These are © 1997 Red Branch Hounds - They do NOT want to live somewhere else - Do not take them.

CuChulainn


~ the Hound of Ulster

These are © 1997 Red Branch Hounds - They do NOT want to live somewhere else - Do not take them.

Work in PROGRESS!!

These are ©1997 Red Branch Hounds -  please do not take them

Those days when Conor mac Nessa (Conchubar) sat on the throne of Ulster in Emania Macha and the warriors of the Red Branch strode the land, were some of the most brilliant days in Ireland’s history. Warriors such as Ireland had never seen, nor will again. Then was the sun of glory in the zenith of Eire’s Heroic period ~ this was the age of fearless champions and warriors, chiefly peopled by the famous Royal or Red Branch Knights of Emania Macha. Though, two other famous bands of Irish warriors gave added lustre to the period- the Gamanraide of the West (who were the Firbolgs) and the Clanna Deaghaid of Mulster led by Curoi MacDaire.

All three warrior bands had their poets and the seanachies, who chanted their deeds in imperishable song and story which, handed down through the dim ages, have long since held spell bound the clan of the Gael. But the greatest, the most famed, and the most dazzling of all the heroes of this heroic age was undoubtedly CuChulainn, of whose life and wondrous deeds, real and imaginary, hundreds of stories still exist. As does his famed statue in Ireland.

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Setanta - the boy

"This child will be praised by all, by chariot drivers and fighters, by kings and wise men; he shall be loved by many men; he will avenge all your wrongs; he will defend your fords; he will fight all your battles." ~ Amergin~

A foster son and nephew of Conor mac Nessa, King of UlsterConor, Setanta (for he would acquire the name CuChulainn later) had, for as long as he could remember, heard from others the glorious tales of the Red Branch and the wonderous Emania Macha at last he could stand it no longer. For the fame of the Red Branch warriors had awaked the thirst for glory in his heart, and so he went to the court of Emania Macha.  When he first arrived there he saw youths in training were playing caman upon the green.

Having brought from home, his red bronze hurl and his silver ball, the little stranger, going in among them univited, outplayed all the others. The other youths, sons of the heroes of the Red Branch and destined to be it's future champions, angered at this intrusion, called Setanta to account for his actions, for none could join them unless he had applied to the Boys Troop for protection and permission. Fully recognizing that he was outnumbered ~ as he was so often to be in the the coming times ~ yet knowing that his future with these young men depended on his actions now, Setanta's decision was easily made.

Boldly pointing one by one to the Boys Troop Setanta told them he would fight each and every one in their own turn, but that each would have only be given chance for a blow against him, that the other members of the Troop would not miss their pleasure. Swiftly the other youth's agreed and so began Setanta's first fight for glory, and they came on him one by one. As he fought each the battle rage that would consume him in his days of manhood began to come over him.

"The troop had been drilled in the rituals of Gaelic combat, which involved showy displays of power and stylized demonstrations of sword and spear work. No tribe had men to spare, so the purpose was to make a point, not to create carnage.

But the interloper seemd intent on carnage. He had not killed anyone yet, but they were beginning to think he might. The anger that drove him was beyond their comprehension. A score of the troop were already injuried; noses streamed crimson and eyes swelled purple. But few had been quick enough to land a blow on Setanta.

He was, however, a child. Even the Rage could not carry him indefinitely; his immature body had limitations. He began running out of breath. Soon, the troop would overcome him and take awful revenge.

But he did not mind. He was in the center of them, surrounded by their company. The Rage began to fade; a slow grin spread across his face." (~ Red Branch by: Morgan Llywelyn~)

Fergus mac Roi and King Conor had heard the commotion and wondering what was happening in the Boys Troop this time ~ for their spirits were high as befitted sons of the Red Branch ~ reached the field in time to see the last of the Troop beaten. Fregus flung himself upon the youth before anything worse could happen, wrestling him to the ground by sheer mass and strength ~ aware this had been no easy task, even for such a warrior as he ~ as the youth's body slowly began to relax, Fergus demanded roughly, yet with some pride as gazed at the young fighters, to know what had gotten into the lad.

King Conor asked who it was that thought he could cause such havoc, for this was no gentle game that had been played. Not recognizing this was his uncle, for Setanta had never been from his home before, he called his lineage "I am called Setanta, son to Sualtim, chariot-chief of Dun Dalgan, and my mother is Dectaire, sister to Conor Mac Nessa, the King of Ulster." Conor laughed and told Setanta, "well come indeed, for you are my foster son and nephew, this is where you belong." So Conor bade the Boys Troop to let him go safe among them, and they readily agreed. But when Setanta went among them, it was not in peace. Again he started to battle and overthrew several of them before Conor reached his side and said "what is it you are wanting?" "I swear by all the gods my people swear by," said the youth, "I will not lighten my hand till they have come under my protection the same way I have come under theirs." The Boys Troop agreed, Setanta could be the champion of their troop even as Fergus mac Roi was the King's champion. So it was Setanta joined the Boys Troop of the Red Branch, meeting his future friends and those who with him, would give to the world and history the feats of the Red Branch and Ulster.

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The Hound of Cullan

One day as he was playing hurley with the Boys Troop, Conor mac Nessa, the King rode by, on his way to a feast at the dun of Cullan, the chief smith, in Quelgny where they also meant to spend the night. As Connnor and his men passed by, Setanta replied he would be along as soon as the game was finished.

Cullan received them gladly and the great dun was filled with those who had accompanied the King and the night began to fall. While his guests were enjoyng the meal, Cullan asked the king if there would be anymore of his people coming and requested leave to bar the gates of his dun. Conor said "no, forgetting about Setanta, but why do you ask?" Then he told Conor how it was his custom to unloose his hound at nightfall. Now this hound whom Cullan had raised, had a faithfulness few men possessed and was as fiercesome in the hunt of wolves as he was loyal. To this great shaggy hound of such speed and heart, was given the nightly duty to patrol the grounds and under whose protection, it was said Cullan feared nothing less than the onslaught of an army. Conor, forgetting Setanta was to follow, gave his permission and the feast continued.

Suddenly, above the laughter and the music of the feast there was heard a terrible sound which brought every warrior to his feet, weapons in hand and ready in an instant. Then they recognized it for what it was, the tremendous baying of Cullan's hound, giving warning as he saw a stranger approaching his masters dun.

Soon, the noise changed to one of a fierce and deadly combat, the great hound roaring, his one thought to protect his master, as he met the stranger. Cullan madly pulled at the bars, flinging open the doors. With the fleetness of deer, Conor and his men were outside, where they saw Setanta with his hurley stick and ball. At the second charge of the hound, having no weapon but those, Setanta struck the ball with such force it went down the throat of the hound. Grabbing the hound by the hind legs he dashed ihim against a rock until there was no life left in him.

Fergus mac Roi was the first to reach Setanta, gathering him up upon his shoulder the warrior turned and brought him safe to Conor and there was a great rejoycing among them all.

But in Cullan the smith's heart there was no joy. With staggering steps, he went toward the great still, broken and bloodied body of his faithful hound. Gently, gathering the broken body in his arms, he turned and said, "it was no good luck that brought him," he said; "for from this time out, my faithful hound being gone, my substance will be wasted, and my way of living gone. And boy," the smith continued, his voice cracking with the heartbreak he felt, "that was a good and most valued member of my family you took from me this night, for he was the protector of my goods, my herds and all that I had."

"Do not worry yourself on that account, said Setanta, " for I will pay his blood price and more for what I have done." "How will you do that?" asked Conor. Thinking, Setanta replied, "If there is a whelp of this same breed to be had in the whole of Ireland, I'll have him no matter what the cost. I'll rear him and train him until he is better than the great hound that I caused you to lose this night; and until the time comes when he is ready to take his place by your side," he said, "I, myself will be the guardian and watch-dog of your goods, your house and your cattle."

"A fair price indeed," said Conor. "I could have given no better award myself," said Cathbad the Druid, " and from this night forth you have earned a new name, no longer will you be the lad called Setanta, but instead your name will be CuChulainn, the Hound of Cullan." A name never before borne by any warrior, coming from the king's druid, this was an unparalleled honor. Setanta recognized the honor, but as sometimes happens with young men, he blurted out, "I think I am better pleased with my own name of Setanta, son of Sualtim." Realizing what he had done, Setanta looked at his foster-father and wished the skies would fall upon him. "You know not what you say boy," said Cathbad, "for all the men of the world will someday have the name of CuChulainn in their mouths." Smiling, Conor said, "It is better for you to be CuChulainn, I think.".Relaxing then, knowing that Conor found no fault with him the lad said, "be that so, then I am most content to keep it."

These are ©1997 Red Branch Hounds -  please do not take them
To Live Forever

It was a time after CuChulainn got his new name, that Cathbad the Durid was teaching some pupils at his house in the northeast of Emania Macha, when one of them asked, "Do your signs foretell of any special thing this day is most favorable for?" Cathbad, turning to face his charges said, "if any young man, should this day take up arms, his name shall be greater than any other name in Ireland. But the span of his years will be short."

The eager attention of the warriors of the Red Branch was drawn to the lad and they foresaw great things for him, when they heard him express himself nobly and wonderfully, on the day that, in Emania, in the Hall of Heroes, he took arms. He stood before the Druids in the Hall of Heroes and exclaimed "It is little I would care," said CuChulainn, "if my life were to last but one day and one night only, so long as my name and the stories of my deeds live after me.

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The Black of Sainglain
and the Grey of Macha

Laeg, son of Riangabara Erc - spear at Macha

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Ferdiad's Death by CuChulainn

The greatest, and one of the most tragic accounts of this great hero's stories is the tale of his fight with his friend, Ferdiad, at the ford, where, single handed, CuChulainn, in a last ditch effort to save Ulster, is holding at bay the forces of Connaught led by Queen Maeve. Ferdiad is the great Connaught champion, chief, of the Connaught knights of the Sword, the Fir Domniann and a friend and comrade in arms of CuChulainn, since, in their youth, they, along with Conal Cearnach, "Conal of the Victories" had leaned well indeed, the craft of war.

And so now it is that these two great warriors and friends have come to this. It is now sore for CuChulainn to fight the soul friend whom the Connaught host has pitted against them. He tried to dissuade Ferdiad from fighting, by reminding him of their comradeship, when they were together learning the art of war from the female champion, Scathach, in Alba.

"We were heart companions,
We were companions in the woods,
We were fellows of the same bed,
Where we used to sleep the balmy sleep.
After mortal battles abroad,
In countries many and far distant,
Together we used to practice, and go
Through each forest, learning with Scathach"

But Ferdiad too, was a great champion and warrior, and even though he had fought many times along side CuChulainn, Ferdiad would not and could not let fond memories turn him from his purpose. Indeed, lest he might yield to the weakness of temptation and love he felt for his brother-in-arms, he forced himself to answer CuChulainn’s tenderness with taunts, so as to provoke the combat. And fight they finally did. They fought for four days, wounding each other terribly. On the fourth day, CuChulainn rallies to the fight more fiercely, more terribly, more overpoweringly than ever, and at length with his famed spear the "Gae Bulga"gives to his friend, Ferdiad, the fatal killing blow. CuChulainn laid Ferdiad down then, and a trance, and a faint, and a weakness fell on CuChulainn overFerdiad there.

These are ©1997 Red Branch Hounds -  please do not take them
The Death of CuChulainn

CuChulainn died as a hero should - on a battlefield, with his back to a rock and his face to the foe, buckler on arm, and spear in hand. He died standing, and in that defiant attitude (supported by the rock) was many days dead before his enemies dared venture near enough to reassure themselves of his exit - which they only did when they saw the vultures alight upon him, and undisturbed, peck at his flesh.

When at last they ventured forward to cut off his head and hand, they met an unexpected avenger for then came CuChulainn's horse, the Grey of Macha, among the enemies of his master. The great wounded stallion had returned when the hero-light had scarcely faded from his master's face. Attacking savagely, with hooves and teeth which were soon bloodied with, he was the first avenger of Cuhulainn, but far from the last. For by then the warriors of the Red Branch, led by CuChulainn's friend, Conal Cearnach, "Conal of the Victories," were after them, lusting for vengence. He had sworn should any harm befall CuChulainn. Which they obtained in full measure.

"And if I am the first that is killed, how long will it be before you get satisfaction for me?" CuChulainn had asked Conal. "Before the evening sun sets of that same day," Conal swore, "I'll have the full price for your blood. And if it is I who will die before you Hound of Feats, what will be the length of time before you have gotten satisfaction for it?" CuChulainn, grasping his friend's arm replied, "your share of blood will not be cold on the ground, before I have wrought my vengence. "

When Conal and the Red Branch at last returned from the red and bloody rout he made throught the army of men of Ireland. For he could not be sated with vengence with the men of Munster and Connaught alone, without also that of the heads of the men of Leinster.

When he was done, he rode back to Dun Dalgan, as he had many times before in the past, but this time there was no rejoycing in his heart. He laid before Emer of the Beautiful Hair, CuChulainn's wife, the heads of the warriors and Kings he had slain. "Oh, Conal of the Victories, how many men that harmed my dear, my love, the Hound of Ulster, have you felled and how many do you bring before me now?"

"It is as I swore," Conal said, "ten and seven scores of hundreds is the number that fell back to back, by the anger of my sword and those of the Red Branch. O Emer, what shall I do without my CuChulainn, gone from me now?"

"Oh my love," Emer said, "we were often in one another's company, and it was happy for us; for if the world had been searched from the rising of the sun to sunset, the like would never have been found in one place, of the Black of Sainglain and the Grey of Macha, and Laeg the chariot driver, and myself and CuChulainn. And it is breaking my heart is in my body, to be listening to the pity and the sorrowing of women and men, and the harsh crying of the young men of Ulster keening CuChulainn."

"O Conal, lift me to his grave. Raise my stone over the grave of the Hound; since it is through grief of him I go to my death, lay my mouth to the mouth of my CuChulainn. I am Emer of the Fair Form; there is no vengence left for me to find; I have no love for any man. It is too sorrowful to stay without my Hound."

At that, Emer bade Conal to make a wide, very deep grave for CuChulainn and she laid herself beside him and putting her lips to his said, "Heart of my life, my friend, my one choice of the men of earth, many is the woman, wed or unwed, envied me till this day: and now I will not stay living after you." ~ CuChulainn of Muirthemne by: Lady Augusta Gregory ~

These are ©1997 Red Branch Hounds - please do not take them
To learn more about CuChulainn and warriors of the Red Branch I'd like to suggest the following books:
Red Branch by: Morgan Llywelyn
The Raid A Dramatic Retelling of Ireland's Epic Tale by: Randy Lee Eickhoff
CuChulainn of Muirthemne:The Story of the Men of the Red Branch of Ulster by: Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory
The Tain by: Thomas Kinsella
Tain Bo Cuailnge Recension I by: Cecile O'Rahilly
as well as other books listed on our Celtic Reading section.

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