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The Irish Legend of Cuchulainn

Updated on March 17, 2012

One of the most famous Irish Legends, in honor of St. Patrick's Day

The story of Cuchulainn
The story of Cuchulainn | Source

We Americans love Saint Patrick's day, and all things Irish, all things green. The Irish won a home here early in the great waves of immigration that populated this land with Europeans; the Irish won a home in our hearts with their spirit, and their lovely stories.

One of the most celebrated heroes of Irish myth and legend is the story of Cuchulainn. I'm just going to give you the brief version here; there are literally thousands of Celtic myths surrounding this famous hero.

Are any of them true? Who knows? The myths and legends go so far back in time, and were handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and so grew in the process.

First, let's go across the sea (the herring pond!) to Ireland, and back in time to pre-Christian days, when the tall, fair-haired Celts ruled Ireland, which was a loose conglomeration of small, tribal kingdoms. Each kingdom had it's own king, and Conor, King of Ulster, was one of the most prominent.

Conor, King of Ulster, recruited young men, which he trained into an elite fighting force. Cuchulainn joined this force at a very early age (he was only 5 or 6 years of age, according to legend, and could defeat grown men in battle); Cuchulainn was already a legend in Ulster before he was even a teenager.

Stories abound of Cuchulainn's strength, wisdom, prowess in battle, and prowess with women. To win the hand of the beautiful Emer, Cuchulainn went on a terrific quest, where he accomplished many impossible things and also learned many secrets, both dark and light. One of his tutors was Scathach, the Shadowy One, and it was prophesied that Cuchulainn would never be defeated in battle, being armed with knowledge of the arcane dark arts.

Cuchulainn

Source

Now, there was some jealousy amongst the various tribal kings of Ireland, and much competition. Queen Meadh was the daughter of the High King of Ireland, the Ard Ri, and married to King Ailil. Queen Meadh had much land and many cattle in her own right; however, King Ailil had one more bull than Queen Meadh had.

Queen Meadh, who was fiercely jealous of her possessions and her supremacy, chose to try to remedy this situation by impounding one of the King of Ulster's bulls. She sweetly requested to borrow it: the King of Ulster (no dummy, he) just as sweetly refused the request, knowing full well that Queen Meadh had absolutely no intention of ever returning the animal to its proper owner.

Queen Meadh was majestic in her wrath. She assembled an army of 3,000 troops and made off to go to war with Ulster.

All the men of Ulster were put under the spell of a sorceress. They were frozen in time; they could not move or speak. The only person in the entire Ulster army who was immune to the enchantment was Cuchulainn; it was up to him to fend off Queen Meadh's entire army of 3,000 troops.

At first, Cuchulainn tossed obstacles in front of the advancing army, warning them not to encroach any further on Ulster territory. As Queen Meadh's army came on, making sorties past the obstacles, Cuchulainn killed the soldiers, five and six at a time, in hand-to-hand combat.

Queen Meadh's army camped at Druim Fene in Conaille, and Cuchulainn, a terrific man with the sling, killed 300 men each night they were bivouacked there.

By the time the sorceress's spell had worn off and the rest of the Ulster soldiers were battle-ready, Cuchulainn was very tired and wounded in dozens of places on his body. Cuchulainn's father said that his poor son had no area on his body larger than the point of a reed that was not pierced by a spear of arrow.

As the Ulster army charged full-tilt into pitched battle with the few remaining Queen Meadh troops, Cuchulainn tied himself standing upright to a rock, with a spear in his hand, so that the enemies would believe him still able to fight. The ruse worked; his enemies didn't close in on him until they saw a raven pecking at Cuchulainn's eyes; then the Queen Meadh soldiers knew---the great Cuchulainn was dead.

He died a hero, fighting to the end and even past it. Cuchulainn is a part of Irish history now, symbolizing defiance, bravery and iron determination and strength of purpose.

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    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      5 years ago from Upstate New York

      There are several different versions of this story. I took the one I like best. They are all matters of legend rather than fact, though it is entirely possible that a person of that name was pivotal in Irish history. He became a myth and a legend over the mists of time, and his history began as an oral tradition. I don't know how successful anyone can be at discovering the absolute facts. Good luck!

    • profile image

      matt 

      5 years ago

      Sorry lad i think some of this is wroung im not sure a Raven pecked at his eyes to show he was dead, in fact im sure Cuchulainn Had a bird of his own and the enemy soilders knew he was dead when his bird started to drink Cuchulainn's blood.... im doing a paper on Cuchulainn for school and i need answers about his life and death so if theres anyone who can help me and give me right info email me at zero000cc@gmail.com thx to anyone willing to help

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment. I love these legends. The Celtic people had the power of myth going for them.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      5 years ago from Isle of Man

      In Gaelic cú means hound. Cúchulainn means hound of Chulainn. The boy Setanta was renamed Cúchulainn after he he killed the hound that guarded the Chulainn and became Chulainn's bodyguard. I named our private hypnotherapy practice Setanta after the Irish legend who was introduced to me when I was a boy being taught by the Christian Brothers in, Dublin Ireland where I grew up. Thank you.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Rob.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi; I hadn't heard about the legends of Cuchulainn. Very interesting. I love mythology and folklore.

      Thanks for the information. It was a fun read.

      Rob

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      She's very powerful. Almost more so than our hero, Cuchulainn.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      6 years ago from Summerland

      I know this story well, Paradise and I'm glad you decided to tell it here. However, I'm one of the side of Queen Maeve (Meadh) at this point in time because she has been appearing to me in my dreams and has been calling out to me lately. I don't know why, but she is sort of becoming my matron goddess as of late. Last night she came to me with blonde hair and a red hooded cape (sort of like that of red riding hood) and she told me that she was here to "kill me"...which would be scary to many people; however, in Shamanism one must go under the knife or some other form of metaphoric decapitation or "gutting" must happen in order for the shaman to be able to step into the otherworlds. I believe Queen Meadh has come to me to bring me to a higher plane of spirituality...she has come to "kill" the old me and bring me to the new me. I believe she has been misunderstood and misconstrued over time, and that possibly she was much more than the stories make her out to be. I love the story of Cuchlainn just the same though! :) Thanks!

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 

      6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I had heard of the Legend of Cuchlain awhile back, but thanks for the summary.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment. I love these stories and have quite a collection.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I had never heard about "The legend of Cuchulainn". But I am glad to learn another legend and this was great legend from Irish. Thanks or writing and share with us. Good job and rated up!

      Prasetio

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Yes, they do have a lot in common. I didn't think of that until you mentioned it. Thanks for the comment, sofs.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanksfor the comment, Chuck. There's a similar story with an Indian warrior who tied himself to his horse; he was spotted literally years later, all bones, riding a ghost horse into the final battle.

    • sofs profile image

      Sophie 

      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      The legend of Cuchulainn sounds like David (of the old Testament) in many ways.. Interesting share here Paradise ... I enjoyed reading this. Have a lovely day!

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 

      6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      This is a great story and well told in this Hub. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

      Cuchulainn's fighting to the end reminds me of the 1961 movie, El Cid, where Charlton Heston playing the Castilian knight El Cid is wounded and dying the night before a last decisive battle is to be fought. In the El Cid's body, in full armor and mounted on his horse, leads the charge in the next morning's battle.

      The sight of El Cid leading his army both inspires his men, who thought he had died of his wounds from the previous day, and demoralizes the enemy who also believed he had died from the previous day's fighting. What was expected to be a defeat of El Cid's forces turned into a victory.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, and Happy St. Patrick's Day to you; (Le Fheile Padraig Sona Duit)

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Ah, thank you so much, Chs.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Oh, yes, and a hero of olden times. His spirit lives today in all the stories and legends.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I can see it that way, too. Thanks for the comment.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Your hub was so visual, I see this as a swashbuckling adventure film too! Cuchulainn...what a guy. Voted up!

    • Scottye Davis profile image

      Scottye Davis 

      6 years ago

      This is very intriguing! He was a true warrior. Thank You for sharing.

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      I love the fact that you put this story here today. It has taken a while to re-create the our national pride. It's a pleasure to read your story and the warm words you use to describe the inclusion of the Irish immigrants in the US. We are truly grateful for this. The US, from our perspective is a great nation. Thanks for the story. Best wishes and Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit! (You can translate?)

    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 

      6 years ago from Aurora

      Fantastic rendition of the legend! Cuchulainn has many spellings, so research is difficult.

      Blessings to you. I am very Irish/Scottish plus mutt. Was trying to discover my past, but getting over domestic violence injuries at the moment. Court as soon as I can.

      Best, Laura in Denver (and New Mexico)

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Yes, I can Dr. You are very welcome!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Seeker7, for those kind words.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      What a magnificent warrior that Cuchulainn was and brave to the very end. Can't you just see Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) portraying him in an exciting adventure film? Wearing green, of course. Thanks, Paradise, for this enchantingly-written fascinating story - hope to see it on the screen one day.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Fascinating hub about Irish legend and hero Cuchulainn - I prefer to think that he existed in someway!

      It's nearly always such a sad ending for all these heroes and heroines of old, but perhaps that's what makes us take them to our hearts. I think even today, the old legends can teach us much about ourselves and society.

      A fascinating hub + voted up!

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