Cuchulainn

Irish - A warrior hero of Ulster. The greatest of the 12 Champions of the Red Branch. Son of Lugh and Dectera. Husband of Emer. His earthly father may have been Conor mac Nessa, Dectera's brother, who, when she became pregnant, gave her to Sualtam, but his real father was Lugh who in the form of a mayfly flew into Dectera's mouth. Dectera gave her newborn son as a gift to Ulster and he was raised by her sister, Finchoom, alongside her own son, Conal. She called the boy, who had eyes with seven pupils, hands with seven fingers and feet with seven toes, Setanta. On a visit to Culann, a wealthy smith, the six-year old Setanta killed the huge guard dog of Culann, a whelp of the Brown Mouse, with his bare hands when it attacked him and then, to mollify the angry smith-god, acted as guard dog himself until another animal could be trained. From this time on he became Cuchulainn, the Hound of Culann, instead of Setanta, and swore never to eat the flesh of a dog. At the age of seven he defeated 150 princes of Conor's court and became a member of that court. He fell in love with Emer, daughter of Forgall, but she spurned him until he had proved himself a great warrior. Conor equipped him with a chariot and weapons and sent him to Scotland to learn the arts of war from the warrior maid, Skatha. There he learned many feats of arms from Domhnall and more from Skatha. He fought alongside her against her sister, the princess Aifa, defeated her in combat and carried her off to Skatha's camp, forcing her to make peace with Skatha. He became her lover and left her a ring to be given to any son of their union, who should be called Connla. Other versions of the story say that he also took as mistress Uathach, daughter of Skatha. When Connla, in later years, did seek out his father, they fought, neither knowing the other's identity, and Cuchulainn killed his own son using the Gae Bolg. It was only when he saw the ring on the dead youth's finger that he realised what he had done. Cuchulainn's first exploit after his training by Skatha was to challenge the sons of Nechtan who had often raided Ulster and killed many men. He killed Foill with a sling shot and cut off his head and, having killed the other two sons, set fire to the castle. He then drove to Emain Macha, still in the grip of blood-lust and was returned to normal by a group of naked women, led by Mughain, the queen, who plunged him into tubs of cold water until his ardour left him. Other accounts say that this event took place many years earlier, when Cuchulainn was a young boy. He then attacked Forgall's castle, killed him and his men and carried off Emer and much treasure, including a cauldron that produced gold and silver. Forgall's sister, Scenmed, raised the alarm and pursued them but Cuchulainn defeated her forces and killed her. One story says that Emer once eloped with Tuir Gleasta, a prince of Norway, but Cuchulainn killed him and retrieved his wife. In another story involving women, he was searching for two magical birds for Eithne, his mistress, or, some say, for his wife Emer, when he was attacked by Fand and Li Ban and put out of action for a whole year. In a contest with Conall Cearnach and Laoghaire, Winner of Battles, for the title of Champion of All Ulster, both Conall and Laoghaire ran from the wildcats that had been put in their room, while Cuchulainn alone faced them with his sword. They were also tested by Ercol who attacked them with witches and then fought the three of them himself, losing only to Cuchulainn. In a beheading contest with the giant Uath, all three decapitated the giant but only Cuchulainn was prepared to offer his own neck to the axe. The giant intentionally missed his stroke and declared Cuchulainn the champion before disappearing into thin air. He was really Curoi, a magician king. A similar story is told of Bricciu. In a contest with Bricciu he cut off the lord's head but Bricciu picked up the severed head and disappeared into a lake. Next day, fully restored, he claimed his part of the wager and Cuchulainn laid his head on the block awaiting the axe. Bricciu went through the motions of striking but spared Cuchulainn's life in admiration of his bravery. In some accounts he received from Seanbheag, a man of the Otherworld, arms that ensured victory and clothes that protected him from fire and water. He met and fought a huge German warrior, Goll mac Carbada, who had come to demand tribute, killing him in single combat, and dealt similarly with Gharb, a fierce fighter who refused to allow others to pass through his territory. Another story says that Cuchulainn once met the goddess Badb, who took the form of a red-cloaked woman, driving a one-horse chariot. The horse was connected to the chariot by a pole that ran all the way through its body and was retained by a peg in the animal's forehead. Cuchulainn jumped on to the chariot which immediately disappeared. He was once required to find the three sons of Daol Dearmaid who had mysteriously disappeared. He journeyed in a magic boat to an island where Achtland, their sister, led him to the place where her brothers were held captive by Eochaid Glas. Cuchulainn killed this warrior and rescued the three brothers. He also rescued the princess Gruadh who had been carried off by a giant, killing her captor in the process. Maev coveted Cuchulainn's spear, Cletine, and sent a bard to ask him for it, knowing that one can never refuse a poet's request. Cuchulainn threw the spear at the bard, killing him. The force of the throw broke the spear and the parts fell into a stream. He had an affair with Blathnat, wife of King Curoi, and cut off Curoi's head. When the sea-god Manannan quarrelled with his wife Fand, she and Cuchulainn had a month-long affair but he then went back to his wife Emer. Both were given magic drinks by the druids to make them forget the incident. In another story Dearbhfhorgaill, the daughter of a king of Norway, came to him in the form of a swan. She returned to her natural shape but Cuchulainn rejected her and gave her to Lugaid Rhiabhdhearg. When she was ill-treated by a group of women, Cuchulainn overturned a building, which killed over a hundred of them. Another version of this tale says that Dearbhfhorgaill was being handed over to the Fomoire as a tribute but was saved by Cuchulainn. Having rescued her, he rejected her love and gave her to Lugaid, in this version the son of Curoi, who was later to kill him. Hurt by this slight, Dearbhfhorgaill turned into a bird, which Cuchulainn brought down with a sling shot. He sucked her wound to heal it when she resumed her normal shape and in so doing became her blood brother. When Maev and Ailill sent an army against Ulster to seize the Brown Bull of Cooley, all the men of Ulster were afflicted by the Debility of the Ultonians, Macha's curse, and could not rouse themselves to defend their province, so Cuchulainn had to do the job himself until they recovered. He harried the enemy, killing hundreds of soldiers, some of whom fell dead at the mere sight of him in battlefury. Several single combat fights were arranged at a ford, all won by Cuchulainn, including one against their champion Natchrantal. Despite his efforts the raiders seized the bull and drove it back to Connaught. He was then reluctantly engaged by Ferdia who fought with him for four days, with all kinds of weapons. Cuchulainn was badly wounded but killed his old friend with the Gae Bolg or, in some versions, ran him through with his sword. When he recovered he joined the Ulstermen who had by now joined the battle and the forces of Connaught were repelled. When, after seven years of peace, Maev renewed her assault on Ulster, Cuchulainn ignored the pleas of his mother and his wife (and, in some stories, her father Forgall who had not been killed by Cuchulainn) and went once more to battle. He and his father Sualtam defended Ulster, but three witches, the daughters of Calatin, deprived him of the invulnerability given by the magic belt he wore and he was mortally wounded by a spear thrown by Lugaid, son of Curoi. He tied himself to a pillar and prepared to fight on but when a crow settled on his shoulder, Lugaid came in close and cut off Cuchulainn's hand. In this way, he avenged the murder of his father Curoi. The hero's blood was drunk by an otter or, some say, by a raven. As his sword fell from his hand it cut off the hand of his killer. His enemies then cut off Cuchulainn's head and carried it off with his severed hand, burying them both at Tara. Some say that Cuchulainn was killed by a spear thrown by one of the sons of Calatin, others that the spear had been made by Calatin's sons but was thrown by Lugaid. In another version, Morrigan was opposing Cuchulainn in the battle because he had rejected her advances and it was she who attacked him in the form of a crow. Sometimes referred to as Cuchulainn, Cu Chulainn, Cu Chulainn, Cu Culann, Cu Culann, Cuchulain, Cuchulain, Cuchullin, Cuchullin, Cuculain, Cuculain, Cucullin, Cucullin, Cuc(h)ulain, Cuc(h)ulain, Hound of Ulster, Hound of Ulster, Irish Achilles, Irish Achilles, Sedanta, Sedanta or Setanta.

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