Warriors, Heroes & Villains 

Cúchulainn

 

Name:  Cúchulainn Cú Culaind Cúchullin Cúcán Cuculain

 

Birth Name:  Setanta

 

Associated Deities: Lugh Lámhfada Dagda  Manannan

 

Father:  Sualtam Sualtach

 

Mother:  Dechtire

 

Wife:  Emer

 

Consorts:   Uathach daughter of Scathach  Aoife  Fann of the Sidhe

 

Foster Father:  Fergus Mac Roich

 

Province:  Ulster

 

Related Sites: : Emain Macha (Navan Fort)  Brugh na Boyne (Newgrange)  Muirthemne

 

King:  Conchobar of Ulster (also his uncle)

 

Tutor:   Scathach the warrior woman

 

Druid:  Cathbad serving King Conchobar

 

Son:   Conlaoch  

( born by Aoife the conquered warrior woman )

 

Friends:   Ferdiad Laegaire Battle Winner  Conall the Victorious

 

Enemies:   Medb of Connaught Magician Calatin serving Queen Medb

 

Weapons:   Cruaiden Cadatchenn his hereditary sword

  His Crimson throwing shield The Gae Bulga

 

Horses:  The Grey of Macha Sainglend the Black

 

The Lineage of Cúchulainn

Cúchulainn was born Setanta son of human parents, Sualtam the warrior hero and Dechtire half sister to Conchobar the King of Ulster.  His divine lineage includes the fact that he was an ancestor of the Dagda - the good god, and son of Lugh the sun god or god of light.

Physical Attributes

Cúchulainn was short in stature yet no one could look upon him in his splendor without blinking.  The heat of his body could melt snow and ice for yards around, he glowed red and when he dipped his body in water to bathe the water hissed and turned to steam.  He could send himself into a battle fury whichcuchulainn01.jpg (35703 bytes)

This description is taken from a translation in The Cúchullin Saga edited by Eleanor Hull in 1898:

' A handsome lad was he that stood there, Cúchulainn son of Sualtam.   Three colours of hair had he; next to his skin the hair was brown, in the middle it was red; on the outside it was like a diadem of gold; comparable to yellow gold was each glittering long curling splendid beautiful thread of hair, falling freely down between his shoulders. About his neck were a hundred tiny links of red gold flashing, with pendants hung from them.  His headgear was adorned with a hundred different jewels.  On either cheek he had four moles, a yellow, a green, a blue and a red.  In either eye he had seven pupils, sparkling like seven gems.  Each of his feet had seven toes, each of his hands seven fingers; his hands and feet were endowed with the clutching power of hawk's talons and hedgehog's claws.

Cuchulainn.jpg (78814 bytes)He wore his gorgeous raiment for great gatherings; a fair crimson tunic of five plies all

The champion carried a trusty special shield coloured dark crimson with a pure white silver rim all around its circumference; at his left side hung a long golden hilted sword.  Beside him in his chariot was a lengthy spear, together with a keen aggressive javelin fitted with a hurling thong and rivets of white bronze. In one hand he carried nine heads, and nine more in the other; he held these heads as emblems of his valour and skill in arms, and at the sight of him the opposing army shook with terror.'

Images: Drawing of Cúchulainn by John Duncan, Scottish 19th C. artist

Watercolour of the young Setanta by Stephen Reid 1910.

The Battle Fury of Cúchulainn 

' Then it was that he suffered his riastradh or paroxysm, whereby he became a fearsome and multiform and wondrous and hitherto unknown being.   All over him, from his crown to the ground, his flesh and every limb and joint and point and articulation of him quivered as does a tree, yea a bulrush, in mid-current.

Within in his skin he put forth an unnatural effort of his body: his feet, his shins, and his knees shifted themselves and were behind him; his heels and calves and hams were displaced to the front of his leg-bones, in condition such that their knotted muscles stood up in lumps large as the clenched fist of fighting man.  The frontal sinews of his head were dragged to the back of his neck, where they showed in lumps bigger than the head of a man-child aged one month.  Then his face underwent extraordinary transformation: one eye became engulfed in his head so far that 'tis a question whether a wild heron could have got at it where it lay against his occiput, to drag it out upon the surface of his cheek; the other eye on the contrary protruded suddenly, and of itself so rested upon the cheek.  His mouth was twisted awry till it met his ears.  His lion's gnashings caused flakes of fire, each one larger than  fleece of three-year-old wether, to stream from his throat into his mouth and so outwards.  The sounding blows of the heart that panted within him were as the howl of a ban-dog doing his office, or of a lion in the act of charging bears. 

Among the clouds over his head were visible the virulent pouring showers and sparks of ruddy fire which the seething of his savage wrath caused to mount up above him.  His hair became tangled about his head, as it had been branches of a red thorn-bush stuffed into a strongly fenced gap to block it; over the which though a prime apple-tree had been shaken, yet may we surmise that never an apple of them would have reached the ground, but rather that all would have been held impaled each on an individual hair as it bristled on him for fury.

His hero's paroxysm projected itself out of his forehead, and showed longer than the whet-stone of a first-rate man-at-arms.  Taller, thicker, more rigid, longer than mast of a great ship was the perpendicular jet of dusky blood which out of his scalp's very central point shot upwards and then was scattered to the four cardinal points; whereby was formed a magic mist of gloom resembling the smoky pall that drapes a regal dwelling, what time a king at night-fall of a winter's day draws near to it.'

Stories, Myths and legends about Cúchulainn

There are many stories about Cúchulainn and his life some of them have been christianised and details changed from earlier versions. There are differing versions of his death in the Book of the Dun Cow (Leabhar na hUidre), and The Book of Leinster. Most historians agree that the historical setting for the Cúchulainn stories is the 1st century BC. Emain Macha was no longer in use after the 1st century AD. according to archaeological evidence.  

The birth of Cúchulainn

The naming of Cúchulainn

The wooing of Emer and marriage to Emer

The Courting of Emer by Lady Gregory

Training with Scathach the warrior woman on her island

The Cattle raid of Cooley ( Táin bó Cuailgne)

Cúculainn and the Morrigan goddess of war, life and death

Cúchulainn and his divine father the god Lugh

Cúchulainn and his foster father Fergus Mac Roich

Cúchulainn and his friend the warrior Ferdiad

Cúchulainn slays Finnabair

The Combat of Ferdiad and Cúchulainn (full version)

Cúchulainn and his human father Sualtam

The Death of the Bulls

Cúchulainn and his son Conlaoch

Conlaoch and Cúchulainn (full version)

Cúchulainn and the Druid Calatin

The Awakening of Ulster

The Final battle in the War of the Brown Bull

The Death of Cúchulainn at Muirthemne

Conall the Victorious avenges the death of Cúchulainn

The Feast of Bricriu

Bricriu's Feast and the War of the Women by Lady Gregory

The  Wasting Sickness of Cúchulainn

Manannan

Dindshenchas Teamhair (Tara)

The Story of the Tuatha De Danann

The Tragic Death of Cu Roi Mac Dairi

The Hidden House of Lugh

 

The Celtic method of single combat in battle situations

Although a large army of men and women set out to do battle, combat was primarily undertaken on a one to one basis.  Warriors were chosen from each side who would engage in combat with each other. The outcome would determine which side had won or lost. This was seen to be preferable to all out combat in which many lives were lost regardless of whoever was ultimately victorious. It was considered the height of barbarism to waste human life needlessly when heroic champions were an integral part of Celtic culture and had thus been specifically trained in the warrior arts - it was the champions role to fight on behalf of many people rather than just themselves.

This was how Cúchulainn came to defend Ulster single-handedly, instead of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of  the army of Queen Medb of Connaught he defended his position by fighting warrior after warrior in single combat. He also slew the totem animals of Queen Medb, the dog, the bird and the squirrel.

Further Reading:

Hull, E. The Cuchullin Saga. London 1898.

Kinsella, T. (trans.) The Táin London, 1970.

Mc Cana, P. Celtic Mythology. London, 1970.

Newark, T. Celtic Warriors - Blandford Press, Poole, 1986.

Gregory, Lady Augusta, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, 1910.

 

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