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Legacies - Cuchulain

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Myths and Legends
The Hound of Ulster

Whatever the true facts linked to the Ulster Cycle, the stories themselves make for wonderful reading and storytelling. Our hero, Cuchulain is sent on a training mission to Alba (Scotland), which including the use of his deadly Gae Bolga, also known as the “Bellows Spear”, which makes a single wound upon entry, but is covered in barbs which makes removal very difficult.

Cuchulain with his Gae Bolga
© BBC 2003

While there, he is ‘romanced’ by Aife, the sister of Scathach, who runs the warrior camp. Once back in Emain Macha, Cuchulain woos and marries Emer and continues to develop his fame as a enigmatic fighting machine.

However, one day Cuchulain meets his match in the form a young stranger who arrives on the shores of Ulster alone. He refuses to speak his name or his purpose and has already disposed of the best of the local warriors before Cuchulain arrives.

The stranger continues to refuse to answer questions put to him and so a fight ensues. The young challenger incredibly has the champion of Ulster struggling until he uses his Gae Bolga to seriously wound the boy.

As Cuchulain studies the body of the brave stranger, to his horror he notices a gold ring worn by the boy and recognises it as the ring he entrusted to Aife while on Alba. Cuchulain had killed his own son, Conla, who Aife had kept secret from him. Cuchulain carried the dead body of Conla back to his people and cried, “Here is my son for you, men of Ulster”.

The death of Cuchulain is as dramatic: “Then Lugaid (King of Munster) threw the spear, and it went through and through Cuchulain's body, and he knew he had got his deadly wound; and his bowels came out on the cushions of the chariot. Cuchulain said: "There is great desire on me to go to that lake beyond, and to get a drink from it."

"We will give you leave to do that, they said, if you will come back to us after.”

“I will bid you come for me if I am not able to come back myself, said Cuchulain.”

“Then he gathered up his bowels into his body, and he went down to the lake. He drank a drink and he washed himself, and he returned back again to his death, and he called to his enemies to come and meet him.”

“There was a pillar-stone west of the lake, and his eye lit on it, and he went to the pillar-stone, and he tied himself to it with his breast-belt, that way he would not meet his death lying down, but would meet it standing up. Then his enemies came round about him, but they were in dread of going close to him, for they were not sure but he might be still alive.”

"It is a great shame for you," said Erc, son of Cairbre ( King of Leinster) , "not to strike the head off that man, in revenge for his striking the head off my father."

“Then Lugaid came and lifted up Cuchulain's hair from his shoulders, and struck his head off, and the men of Ireland gave three heavy shouts, and the sword fell from Cuchulain's hand, and as it fell, it struck off Lugaid's right hand, so that it fell to the ground. “

“Then they cut off Cuchulain's hand, in satisfaction for it, and then the light faded away from about Cuchulain's head, and left it as pale as the snow of a single night.”

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Your comments

1 Denis Brennan from Philadelphia, PA USA - 31 December 2003
"Greetings! I thought a bird landed on Cuchulain and that was how his enemies knew he was dead. "

2 Denis Brennan from Philadelphia, PA USA - 30 December 2003
"Greetings! I thought a bird landed on Cuchulain and that was how his enemies knew he was dead. "

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