named Maine.

Despite the divorce, Medb was very beautiful. When she was bathing in the Boyne, Conchobar still lusted after her, so he raped her. It was said that her beauty could weaken a man, just by her presence. Her name means "intoxication".

 
Related Information
Related Articles
Conchobar, Medb (Maeve), Ailill, Fergus Mac Roich, Cormac, Cú Chulainn, Emer.

Genealogy:
   House of the Red Branch.
   House of Connacht.



Curse of Macha
 

Crunniuc (Crunnchu) was a wealthy farmer in Ulaid (Ulster). Crunniuc was a widower, when Macha suddenly appeared one day, taking care of his house, while he worked in the field. At the end of the day they shared a meal and later they shared the bed. They were soon married.

When Macha was pregnant, Crunniuc wanted to go to a festival held by the Ultonian king. Macha placed a geis on her husband: she would continue to live with him, if he never reveal her name to those present at the festival. Crunniuc broke his promise to her, when he became the drunk. Crunniuc bragged that his wife could outrun the swiftest horse. Conchobar immediately had Crunniuc arrested and chained.

The king and nobles had Macha brought before the festival, demanding that she race against their horses. Macha's pleaded that she was in no condition to race while she was pregnant. Her pleas fell upon deaf ears. The king threatened to kill her husband. It is only then that she revealed her name, as Macha daughter of Sainrith Mac Imbaith. So Macha raced against the horses. Macha easily outran the horses and had almost reached the finish line, when she fell, because she was suddenly in labour.

Suddenly, all the Ultonian male spectators were seized in great pains. Pains like those of a pregnant woman in labour pang. Macha gave birth to twins. The place of the race were named after her as Emain Macha, which in this version, means "The Twins of Macha".

She cursed the Ultonian men, that they would experienced the pang for generations, leaving the men of Ulster helpless and debilitated for five days and five nights. This pang would come upon Ulster, during their hours of their greatest needs.

It's difficult to say, whether this Macha was the same as the warrior-queen, who married Cimbáeth, because both claimed to be named the hill-fort Emain Macha after her.

 
Related Information
Sources
Ces Noinden Ulad – "The Nine Days' Pangs (or Debility) of the Ulstermen".

Related Articles
Macha, Cimbáeth.

Emain Macha.

Genealogy: Early House of Ulster (Twins of Macha).


Curse of Macha
Stephen Reid
Illustration, 1910







  Wooing of Etain
  Rise of Conaire Mór
  Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel


Wooing of Etain
 

Conaire Mór (Conaire Mor) was a descendant of Etain, the most beautiful woman in the world. Etain was a Danann and the second wife of Midir, son of Dagda. Midir's first wife Fuamnach, became jealous of Etain's beauty and grace, turned Etain into a butterfly, and drove her away from the magic palace with gusty wind. The wind blew the butterfly to many parts of Ireland, until she arrived in Ulster. Here, the butterfly fell in the cup of Etar's wife. Etar's wife drank her cup and unknowingly swallowed the butterfly, where she later became pregnant with Etain. When Etain was born, she became mortal, without any memory of her former life as a Danann.


Eochaid Airem the high king of Ireland, seeking a wife, fell in love with the young Etain. They married and lived in Tara. Eochaid's brother, Ailill, also fell in love with Etain. Ailill became ill as the result of his longing for his sister-in-law. She agreed to secretly sleep with Ailill for one night, outside of Tara. Before Ailill could arrive at the appointed time, he fell into a magical slumber, causing the young man to forget his longing. The person in Ailill's guise who met Etain at the appointed place was Midir, her former husband. Disguised as Ailill, he told Etain, he was no longer in love with her, before leaving.

All was well with the marriage, until Midir arrived, searching for Etain. Midir told Etain that she was originally a Danann woman and his wife. She agreed to go with Midir on the condition that her husband agreed to let her go. Midir appeared to Eochaid, and challenged the king to game of chess. Every time they played they made some wagers. Eochaid always won every game they had played. Each time, Midir would pay for his losses, by clearing the forest, building bridges, and so for.

Finally Midir won the last wager against Eochaid. He asked for a single kiss from Etain. Eochaid agreed to this if Midir would return to the palace one month from now. Before the appointed time came, Eochaid had the palace surrounded by his warriors, to prevent Midir coming anywhere near his wife. Midir, however, appeared before them during a feast held by Eochaid. Placing his arm around Etain, they were transformed into swans and flew away.

In vain, Eochaid tried to find Etain. He declared war upon the Dananns. For nine years, Eochaid tried to dig the mound where Midir's palace was hidden, but the Danann easily repaired the damage to the mound. Finally, Midir agreed to return Etain to Eochaid, if Eochaid could pick out Etain, from other fifty maidens who looked like his wife. Eochaid managed to pick out the real Etain, when she secretly sent a small signal to him.

Etain and Eochaid returned to Tara, and bore Eochaid a daughter who was also named Etain (Etain Oig).

 
Related Information
Sources
Tochmarc Étaín (Wooing of Etain).

Related Articles
Midir, Eochaid Airem.

Genealogy: From Etain To Conaire Mor.



Rise of Conaire Mór
 

The younger Etain (Etain Oig) married Cormac, king of Ulster. Cormac was disappointed of not fathering a son, decided to abandoned his wife for another, and had his infant daughter, to exposed in a pit by two of his thralls. However, the girl was so loving and playful, that the thralls could not let the girl die in the pit. They gave the girl to a cowherd of king Eterscel, who brought up the girl as their foster-child and named her Mes Buachalla.

She was brought up until Eterscel, who was the high king of Ireland, discovered her. He fell in love with her great beauty. Though Mes Buachalla was to become Eterscel's wife, she was, however, seduced by a Danann named Nemglan. The Danann arrived in the form of bird and seduced Mes Buachalla. She was to give birth to Conaire Mór (Conaire Mor), the future high king of Ireland. The Danann placed a geis upon his son, that he was forbidden to kill birds.

Conaire Mor was brought up by his foster-father Donn Désa, who had three grandsons named Ferlee, Fergar and Ferrogan. Conaire's foster-brothers also became his companions.

When Eterscel died, Conaire Mór was a young man. In Tara, a druid said that the next High King of Ireland would come to Tara, naked and holding a sling. Conaire Mór, who was unaware of the king's death, was driving his chariot along the road, when he came upon some beautiful birds heading towards Tara. Conaire Mór forgot his geis and pursued the birds with his sling ready. The birds transformed themselves into warriors and attack the young man. One bird-warrior rescued him. This bird also transformed himself to human form, told Conaire that he was his real father and that he must walk to Tara, without his clothes and carrying his sling.

When Conaire Mór arrived in Tara, the omen was fulfilled. Conaire Mór was crowned as the new Ard-Ri (" High King of Ireland").

Conaire Mór introduced new laws to Ireland. As king he would settle disputes between clans or between men. He banned cattle raids and clan wars. Violence was not tolerated. His reign was marked by a period of peace, and all of Ireland prospered: the duns were flourishing, the weathers were kind, allowing bountiful harvest.

 
Related Information
Sources
Togail Bruidne Da Derga (Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel).

Related Articles
Conaire Mór, Eterscel.

Genealogy: From Etain To Conaire Mor.



Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel
 

Though, Conaire Mór's reign was at first, peaceful and prosperity, some people reverted back to the old way.

Conaire Mor's foster-brothers were among the culprits. Since they were his childhood companions, the king could not bring himself to punish them with death or imprisonment, when they were caught. Instead, Conaire banished them from Ireland. Some people, particularly the provincial kings became dissatisfied with his judgement. Even the Dananns frowned upon his judgement.

Conaire was also burdened with further geis when he became king.

  • He must not allowed to circle clockwise around Tara and anti-clockwise around Bergia.
  • He must avoid hunting monster of Cerna.
  • He must not leave Tara every ninth night.
  • He must avoid sleeping in a house that show firelight after sunset.
  • He must not interfere with a quarrel between his two thralls.
  • He must prevent raid and looting during his reign.
  • He must not follow three Reds to the House of Red.
  • After sunset, he must not allow a man and a woman enter the house he was staying.

By failing to prevent violence and looting and his reluctant to punish his foster-brother for their crime, Conaire Mór had broken one of his geis. By infringing one geis, he set off a chain reaction, which would cause the king to break his other geis, which would eventually lead him to his doom.

His foster-brothers joined one of the pirates, named Ingcel the One-Eyed. They raided the coastal area of Britain and other islands. After a few years of raiding and looting, Ingcel decided to attack Ireland.

On that fateful day, when Ingcel and the foster-brothers landed near Tara, Conaire Mór was lured into breaking each of his geis. The Dananns seemed determined that Conaire Mór would die that night. One by one, Conaire seemed forced to break the geis.

After sunset, Conaire and his followers encountered three red riders, who were riding ahead of them, toward a house, that belonged to an innkeeper named Da Derga, which means "Red", in Gaelic. No matter how fast he tried to pace his horses, he remained behind the three red riders.

Conaire Mór finally arrived at Da Derga's hostel. The king realised he just about broken all his geis. When a man and an old woman (Morrígan) they wanted to enter the hostel. At first Conaire was determined to not break last of his geis. When Morrígan rebuked him for his lack of hospitality. Conaire was resigned to his fate, and allowed the pair to enter the hostel.

Ingcel and his bandits arrived at the hostel, and they were determined to attack the hostel. He went and spied on those inside the hostel. When Ingcel returned, Conaire's foster-brothers realised that their king was there. The story went into great details, with the foster-brother identified each of the champion in Conaire's retinue, including Conall of the Victories, Conchobar's son Cormac, and Mac Cécht (Mac Cecht), the son of Snade Teched.

Ingcel ordered his men to attack the hostel. They were repulsed with heavy causalities from Conaire and his followers. Ingcel ordered to burn the hostel to the ground. The warriors inside, put out the fire with all water and wine that can be found in the hostel. After hours of fighting, only less than handful of warriors were left inside the hostel.

Conaire Mór, dying with thirst, ordered Mac Cécht to procure him with drink. Mac Cécht was reluctant to leave his king, but managed to break free from Ingcel's bandits. Outside, Mac Cécht went in search for water, but the Dananns hid all the water sources from the hero, with magic. Lakes and rivers seemed to dry up when Mac Cécht appeared. After hours of searching, Mac Cecht managed to fill the cup with water, and began his trek back to the hostel.

By the time Mac Cécht returned, the other champions were either dead or had fled. Mac Cécht saw two men severed his king's head. Mac Cécht attacked the two men beheading his enemies with his sword. Taking up Conaire's head, Mac Cécht poured water into mouth. Conaire Mór spoke, praising Mac Cécht for his duties to his king, of fetching water for the king!

 
Related Information
Sources
Togail Bruidne Da Derga (Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel).

Related Articles
Conaire Mór, Conall of the Victories, Cormac, Mac Cécht.

Genealogy: From Etain To Conaire Mor.







  Birth of Cú Chulainn
  Hound of Culann
  Wooing of Emer
  Bricriu's Feast
  Deirdre and the Sons of Uisnech
  Death of Connla
  Cattle Raid of Cuailnge
  Sickness of Cú Chulainn
  Death of Cú Chulainn
  The End of the Cycle


Genealogy:
     House of the Red Branch (Ulaid)



Birth of Cú Chulainn
 

Cathbad was the Ari-Druid of Ulaid and an adviser for King Conchobar of Ulster. Cathbad had married Maga and was the father of three daughters. One of his daughters, named Deichtine, vanished with her 50 companions. For several years, Conchobar sent men to find Deichtine.

One day, Conchobar was hunting birds with his followers including Fergus Mac Roich, the king's uncle. When the weather changed and it started to snow, the king sends a couple of men to find shelter. They found a house, and stay overnight. Conchobar discovered that Deichtine was in the house. They were told that she and her companions were spirited away by Lugh Lamfada. Before the king and his followers left the house, they discovered a child belonging to Deichtine and Lugh.

Conchobar and Fergus decided to raise the child, and left them in the care of Findchaem (Finchoom), also a daughter of Cathbad and the mother of Conall Cernach. They named the infant, Sétanta (Setanta).

 
Related Information
Name
Sétanta, the name of Cú Chulainn at birth.

Related Articles
Cathbad, Conchobar, Fergus Mac Roich, Cú Chulainn, Conall Cernach, Lugh Lamfada.

Genealogy: House of the Red Branch.



Hound of Culann
 

One evening, Conchobar went with his warriors to visit and have dinner with a friend named Culann, a master-smith. The king invited Setanta (Cu Chulainn) to come along, but the boy wanted to play hurley (hockey?), and told Conchobar he would turn up later when he finish playing.

Culann was became quite rich and owned a huge mansion in Quelgny. Every night he allowed his great hound loose in his property. The hound was so fearsome and deadly; Culann had no fear of anyone who wishes to rob him, with the hound guarding his manor.

After a few hours of feasting, the king and his retinue had forgotten about Setanta, until they heard Culann's hound baying at the stranger. Then the host and guests heard a fighting. The men in the mansion rushed out to find Setanta standing over the dead hound. The hound was killed by hurley-stick that the boy held in his hands.

Conchobar and the other guests cheered the boy for his bravery, but Culann was distressed that he lost his best hound. Setanta promised the smith, that he would guard his property himself with a spear and shield for a year, while he trained the dead hound's pup in guarding to better guard dog. Again the king and his retinue cheered at Setanta.

That night, Setanta's name was forever remembered as Cú Chulainn, which means the "Hound of Culann".

 
Related Information
Name
Cú Chulainn – "Hound of Culann".

Cu Chulainn or Cuchulainn.

Sources
Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn is part of the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle of Raid of Cooley).

Related Articles
Cú Chulainn, Conchobar, Fergus Mac Roich.

Genealogy: House of the Red Branch.


Sétanata (Cú Chulainn) killed the hound of Culann
Stephen Reid
Illustration, 1912



Wooing of Emer
 

When Cú Chulainn (Cu Chulainn) became old enough to beginning his training, the youth fell in love with Emer, the daughter of the chietain Fogall Monach. Cú Chulainn set about to woo her. He drove his chariot to Dun Fogall. Cú Chulainn discovered that she would not marry any man without him having performed a heroic deed.


Cú Chulainn decide he would train under a woman warrior named Scáthach. Scathach live in Skatha (Skye), the "Land of the Shadow". Many heroes sought training from her, but few ever past her tests.

Cú Chulainn had to cross the mire "Plain of Ill-luck" and avoid the creatures of "Perilous Glen", before he arrived at the "Bridge of Leap". Here, Cú Chulainn met his friend Fer Díad MacDamann, the young but giant Firbolg warrior.

In the middle of the gorge, there was a moving platform that move up and down. A warrior had to leap onto this platform before he can leap again to the safety of the other side of the gorge. Either the warrior was thrown back where he started, or he would fall into water below that was infested with sea-monsters. Neither Fer Diad nor the other warriors with him made it to the other side of the gorge.

After resting for a while, Cú Chulainn decided to make the leap. Three times he leaped to the middle platform, each time he was thrown. The fourth tremendous leap, Cú Chulainn succeeded in passing the Bridge of Leap.

Having succeeded all the perilous tests, Scáthach agreed to teach Cú Chulainn her martial art. Before a year went by, Cú Chulainn learned new fighting skills and warfare. He had stayed with the woman warrior, until Scáthach decided to teach him her last skill, the gae bolg.

The way I understand it, the deadly spear was thrown by the toes of his foot. By piercing your enemy in the belly, the spear will fill almost every part of foe's body with barbs. Cú Chulainn mastered the skill of the gae bolg.

Before he was due to leave, war broke out between Scáthach and another woman warrior named Aífe. Even Scáthach was wary of facing Aife, who was more strongest and fearsome warrior in Britain.

Though Scáthach did not want Cú Chulainn to come into battle with her, he came anyway. Cú Chulainn challenged Aífe to mortal combat. Before the duel began, the young hero learned from Scáthach, that the things Aífe cherished the most was her chariot and horses.

In the fighting, Aífe was more than match for Cú Chulainn. Soon Aífe managed to disarm Cú Chulainn of all his weapons. Before Aífe could despatch the unarmed hero, Cú Chulainn exclaimed that her horses had fallen. Momentarily distracted Aífe, Cú Chulainn leaped upon her, disarming her and threatening to kill the woman warrior. Cú Chulainn agreed to spare her, if Aífe agreed not to attack his mentor again. Aífe agreed.

Cú Chulainn stayed longer, where he and Aífe became lovers. When she fell pregnant, Cú Chulainn gave her a ring that Aífe was to give to their son. Cú Chulainn told her to send their son to him when he was old enough to wear the ring. Cú Chulainn put a geis upon the unborn son. The geis he had placed on their son named Connla, was that he is to never reveal his name, to never refuse combat or challenge. Years later, this geis would have tragic consequence upon Connla.


Cú Chulainn returned to Ireland with his charioteer Laeg. Alone he challenged and fought against the sons of Nechtan. In a berserker rage, all of the sons of Nechtan were killed by the youth; he lopped off all their heads which he kept as trophies. Still suffering from the battle fury, he captured many animals alive, tying them to his chariot before returning to Emain Macha.

Conchobar realising that many people would died, because was still raging. The king ordered all the beautiful women to meet Cú Chulainn outside the gates, naked! When Cú Chulainn became embarrassed at seeing so many naked women, but this served to distract the young hero. While he was distracted, the warriors of Emain Macha seized him and throw him in a vat of cold water. The water boiled in the vat before exploding. Several times he was dunk down in cold water, until battle-rage left him, and he regained his composure.


Having performed a heroic deed, Cú Chulainn set about wooing Emer again. Her father learning of Cú Chulainn's interest in his daughter, Fogall Monach did not wanted the hero as his son-in-law. Fogall locked the dun gates, but Cú Chulainn leaped onto the high wall of the dun and attacked the warriors. Fogall fell to his death, when he tried to escape from the youth.

Cú Chulainn carried Emer off and returned to Emain Macha, where they were married.

 
Related Information
Sources
Tochmarc Emire (Wooing of Emer).

Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn is part of the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle of Raid of Cooley).

Related Articles
Cú Chulainn, Emer, Fer Díad MacDamann, Scáthach, Aífe, Conchobar.

Genealogy: House of the Red Branch.


Wooing of Emer
Stephen Reid
Illustration, 1910



Bricriu's Feast
 

In Ulster, a man named Bricriu, who enjoyed causing strifes among people, invited the great warriors of Ireland to a feast. Bricriu wanted to know who was the greatest hero in Ireland. Cu Chulainn, Conall Cernach and Laegaire Buadach were the most popular claimants. To decide which of these warriors was the greatest, a giant or demon, named Uath (Horror) appeared challenged them into a beheading game.

Each would be allowed to behead the demon, but face his axe the next day. Conall and Laegaire would not accept this challenge. Cú Chulainn accepted the challenge and beheaded the demon. The demon stood up and retrieved his head before leaving them.

The next day, the demon returned with his axe and demanded that Cú Chulainn fulfilled his obligation. Reluctantly, Cú Chulainn placed his head on the chopping block. Three times the demon swung his axe towards the hero's neck, each time the demon deliberately missed.

The demon then claimed to the people in the hall, that Cú Chulainn was the greatest champion in Ireland.


The beheading game would later reappear in the tale of the Arthurian legend. In this tale, Gawain was the hero. See Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for the story.

 
Related Information
Name
Bricriu of the Poisoned Tongue.

Sources
Fled Bricrenn (Feast of Bricriu).

Related Articles
Cú Chulainn, Conall Cernach, Laegaire Buadach.

Gawain, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.



Deirdre and the Sons of Uisnech
 

The tale of Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech is the most famous of Irish romance. This romance of a love triangle was to influence other tales, such as The Pursuit of Diarmait and Grainne of the Fenian Cycle and the legend of Tristan.

There are however, two main versions to this romance, which can be quite different.

I am more familiar with Longes mac nUislenn or "The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu", which can be found in the manuscript known as the Book of Leinster (1160) and in the Yellow Book of Lecan c. 1300. However, it was probably first composed in the 9th century. This version be found in several books that I have got, Early Irish Myths and Sagas (translated by Jeffrey Gantz), The Tain (translated by Thomas Kinsella), and Ancient Irish Tales (translated by T. P. Cross and C. H. Slover). Here, the heroes Cu Chulainn and Conall Cernach are absence.

The other version, titled Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach or "The Violent Death of the Children of Uisneach", is actually a part of Three Sorrows of Storytelling. A version of this can be found in the following translations: Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach: The Violent Death of the Children of Uisneach (translated by Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith), and Old Celtic Romances (translated by P. W. Joyce).

I will tell both version, but will begin with Longes mac nUislenn.



A chieftain named Fedlimid Mac Daill was soon to become father of Deirdre. The chieftain held a feast with Conchobar as his warriors as his guests. As the guests were about to retire, a despairing scream could be heard throughout the house of Fedlimid. It came from the womb of Fedlimid's wife.

When Conchobar asked for divination of the girl's future, his chief druid Cathbad told the king that she would become the fairest woman in Ireland but she would bring great sorrow to Ulster if she were to be woo by or marry to a king. Cathbad warned the king that his own son would die, another son of Conchobar would be exile along with Fergus Mac Roich and a number of Ulster's best warriors.

For their king's sake, the warriors thought that it would be in "Ulster's best interest" to kill the girl when she was born. But Conchobar foolishly declared that the girl would not marry any king but him. Conchobar hoped to marry and bed the girl, when she the marriageable age. Conchobar was known for his sexual appetites and could not pass up a woman of great beauty.

Conchobar had Deirdre brought up in dun, where she was not to see any man but him and her foster father. As Deirdre grew into fairest maiden in Ireland, the girl had a dream of marrying a young man with dark hair, red cheeks and white body. Deirdre didn't want to marry a man (she's talking about Conchobar), who is older enough to be her father, even if he was a king. Her nurse Leborcham told the girl that her description matched with Noísi (Noíse), son of Uisnech. Noísi was the one of the warriors of the Red Branch, cousin to the heroes Cu Chulainn and Conall Cernach. Noísi has two equally brave brothers: Ainhé and Ardan. Deirdre vowed that she would marry Noísi (Noisi), not to Conchobar.

When Noísi arrived one day, Deirdre persuaded Noísi to take her away and marry her. She imposed a geis upon the hero. Noísi fell in love with her and agreed to help her. With his brothers' help, Noísi and Deirdre fled from Ulster. Conchobar learning of this sends his warriors to find them. At first, the sons of Uisnech moved from one place to another in Ireland, but with increasing dangers of being trapped by Conchobar's men, they were forced to cross over to Alba (Scotland).

Here they were married in Alba (Scotland), at first, serving the king of the Picts. Because of her great beauty, they tried to keep Deirdre hidden, but when the Pictish king discovered the beauty of Deirdre from one of his advisers. Deirdre discovered the Pictish king's intention to kill her husband and his brothers, so she warned Noísi. Noísi and his brothers were forced to flee from the new danger. They hid lived on a tiny wooded island.

When news reach Emain Macha that the Alban warriors were now interested in capturing the fugitives, friends and kinsmen of the sons of Uisnech were urging Conchobar to make peace with them allow them to come home. The king agreed. A messenger was sent to Noísi, which he only agrees if Fergus Mac Roich, Cormac Connloinges and Dubthach Dóeltenga would guarantee their safety and protection. Noísi refused to listen to Deirdre, when she suspected treachery from Conchobar.

(It should be noted that the other version actually start here, but getting back to the story....)

Fergus and his companions were happy that Conchobar would make peace, so he and his envoy escorted Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech back to Ulster. However upon their arrival, a chieftain named Baruch, invited Fergus to a feast, which he couldn't refuse because of his geis. The sons of Uisnech had vowed earlier that they would not eat their first meal back in Ulster, until they have eaten at Conchobar's own table. So Noísi and his continued on the journey with Fiacha, Fergus' son, in charge.

Deirdre was still have misgiving, and feared treachery. She favoured returning to the island they had left, but no one would listen to her warnings.

Fiacha escorted the sons of Uisnech to Emain Macha. Eogan Mac Durthacht met them outside of Emain Macha, with hired mercenaries. Eogan and Conchobar were enemies, but they recently made peace between them. Eogan agreed to slay Noísi and his brothers.

Eogan greeted Noísi by running his spear through him, breaking Noísi's back. Fiacha tried to save him, by pulling Noísi down and protecting him with his own body. Eogan gave another mighty thrust of his spear, killing both Noísi and Fergus' son. Noísi's brothers and other warriors were also killed in the fighting. Deirdre was brought to the king, with hands bound behind her back.

When Fergus, Cormac and Dubthach heard of their king's treachery and violation of the surety, they entered Emain Macha and attacked Conchobar's household. Fergus killing Traigthrén, Traigthrén's son and his brother, while Dubthach killed Maine, Conchobar's son, and Fiachna, son of Conchobar's sister Fedelm. Dubthach had also massacred all of maiden in Emain Macha, while Fergus burned down Emain Macha.

Three thousand warriors joined Fergus in exile, including Cormac Connloinges, living in the court of Ailill and Medb in Cruachan, Connacht. This is the reason why 3000 Ulster's exiles had later Medb in the Cattle Raid at Cuailnge (Tain Bo Cuailnge). Thereby, Cathbad's prophecy was fulfilled.

For a whole year, Deirdre lived in Emain Macha, but she refused to eat much nor would she sleep, and she never once smile. No music or entertainment could comfort her, since Noísi was treacherously killed. For a whole year she lamented for Noísi and his two faithful brothers, Ainhé and Ardan.

When Conchobar tried to comfort her, she stingingly rebuked him. When Conchobar asked her who she hated most, Deirdre replied, "you and Eogan Mac Durthacht" Conchobar taunted her, deciding to force her to live with Eogan for a year.

Next day, as Eogan drove his chariot out of Emain Macha, with Deirdre beside him, she bent over so that her head was dashed against a boulder, beside the dirt road. She was instantly killed.



Alternative version:

The Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach ("The Violent Death of the Children of Uisneach") begin with Conchobar holding a feast at Emain Macha, where some of his warriors were petitioning that the king should make peace with Noísi and his brothers.

Conchobar agreed, because he have a plan to rid of his rival. In order to select the most appropriate, he decided to choose one of the following champions as emissary to the sons of Noísi: Conall Cernach, Cu Chulainn or Fergus Mac Roich. (Notice, Conall and Cu Chulainn doesn't appear in the previous version.)

Conchobar cunningly each warrior what would happen if he broke the surety to Noísi. Both Conall and Cu Chulainn replied that they would take action against him, if Conchobar prove treacherous. Only Fergus' answer proved satisfactory to the wicked king, so he decided to send Fergus on the mission instead of the other heroes.

Like in the previous version, Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech were living on a little island, because they have fled from the treacherous king of Alba (Scotland). When Fergus arrived on the island, the sons of Uisnech were happy to hear the news of a reconciliation with their king, since Fergus gave them surety, offering them his protection. Only Deirdre didn't trust Conchobar, but Noísi and his brothers refused to listen to her warning that the king was treacherous. Deirdre had no other choice but to follow them back to Ulster.

However upon arriving on the shore of Ireland, a chieftain, named Baruch, invited to a feast. Fergus couldn't refuse, because he was under a geis to always to attend such invitation. Deirdre was upset that they won't have Fergus' protection. Fergus said that his sons, Buinne and Illann, would provide them with the protection they need.

Deirdre had a vision that the sons of Uisnech would be headless, including Fergus' son Illann. Buinne would survive only because he would betray them. She also warned the king would betray them, if the king accommodate them in House of the Red Branch, instead of Conchobar's own mansion. Despite the warning, Noísi continued to ignore Deirdre's advice. Noísi also ignored her advice of either staying until Fergus return from the feast or seeking protection from Cu Chulainn. The brothers preferred to face death rather than returning to the island like cowards.

As she had foretold, Conchobar invited his guests to stay in the House of the Red Branch. Yet, this doesn't seem to convince Noísi. Here, they waited for Fergus' return. Noísi and Deirdre played games of fidchell (which is sort of board game, like chess).

Back at hall, Conchobar contemplate what to do next. He asked for someone to go to the Red Branch quarters to see if Deirdre was as beautiful now as she was before her exile. Leborcham volunteered to go, because she love Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech.

The old nurse saw that Deirdre was even more beautiful than before, and she knew that there would be trouble. Leborcham also suspect the king of treachery. Leborcham advise them that they must either leave or defend themselves, because surely Conchobar would break his surety, once the king realised that Deirdre's beauty had not faded.

Leborcham returned to the king, saying that Deirdre's beauty had faded because of hardship and exile. However, Conchobar doesn't believe Deirdre's former nurse. So Conchobar send Gelbann or Treandorn to spy on Deirdre.

Heeding Leborcham's caution, the sons of Fergus had closed all the doors and windows, except one window, to prevent any of the king's men from observing Deirdre. Gelbann (Treandorn) found this window and peek inside of the House of the Red Branch. Deirdre saw the spy as she continued to play finchell with her husband. When Noísi saw this spy, he unerringly hurled a fidchell piece, putting out Gelbann's eye, but not before the spy saw Deirdre's face and body.

The spy reported to the king of her beauty, which gave Conchobar to have Noísi and his brothers killed for maiming his servant.

Buinne was standing guard at the entrance of the House of the Red Branch. When Conchobar went to storm the building, Buinne at first defend the sons of Uisnech, killing 100 warriors who dare to enter the building. Buinne deserted them when Conchobar offered land to him, if he betrayed his father's own words and the sons of Uisnech. Buinne agreed and he was given piece of land. However, this land immediately became a desert the moment he set foot on that land, because he had betrayed the sons of Uisnech.

Illann, the other son of Fergus, was more faithful to the sons of Uisnech, and refused to disgrace his father, like his brother had. When the warriors tried to storm the building, he had killed 300 men, while Noísi continued to play fidchell with Deirdre.

Conchobar then send his son, Fiacha, with armed his shield Ocean. The Ocean make noise that the king is being attack. So when Illann defeated and captured Fiacha, Conall Cernach heard and immediately respond to the call of the shield.

Conall arrived and mortally wounded Illann. When Conall realised that Conchobar had treacherous broken the surety to the sons of Uisnech, Conall regretted wounding Fergus' son. Conall immediately cut off Fiacha's head in revenge.

With Illann wounded, Conchobar again ordered his warriors to storm the building, but this time, the sons of Uisnech took action to defend the building. Conchobar ordered his chief druid, Cathbad, to help him capture the sons of Uisnech. Conchobar promised the druid that the sons of Uisnech would come to no harm from him. So Cathbad used his magic to stun and disarm the sons of Uisnech.

Conchobar captured the three brothers and Deirdre. When Conchobar ordered someone to cut off their heads, none of his warriors would obey the king for such treacherous act. So he turned to Maine, the son of the King of Norway. Since Noísi had killed Maine's brothers, Unthach and Triathach, Maine had no hesitation of killing the sons of Uisnech, since they were bound and helpless to defend themselves.

Since none of the brothers are willing to let the other die first, Noísi suggested that one sword stroke should behead all three of them. So Maine cut off their heads with a single sweep of his sword.

Deirdre loudly lamented the death of her lover and his faithful brothers. Cu Chulainn hearing her cry, came at once. Once he discovered the treachery of Conchobar and the death of the sons of Uisnech, he immediately lopped off Maine's head, to avenge his friends' death.

Graves were set up for the three brothers. Deirdre continued to lament over them, before she leaped into the grave with Noísi, lay down beside her husband, and died.

 
Related Information
Sources
Longes mac nUislenn or Longes mac nUisliu (The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu).

Oidheadh Chloinne hUisneach (The Violent Death of the Children of Uisneach).

Related Articles
Conchobar, Cathbad, Fergus Mac Roich, Cormac, Ailill, Medb (Maeve).

Genealogy: House of the Red Branch.


Naoise flees carrying Deirdre
Anonymous illustration



Death of Connla
 

When the young son of Cu Chulainn and Aífe, named Connla was old enough to wear Cu Chulainn's ring he set out for Emain Macha in search of his father. Cu Chulainn placed a terrible geis upon Connla before he was born. Connla was to never reveal his name to any man. Connla was to fight any man who impeded his path.

Connla encountered many warriors of the Red Branch. He refused to give each warrior his name, and he would either bind, wound or kills each warrior, who blocked his path. Even Conall Cernach was no match for the lad.

Finally Conchobar send Cu Chulainn against the boy. Emer warned her husband that the boy was possibly his son by Aife, and told him not to go. His duty to his king however will not allow him to refuse any order.

When Connla refused to give his name, Cu Chulainn realised he faced his son, yet was unable give way to the boy. They fought on the sandy beach, Connla proving to be more than a match for Cu Chulainn.

Unable to overcome the boy, Cu Chulainn finally used the gae bolg (spear) on his son. Dying, Connla told his father that Scáthach (Connla's foster-mother) had not taught him the skill of gae bolg. Cu Chulainn saw the final evidence that boy's finger was his ring he had given to Aife.

Cu Chulainn carried his son back to Emain Macha, telling his king that he had performed his duty. Everyone mourned for the death of Connla, where Conchobar given the boy a hero's funeral.

 
Related Information
Sources
Aided Oenfhir Aífe (Violent Death of Aífe's Only Son).

Related Articles
Cú Chulainn, Aífe, Scáthach, Conchobar, Emer.



Cattle Raid of Cuailnge
 

The Cattle Raid of Cuailnge (Cooley) or "Táin Bó Cuailnge" (Irish Gaelic) was perhaps the best known tale in Irish literature. It was longest tale and the closest thing to an epic in Old Irish literature.

  Brown Bull of Cuailnge
  Defence of the Ford
  Cu Chulainn and Fer Diad
  Battle of Garach


Brown Bull of Cuailnge

The cause of the war between Ulaid and Connacht began in the court of Connacht. Ailill boasted to his wife Medb (Maeve) that his white bull, was the best bull in the province if not of all Ireland. Ailill bragging that his bull was better than her, as well as expressing his male superiority over female. Angry at such comment from husband, Medb was determined to obtain the best bull of all of Ireland. By force if required. She found out that the brown belonging to an Ulster chieftain named Dara Mac Fachtna, in Cuailnge, was perhaps superior to Ailill's white bull.

At first Medb sent embassy, hoping that Dara will loan the brown bull to her for a year, promising the chieftain rich gifts in return. At first, Dara was happy to do business with Maeve, but heard rumour that she might take it by force if she were refused. Negotiation broke down, giving Medb an excuse to raid Ulster. Medb began gathering a large host of fighting men. The other provinces joined Connacht. Fergus Mac Roich and Cormac, son of Conchobar, were almost the Ulster exiles to join Medb's army. Fergus hoped to avenge the death of his son and the sons of Uisnech, for the king's treachery.

Even though the men of Ulster were debilitated, a seeress, named Fedelm, warned Maeve, that Connacht would suffer a defeat at the hands of young warrior. Fedelm say three times when she looked at her army: "I see crimson. I see red." Fedelm said a lone hero would bar Medb's way, killing many before the army of Ulster come and defeat her own army. Despite the ill omen, Medb was more than ever, determined to invade her neighbouring province.


Defence of the Ford

When news of the army of Connacht entering Ulster, the warriors of Emain Macha, suffered from the curse of Macha. Conchobar and all the warriors of the Red Branch were helpless and and weak. Only Cú Chulainn did not suffered from the curse, probably because he was still considered young ('not old enough to shave?' I supposed).

Accompanied by his charioteer, Laeg, Cu Chulainn set about, single-handedly, to defend Ulster from Medb's army. Cu Chulainn sent his stepfather Sualtam, to warn the men of Ulster of the invading army and to rouse the Red Branch warriors to war.

Cu Chulainn set about placing geis and ambushing scouts, in order to slow down Medb's host. Many trained warriors from Connacht were killed in raid night after night. Unable to see and confront their enemy, Cú Chulainn was quickly demoralising the Connacht host.

Finally Fergus met with his former pupil, where Cu Chulainn agreed to face a champion of Maeve, each day at the ford of the River Dee. The army was allowed to march during duel, but must camp till the next day if Cu Chulainn wins the duel. In return Cu Chulainn would not harry Medb's army.

After several days of duels, Cu Chulainn encounter the war-goddess Morrígan, disguised as beautiful young girl. When Cu Chulainn refused her advances, Morrigan set about harrying Cu Chulainn, during his duel with Loch son of Mofebis. Morrigan attacked Cu Chulainn in various forms as heifer, an eel, and a wolf. But Cu Chulainn repelled each attack, though Loch wounded him. Cu Chulainn went into berserker frenzy where he killed Loch with gae bolg.

Though the army's march had slowed down considerably, Medb finally captured the Brown Bull of Cuailnge. She sends the bull back to Connacht.

Cu Chulainn was too seriously wounded to continue the duel the next day. His father, Lugh Lamfada, the sun god, came to the hero and asked his son to rest while his wound heal; he would take up the duel in his form in the next three days. Lugh fought and overcome each of Medb's champions, until Cu Chulainn was fully healed.

Meanwhile, back at Emain Macha tried unsuccessfully to rouse the warriors of Red Branch to battle. They were still suffering from the curse of Macha. Many young sons of the warriors hearing the news of heroic defence of the ford by Cu Chulainn, decided to take up arms and faced Connacht's army. Follamin, Conchobar's youngest son, commanded the boy troop. They were no match against the enemy's army. Medb's warriors had slaughtered these children to last boy.

When Cu Chulainn regained conscious, he heard news of massacre of the boy-warriors, while he was recovering. Cu Chulainn went into his berserker frenzy, where seventy warriors were killed in Murthemney.

Cu Chulainn's next duel was with Calatin and his sons. Calatin was an evil Fomorian sorcerer, whose body was merged with those of his twenty-seven sons. With twenty-seven arms, Calatin had an unfair advantage over the young hero. Cu Chulainn would have died, had one of Ulster exiles named Fiacha taken pity of the distressed hero. Without any one seeing him, Fiacha severed twenty-seven arms of Calatin's sons. Cu Chulainn was able to defend himself better, before he dispatched Calatin.


Cú Chulainn and Fer Diad

Fergus and many of the former warriors of the Red Branch refused to face Cu Chulainn in single combat, not so much of fear for Cu Chulainn as their love for the young hero. Many of them were his friends. Another famous warrior who did not want to fight Cu Chulainn was Fer Díad Mac Damann. Fer Diad was Firbolg warrior, who became Cu Chulainn's blood brother, when they were childhood friends. Fer Diad was also one of the warriors who sought training from woman warrior Scathach. They had sworn never to fight one another.

Medb had tried several times to induce Fer Diad to fight Cu Chulainn at the ford; each time the Firbolg had refused. The Connacht queen had offered the young warrior gold, land, her own daughter in marriage. Finally angry at his refusal, she threatened to pay all the bards and musicians in the land that Fer Diad was a coward. With his own courage and honour at stake, Fer Diad had no choice to face Cu Chulainn in single combat.

One morning when Cu Chulainn found his Firbolg friend on his side of the ford, the hero was saddened that he had to fight one of the person he loved most. For the first two days, the two warriors fought one another until both agreed to retired for the day. Those first two nights they tended each other wounds and shared a blanket together. On the third day, however, after fighting all day, their friendship was strained to the limits. This time they did not attend each other's wound, nor did they shared a blanket, like the two previous nights.

On the final morning, they fought even harder, without restrains. Finally, Cu Chulainn used his deadly spear, the gae bolg, upon his dearest friend. Cu Chulainn caught Fer Diad when he collapsed from his mortal wound. Cu Chulainn carrying his dying friend away from the ford to a small clearing. When Fer Diad died, Cu Chulainn was stricken by grief. He also lost conscious from weakness and his own wounds. Laeg bore the wounded Cu Chulainn away.

When the Connacht did not see Cu Chulainn on the other side of the ford, Medb believed that Cu Chulainn had died and so army was free to cross the ford. Connacht army began to raid other towns and villages. They began looting Ulster of cattle and other possessions.


Battle of Garach

However, in Emain Macha, Conchobar and his warriors had recovered from the curse and set about arming themselves to face Medb's army. They pursued Medb's army until they reached the Plain of Garach, where a battle took place. Fergus would have kill Conchobar, had Cormac pleaded for his father's life. Cu Chulainn recovered from his wounds, persuaded Fergus and the other Ulster exiles to withdraw from the battle. Other provinces began withdrawing their army from the battle, leaving Connacht to fight for themselves.

When Cu Chulainn joined the battle, the tide began to turn and favoured the Conchobar's army. Connacht army was routed. Cu Chulainn found Medb in the field. She pleaded for her life. Cu Chulainn swore that he would never harm her, and escorted safely back to Connacht until they reached border.

The Brown Bull that arrived in Connacht, suddenly attack the White Bull, belonging to Ailill. Both bulls were killed in the clash. In the end Connacht, lost many men in the cattle raids, including both fine bulls; they were worse off before their conflicts with Ulster.

 
Related Information
Title
Táin Bó Cuailnge
Cattle Raid of Quelgny
Cattle Raid of Cooley

Place Name
Cuailnge – Cooley, Quelgny

Sources
Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle of Raid of Cooley).

Contents
Brown Bull of Cuailnge
Defence of the Ford
Cu Chulainn and Fer Diad
Battle of Garach

Related Articles
Cú Chulainn, Medb (Maeve), Ailill, Fergus Mac Roich, Cormac, Conchobar, Fer Díad MacDamann, Laeg, Lugh Lamfada, Morrígan.

Genealogy:
   House of the Red Branch.
   House of Connacht.


Cu Chulainn
Angus McBride
Illustration



Sickness of Cú Chulainn
 

Cu Chulainn had a dream of two women beating him with rods while he was tied to a stone pillar. When he woke the next day, he was weakened from the dream, and for year he suffered from wasting sickness. Cu Chulainn learned that he can recover from his illness if he went to pillar, where he was beaten. Cu Chulainn learned that a Danann woman named Fand, wife of Manannán Mac Lir, needed him to fight off three demons, who besieged her palace. Fand would reward him with her love.

Cu Chulainn entered the Otherworld, defeated demons and spend a month in Fand's loving arms. Cu Chulainn returned to the surface, promising to meet Fand again. However, Emer learned of his affair, and for the first time she became jealous of his infidelity.

Emer learning where her husband and Fand were meeting for their arranged tryst, Emer turned up with 50 maidens, armed with knives, hoping to kill the Danann woman. Cu Chulainn came to Fand's defence. Cu Chulainn told Emer that he was still in love and would never leave her. However, both women decided to leave him with the other woman. Fand however decided that she would return to her husband, leaving her lover behind. Cu Chulainn was distressed until Manannan used his magic cloak to make to forget one another.

 
Related Information
Sources
Serglige Con Chulainn agus Óenét Emire (The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn and the Only Jealousy of Emer).

Related Articles
Cú Chulainn, Emer, Manannán Mac Lir.


Fand leave her lover Cu Chulainn
(Manannan MacLir in the middle cast a spell of oblivion upon his wife, Fand)
Illustration by Yvonne Gilbert



Death of Cú Chulainn
 

Her defeat at the Cattle Raid of Cuailnge, did not sit well with Medb. She was to determine to avenge her defeat by having Cu Chulainn killed. Medb secretly conspired with other enemies of Ulster, particularly with Cu Chulainn's enemies. Among those she sought aid from were Lugaid Mac Cu Roi and the daughters of the wizard Calatin.

The daughters of Calatin were just as hideous in looks and powerful in their sorcery, as their father. Through deception and hallucination they driven Cu Chulainn to the point of insanity, where they lured the young hero to face Medb's army again. Cu Chulainn continuous see and hear phantoms of war.

Emer tried to dissuade her husband from leaving, but he ignored her pleas. Cathbad and his mother Deichtine tried to persuade him to wait for Conall Cernach, but Cu Chulainn was determined to end these illusions that haunted him for weeks. With his faithful charioteer, Laeg, he left his home to seek out the phantoms.

On his journey, he encountered three old hags (daughters of Calatin, again) were sitting by the road. The three hags asked him to share her meal with him. When he ate the meat, he discovered that he ate the shoulder of a dog. A geis of the hero, forbidden him from eating the flesh of the dog (Some say that his geis was to not eat his namesake; the hound he ate was probably named after him). Cu Chulainn's death was now inevitable.

At Slieve Fuad, Cu Chulainn came once again upon Medb's army and her allies. Lugaid (Lewy) taunted him to give him his spear. Cu Chulainn hurled the gae bolg, missing Lugaid but killing nine men. Lugaid used the gae bolg and cast it back at Cu Chulainn. The spear missed and killed Laeg, the hero charioteer. A satirist mocked him; Cu Chulainn again cast his spear, killing the satirist. Erc, king of Ireland, then used the gae bolg, mortally wounded Cu Chulainn's favourite horse. Cu Chulainn again killed another satirist who taunted him. Lugaid hurled the gae bolg back at the hero. The gae bolg disembowelled the hero.

Dying, Cu Chulainn went to the lake for a drink. There, he found a stone pillar, where he tied himself to the pillar. He did this so he would die standing on his feet. Even dying none of his enemies dared approached the hero. It was only when Morrígan, who transformed herself into a raven; she perched on Cu Chulainn's shoulder that the enemies knew he was still alive. Only when he died, did Morrígan fly away.

Lugaid had finally avenged his father's death, approached Cu Chulainn with drawn sword. When Lugaid beheaded Cu Chulainn, the hero's sword fell out of his hand and severed Lugaid's own sword hand. Angry at this outrage, Lugaid also severed Cu Chulainn' hand.

Conall Cernall who rushed to scene, only to discover that he had arrived too late to save his foster-brother. Conall found headless body still tied to pillar. Cu Chulainn and Conall had vowed to avenge the other who meet his death first, pursued and attacked his enemies. Conall dispatched Lugaid and severed his head, avenging the hero of Ulaid.

Conall returned to Emain Macha with Cu Chulainn's body and severed parts, where the Hound of Culann was given a hero's funeral.

 
Related Information
Sources
Aided Chon Culainn (Violence Death of Cú Chulainn).

Brislech Mór Maige Murthemne (Great Rout at Mag Murthemne).

Dergruathar Chonaill Chernaig (Red Rout of Conall Cernach).

Related Articles
Cú Chulainn, Medb, Lugaid Mac Cu Roi, Conall Cernach, Laeg, Morrígan.

Genealogy:
   House of the Red Branch.
   House of Connacht.


Death of Cú Chulainn
Oliver Sheppard
Bronze statue, 1916
Dublin's post office, Dublin



The End of the Cycle
 

Conchobar Mac Nessa died when the brain-ball lodged in his head ruptured. See Conchobar and Cet Mac Maga, for the story of his death.

In Connacht, Ailill jealous of his wife's lover, the king killed Fergus Mac Roich, as he bathed in the lake. Ailill had hurled the spear at Fergus' back.

Conall heard the news of his former tutor's death, avenged Fergus by slaying Ailill. Conall set about destroying other enemies in Ireland, who participated in Cu Chulainn's death.

With the death of her lover and her husband, Medb retired to an island. Furbaide (Forbai) Ferbend, son of Conchobar and Clothra, sought her death, because Medb had killed his mother (Clothra), who happened to be Medb's sister.

Furbaide Ferbend found out that Medb regularly enjoyed bathing in the lake (Galway). Furbaide measured the distance where he hide to where she normally bathe. Practising with his sling each day, Furbaide became a marksman. One day, while she bathed, Furbaide slingshot hurled towards her, cracking her skull, dead centre on the forehead. With his aunt's death, Furbaide had avenge his mother.

 
Related Information
Related Articles
Conchobar, Cet Mac Maga, Ailill, Fergus Mac Roich, Conall, Medb.

Genealogy:
   House of the Red Branch.
   House of Connacht.








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