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The Hound of Ulster: How Cuchulain Got His Name

The Hound of Ulster: How Cuchulain Got His Name

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Published by Jane Gilgun
Cuchulain is a hero of Irish mythology. Son of a mortal woman and a fairy god, Cuchulain lived and died in Ulster in the first century CE. Ulster is part of the north of Ireland. “The Hound of Ulster” tells the tale of how Cuchulain got his name. Like most Irish stories, the story is told in a pub. This pub is a shebeen, which is an unlicenced and therefore untaxed pub.
Cuchulain is a hero of Irish mythology. Son of a mortal woman and a fairy god, Cuchulain lived and died in Ulster in the first century CE. Ulster is part of the north of Ireland. “The Hound of Ulster” tells the tale of how Cuchulain got his name. Like most Irish stories, the story is told in a pub. This pub is a shebeen, which is an unlicenced and therefore untaxed pub.

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Published by: Jane Gilgun on Oct 19, 2012
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01/24/2013

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The Hound of Ulster:
 How Cuchulain Got His Name
Summary
Cuchulain is a hero of Irish mythology. Son of a mortal woman and a fairy god, Cuchulain lived and died in Ulster in the first century CE. Ulster is part of the north of Ireland. “The Hound of Ulster” tells the tale of how Cuchulain got his name. Like most Irish stories, the story is told in a pub. This pub is a shebeen, which is an unlicenced and therefore untaxed pub.
 
 
The Hound of Ulster:
 How Cuchulain Got His Name
 
Eileen MacDermott raised her glass of poteen and said,
Sláinte
.
” 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.
 
One day when the sun was bright, the sky blue, and the clouds high and puffy overhead,Setanta alone matched himself in a game of hurling against a team of twelve from the BoysCorps. Sentena himself was a boy of eleven years. So fast and furious was his play no ball got past his hurley as he stood between his own goal posts. Many a ball got past the opposing team.Aye, it was a grand match.As luck would have it, Conor Mac Nessa happened to passing by with his Knights of theRed Branch to a feast that his friend Culain was giving that night to honor the mighty king. Sotaken was Conor with the brilliant play of the wee boy that he called Setanta off the pitch for kingly commendation and bade him come to the feast that night.Setanta accepted with the gracious dignity befitting a knight and said he would arriveafter he finished the hurling match. Conor and his warriors arrived at Culain’s fort with greatfanfare. Trumpets sounded and symbols clashed as the party paraded to the twelve-foot pale thatsurrounded the fortress. The massive gates with stone pillars on both sides swung open. Culainstood with feet planted solidly on the cobble stones of the stockade, arms spread wide, waiting toembrace his king and protector.After Conor Van Nessa and Culain exchanged greetings and felicitations, Culain inquiredof the king, “Have all your party made their way through the pale and into the stockade?”“They have,” Conor boomed in his deep voice. With that, Conor had forgotten about the boy Setanta whose mighty deeds had so delighted him just a little while before and who at themoment was making his way over the hills toward the fort, kicking the hurley ball in front of himwith his feet.“I’ll tell my servants to barricade the gate and let loose the great hound into thestockade.” said Culain. “He’s the color of a lion and more ferocious than ten. His eyes glow redfrom the fires of hell within him. No man nor beast have ventured past that hound. Many havetried, but he tore them to bits with his great white teeth, head to toe, until nothing was left exceptthe gleam of satisfaction in the hound’s red eyes. Nothing can get past that demon from theotherworld.”“Then on with it,” shouted Conor. “There’s none that can disturb us. On to the feast.” Theknights roared and shook their staffs and shields. They marched into the banquet hall and laidtheir armor on the floor next to the door. Each was seated according to ranks and warrior deeds.Conor, his generals, and Culain sat at the head table bowed in the middle with the weightof fish, fowl, and beast, roasted, basted, filleted, and stewed. Every manner of potato, fruit, andvegetable, every color, every flavor, every texture graced the boards of the table. Wine and meadfrom the master brewers of Ulster flowed freely from swollen flasks into waiting goblets. Never  before was there a banquet the like of the one that Culain made for Conor Mac Nessa and hismen.A minstrel, just a lad, with long golden hair and dressed in green velvet played the lute onthe side of the hall next to the poets and storytellers who awaited their turn to entertain Culain’sknightly guests. Maidens in long swaying skits and full bosoms cleared the empty platters andcarried in more in an ever-flowing stream. The men were so laden with food they ached fromkeeping their bodies straight and tall.Like a hot arrow through butter, roars and howls cut through the din of the banquet, roarsand howls could only have come from the bowels of the earth, from those deep, dark placeswhere demons sharpen their claws and teeth and plan their murderous raids upon unsuspectinghumankind.

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