Name: Cúchulainn Cú Culaind Cúchullin Cúcán Cuculain
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.
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 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.
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.