The Hound of Ulster:
How Cuchulain Got His Name
Eileen MacDermott raised her glass of poteen and said,
” The women and men crowdedtogether in the shebeen raised their glasses and said
Sláinte.” Maggie had never heard that Irishword before, but it sounded enough like the French santé
that she thought she might know whatit meant: To our good health.A broad-shouldered old man with rimless glasses perched on his nose said, “Let’s haveone of your stories, Eileen.” The old man had a courtliness that drew Maggie to him. He seemedin fine health, as if he had worked at hard labor all his life and was now a pensioner. Maggiewondered if her grandfather James would’ve looked like that had he stayed in Ireland instead of stowing away on a ship and making is passage to Boston, USA.Eileen took a sip of the poteen and seemed to be thinking about stories she’d like to tell.“And which one might that be, Eamon?” Eamon lifted his glass and took in his porter with long swallows. He put the glass on the table he shared with three others and said, “Why nottell the tale of the Hound of Ulster, Cuchulain?”“That’s what I set out to tell you about,” Eileen said. “And which of the Cuchulain talesmight you want to hear?”“I want yourself to tell the tale of how Cuchulain got his name,” Eamon said.“It would be yourself who told me that tale when I was a wee girl and you brought the post. You’d nip into the kitchen for a cup of tea and a bit of craic with me and mammy. You’dtarry so long, you’d run down the Carrick road like a blue-bottomed fly.”“I did indeed. Now I want to hear yourself tell it. I want to see how well taught you are.”“Have you got it sorted?” the publican said. “Get on with it.”“It’s Cuchulain you want, it’s Cuchulain you’ll get,” Eileen said. “How about the rest of ye? Do you want to hear how the Hound of Ulster got his name?” Kate shouted “Aye, aye,” withthe crowd.Eileen began.Until the famous champion Cuchulain was a boy of eleven, he had the name of Setanta.Conor, King of Ulster, son of the clever and beautiful Nessa, Queen of Ulster, gave Setanta thename Cuchulain. Some say he was Conor’s nephew, son of his sister Diedre. Others said he wasthe son of fairies. One balmy night at Beltrane time his mother slept on a fairy mound. The nextday she was with child. The following June, she birth to a boy child. She named him Setanta.At five, Setanta joined the Boys Corps, a kind of junior division of Conor Mac Nessa’sKnights of the Red Branch, the bravest and fiercest warriors in the land. So fierce were they thatthe deeds of Irish warriors were known throughout the world. Battle after battle, year after year,Conor Mac Nessa and the Red Branch fought off the marauders from the south led by Maeve,Queen of Connacht in the south of Ireland.Setanta quickly gained in strength and stature. One day he would best even the mostformidable of the Knights of the Red Branch. The very first day he took up arms, he slew fivemen. Indeed, he had the strength of twenty.