Cú Chulainn is a prominent character who features in Irish legend. In fact, he is often said to be the most famous Irish hero of all, well known for his Herculean feats.
In this article, you will learn:
- Who Cú Chulainn was
- What was so special about him
- Notable events in his life
- How he died
- What the sources for his story are
Also, don’t forget to visit our Celtic Mythology hub, where we have a LOT more articles like this one.
Who Was Cú Chulainn?
Cú Chulainn was a mighty warrior in Irish legend who supposedly lived in the first century BCE. He was said to have been immensely strong. In fact, even as a child, he was stronger than any adult warrior in Ireland.
He was the greatest of the warriors who served King Conchobar mac Nessa of Ulster, whose warriors were known as the Knights of the Red Branch. His most famous achievement was single-handedly holding off a cattle raid against his home country at the age of 17.
Cú Chulainn experienced supernatural battle frenzies that made him unstoppable, and dangerous not just to his enemies but to his friends as well.
What Does Cú Chulainn’s Name Mean?
The name ‘Cú Chulainn’ means ‘Culann’s hound’. Culann was a blacksmith whose guard dog was killed by Cú Chulainn as a child in self-defence, due to a misunderstanding.
In return, the child offered to act as Culann’s guard dog until a suitable replacement could be found. Thus, he came to be known as Culann’s hound, or ‘Cú Chulainn’. Before that, he was named ‘Sétanta’.
The name Cú Chulainn is usually pronounced ‘Koo-kul-in’. Its spelling takes many different forms, but ‘Cú Chulainn’ is the most common version. Other versions include:
Possible True Etymology
Some scholars have argued that this story of the origin of Cú Chulainn’s name is a false explanation, invented in later times when the true meaning of his name had been forgotten.
It is notable that ‘cú’, which does literally mean ‘hound’, was a term commonly used in Irish literature in a figurative sense to refer to a warrior. Therefore, it could be the case that Cú Chulainn was simply ‘Colann’s warrior’, with no literal hound involved at all.
It has also been suggested that the second part of the name ‘Chulainn’, does not come from the personal name ‘Culann’ at all. It has been explained as coming from the Old Irish word ‘cul’, which means ‘chariot’.
This is only a theory, but if it is correct, it would mean that Cú Chulainn’s name actually means ‘Chariot Warrior’. This is consistent with the fact that he is described as using a chariot in the legends.
Cú Chulainn’s birth name was Sétanta. One proposed etymology of this name is that it is related to the Irish word ‘sét’, which means ‘path’. The name is thus thought to mean ‘the one with knowledge of paths’.
It has also been suggested that the name is somehow related to the Setanii, a Celtic tribe who lived on the west coast of Britain. Perhaps some of them migrated across the sea to Ireland, where their tribal name became a personal name.
One key aspect of the legend of Cú Chulainn is that he died young, as we will go on to see. For this reason, he is usually described in the texts as youthful. Probably for that same reason, the texts also note that he was beardless.
As well as being youthful and beardless, he is also described as being quite small. This made his prowess in battle all the more impressive.
Cú Chulainn is often described as being fairly dark, either his complexion or his hair. However, a few texts describe him as being blond.
One of the most unusual attributes of Cú Chulainn is the fact that he had seven fingers on each hand, seven toes on each foot, and seven pupils in each eye.
One source describes Cú Chulainn’s fingernails as being like the ‘grip of a hawk’s claw or a gryphon’s clench’.
Nevertheless, Cú Chulainn is consistently said to have been very beautiful.
Something that made Cú Chulainn even more formidable than he was anyway was the fact that he experienced supernatural battle frenzies, called a ‘ríastrad’ in the Irish literature.
When experiencing one of these battle frenzies, Cú Chulainn would literally contort with rage. According to some descriptions, he became essentially an unrecognisable monster.
While he was in this state, he was unstoppable and uncontrollable. Like a ferocious wild animal, he would attack anyone near him, whether friend or foe.
Cú Chulainn came from the royal family. He was the nephew of Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster. His close family members were:
- Deichtine (mother)
- Sualtam (father in some versions)
- Lugh (father in some versions)
- Cathbad (maternal grandfather)
- Róich (paternal grandfather)
- Ferdiad (foster brother)
- Emer (wife)
- Aífe (lover)
- Fand (lover)
- Uathach (lover)
- Connla (son)
- Lugaid Riab nDerg (foster son)
In the earliest version of the story of the conception of Cú Chulainn’s birth (known as Compert Con Culainn), Deichtine was actually the daughter of King Conchobar. However, in later versions, which became more famous, she was the sister of the king.
The earliest version also disagrees with later versions regarding who the father of Cú Chulainn was. This early account describes Deichtine as being impregnated by the deity Lugh, but she aborts that pregnancy due to fear of a scandal.
After aborting that pregnancy, she has relations with her husband Sualtam and conceives a child, Sétanta (Cú Chulainn). In this version, it would appear that Cú Chulainn is simply the son of Sualtam.
However, in most subsequent versions, Cú Chulainn is the child of Lugh. That would mean that Cú Chulainn was a demi-god, having a human mother but a divine father.
The Story of Cú Chulainn
The legendary stories of Cú Chulainn make up what is known as the Ulster Cycle in Irish literature. The stories about him cover his conception right through to his death, covering the whole life of this mighty warrior in detail.
However, the Ulster Cycle is not a single piece of literature. Therefore, different versions of many of the events in Cú Chulainn’s life are available.
The earliest version of the tale of Cú Chulainn’s conception describes how Deichtine, the daughter (in this version) of King Conchobar, accompanies the king and his nobles on a hunt for some magical birds, since she was the king’s charioteer.
The hunting party takes shelter in a house after a snowstorm develops. The wife of their welcoming host goes into labour, and Deichtine assists in the birth of the child. The next morning, the host and his wife are gone, but the child is still there.
Deichtine takes the child home and raises him as her own. However, the child eventually dies. The god Lugh then appears to Deichtine and explains that he was the host at the house where she and her hunting part took shelter.
Lugh tells Deichtine that he has now placed the child in her womb. However, her pregnancy causes problems, since she is betrothed to Sualtam mac Róich. She decides to abort the pregnancy. After she has relations with Sualtam, she conceives and gives birth to a son, whom she names Sétanta (Cú Chulainn).
A later version, which is more famous, describes Deichtine as disappearing from her home, the capital of Ulster. King Conchobar and his men go on a hunting trip and end up seeking shelter in a house, just like in the previous version.
In this version, the host is still Lugh, but his pregnant wife is Deichtine herself. She goes into labour and gives birth to her son, Sétanta.
After his birth, there is an argument among the nobles of Ulster regarding who should have the honour of being the boy’s foster father.
A character named Morann makes the wise suggestion that the boy should have multiple foster fathers, each one being responsible for a different part of the boy’s upbringing.
The foster fathers are:
- King Conchobar
- Blaí Briugu (responsible for protecting and providing for him)
- Sencha mac Ailella (responsible for teaching him good judgement and how to speak eloquently)
- Fergus mac Róich (responsible for generally caring for him and training him to protect the vulnerable)
- Amergin (responsible for educating him)
- Findchóem (responsible for nursing him)
Amergin and his wife Findchóem raise him in their house alongside their son Conall Cernach, in an area called Muirthemne Plain (in what is now County Louth).
Joining the Boy-Troop of Emain Macha
There is a troop of boy-warriors at Emain Macha, the capital of Ulster, which Cú Chulainn, or Sétanta, desperately wants to join. But rather than waiting for his foster parents to give him permission, he sets off on his own.
Due to being unfamiliar with certain customs of the boy-troop, he accidentally causes them to think that he is challenging them. They attack him, but he goes into a battle frenzy (a ‘ríastrad’) and beats them all.
After King Conchobar arrives and clears up the misunderstanding, Sétanta supposedly comes under the protection of the boy-troop.
However, the young Sétanta then turns on them and chases after them. He demands that they come under his protection. The boys relent, effectively accepting Sétanta as their leader.
The Death of Culann’s Guard Dog
King Conchobar is invited to a feast at the house of Culann the blacksmith. On his way, the king sees his nephew Sétanta playing a game with some other boys. Sétanta is so impressive that the king invites him to join him for the feast at Culann’s house.
The young boy tells the king that he will join him later, since he needs to finish his game. While at the feast, Colann asks Conchobar if anyone else will be joining them. The king has forgotten about his nephew by this point, so he tells Colann that they are not expecting anyone else.
Upon hearing this, Colann releases his guard dog. Later, Sétanta finishes his game and makes his way to the feast. The ferocious hound attacks him, but Sétanta kills it.
To make up for his actions, Sétanta offers to serve as Colann’s guard dog until a suitable replacement can be found. Because of this, the druid Cathbad (the father of Deichtan) gives him the nickname Cú Chulainn, meaning ‘Culann’s hound’.
The Prophecies of Cathbad
One day, Cú Chulainn hears his grandfather, the druid Cathbad, teaching his pupils. He overhears Cathbad telling his pupils that that very day was a special day. Any warrior who takes up arms on that day would become the greatest warrior of his age, and receive everlasting fame.
The young Cú Chulainn is immediately inspired to take action, so he goes to King Conchobar and asks for weapons to be given him. The only weapons that are able to withstand Cú Chulainn’s immense strength (although he is only seven years old) are the weapons of the king himself.
Thus, Cú Chulainn knows that he will become a mighty warrior. Yet, Cathbad is distressed at this, because there was more to the prophecy – the one who took arms that day would also die young.
Another prophecy by Cathbad inspires Cú Chulainn to take further action. He goes to the king again and asks for a chariot. Again, none of them can withstand him apart from the king’s own chariot.
The Three Sons of Nechtan Scéne
A man named Nechtan Scéne has three sons. These sons boast of having killed many of the men of Ulster – more, in fact, than the number of Ulstermen still living. Cú Chulainn attacks and kills them in a battle frenzy, and then returns to Emain Macha.
However, he is still in his battle frenzy when he returns, terrifying the people. The women of the territory, led by the queen, go out to Cú Chulainn and bare their breasts. As Cú Chulainn looks away so as not to be dishonourable, the men of Ulster grab him.
They first place him in a barrel of cold water, but this explodes due to the immense heat of his own body. They then place him in another barrel, but this boils. They then place him in a third barrel, and this warms to a pleasant temperature and thus ends the issue with Cú Chulainn.
Cú Chulainn’s Desire for Emer
Because of Cú Chulainn’s beauty, the men of Ulster worry about him stealing their women if he does not have his own wife. Thus, they become very concerned about finding a wife for him.
The men of Ulster search all over Ireland, looking for someone to be Cú Chulainn’s wife. However, this searching is in vain, because there is only one woman he desires. The woman is Emer the daughter Forgall Monach.
However, the woman’s father, Forgall, does not approve of Emer marrying Cú Chulainn. To resolve this issue, he decides to try to arrange Cú Chulainn’s death.
He suggests that Cú Chulainn should first become well trained in warfare by coming under the tutelage of Scáthach, a warrior who lives in Scotland. He hopes that Cú Chulainn will not survive the experience.
While Cú Chulainn is away, Forgall tries to get his daughter Emer to marry the king of Munster, but the king refuses when he hears about Emer’s love for Cú Chulainn.
Cú Chulainn’s Training
Cú Chulainn travels to Scáthach’s home in Scotland and receives extensive training. She trains him in all forms of warfare, notably including the use of a special weapon called the Gáe Bolg. This seems to have been a type of spear that released 30 barbs into its victims.
While training under Scáthach, Cú Chulainn learns of his ability to make enormous leaps.
During this period of training, Cú Chulainn becomes close friends with Ferdiad, who becomes known as his foster brother.
At a certain point, the arch-enemy of Scáthach named Aífe attacks. Scáthach gives Cú Chulainn a sleeping potion, because she wants him to stay out of the battle so that he does not get harmed. But because of Cú Chulainn’s great strength, the sleeping potion wears off quickly and he engages Aífe in battle.
Cú Chulainn and Aífe engage in single combat, with the former eventually winning. Cú Chulainn has her at his mercy, but he agrees to spare her life if she ends her enmity with Scáthach and also bears him a son. She agrees, and the two of them have relations and conceive a child.
The Marriage of Cú Chulainn and Emer
Having completed his training, Cú Chulainn returns to Emain Macha in Ireland after eight years of being away. He fully expects to marry Emer, as per the agreement he made with Forgall. However, Forgall is still adamantly against the marriage.
Because of Forgall’s continued refusal to allow his daughter to marry him, Cú Chulainn attacks his fortress. Many of Forgall’s men are killed, and Emer is taken. Forgall himself is killed during the confusion.
Having taken Emer and with Forgall now dead, Cú Chulainn and his beloved get married.
Probably around this point in his life, a poet and troublemaker named Bricriu invited many of the nobles of Ulster to his new dining hall. While there, he incites three warriors to compete for the champion’s portion of meat.
The three warriors are Cú Chulainn, Conall Cernach, and Lóegaire Búadach. They perform several feats to see who the best champion is, and they are judged by King Ailill, Queen Medb, and King Cú Roí.
In all of these contests, Cú Chulainn is the winner. However, the other two refuse to accept this result. Therefore, Cú Roí devises a way to resolve the dispute.
He magically transforms himself into an ugly-looking peasant and challenges the three warriors to behead him, but on the condition that he can behead them the next day. The warriors accept this challenge.
However, after the three warriors behead him, he simply picks up his head and walks away. The next day, Conall and Lóegaire abandon their agreement with the peasant out of fear. Only Cú Chulainn is courageous enough to stick to his word.
Due to his bravery, the peasant spares Cú Chulainn and reveals his true identity. King Cú Roí thus declares Cú Chulainn to be the true champion.
The Cattle Raid of Cooley
It must be at about this point in his life that one of the most famous events in the legend of Cú Chulainn occurred. At the age of 17, a massive army led by Medb of Connacht attacks Ulster.
The army is attempting to steal a special bull known as the Donn Cuailnge, which is exceptionally valuable due to its extreme fertility.
The initial success of Medb’s army is largely the fault of Cú Chulainn, since he was supposed to be watching the border of Ulster but was instead occupied with a woman.
As Medb is attacking, the Ulstermen fall under a curse that causes them to experience labour pains. This makes them unable to defend their territory. Therefore, the responsibility to defend Ulster falls entirely upon Cú Chulainn.
Even for Cú Chulainn, the task of holding off an entire army single-handedly is not easy. Yet, he manages to do it by ingeniously approaching the army just as they are about to cross a ford and challenging them to single combat.
For several months, Cú Chulainn is able to hold the army back by defeating its warriors one by one.
Cú Chulainn Against the Morrígan
Before one of his single-combat fights, a beautiful young woman approaches Cú Chulainn and offers her love to him, but he refuses. This woman is actually the Morrígan, a shape-shifting goddess.
As he engages in single combat against a character named Lóch mac Mofemis, the Morrígan attacks Cú Chulainn in the form of the following animals:
- An eel
- A wolf
- A heifer
Each time, Cú Chulainn wounds her in a different place: first in her ribs, then in her eye, and then in her leg. Eventually, he wins his single combat against Lóch. After this, the Morrígan appears to him again, but this time in the form of an elderly woman.
The woman is milking a cow, and she offers Cú Chulainn three drinks. After each drink, he blesses her. Each blessing he gives heals one of her wounds.
The Death of the Boy-Troop of Emain Macha
After a different single-combat fight, Cú Chulainn is particularly badly wounded. He is visited by the god Lugh, who reveals that he is his father. Lugh puts his son to sleep for three days, during which time he heals his wounds.
While Cú Chulainn is sleeping, the troop of boy-warriors over whom he was the leader rushes to his aid and attack Medb’s army. However, they are all slaughtered.
Cú Chulainn awakens and learns of what happened to the troop of warriors. He is heartbroken and furious, and this sends him into the most intense battle frenzy that he has experienced up until this point.
During this battle frenzy, Cú Chulainn savagely attacks Medb’s army and slaughters hundreds of warriors. He kills so many that he even builds walls out of the dead bodies.
Cú Chulainn Against His Foster Father and Brother
One of the warriors in Medb’s army is Fergus mac Róich, one of Cú Chulainn’s foster fathers. Medb sends him out to fight Cú Chulainn in single combat.
For obvious reasons, neither man wants to fight the other. Cú Chulainn agrees to yield to his foster father if Fergus promises to do the same in return next time they meet.
Next, Medb sends Ferdiad, the foster brother of Cú Chulainn with whom he is extremely close. Again, Cú Chulainn does not want to fight this opponent. He begs Ferdiad to yield and retreat, but he refuses.
Over the next three days, Cú Chulainn and Ferdiad engage in single combat, with Cú Chulainn eventually winning. Ferdiad falls dead by the ford of Áth Fhirdia (modern-day Ardee), which was named after him. He is slain by Cú Chulainn’s use of his special spear, the Gáe Bolga.
The Climax of the Cattle Raid
After this, Cú Chulainn is too wounded to continue fighting. However, at that time, the men of Ulster begin recovering from their debilitating pain. With King Conchobar leading his soldiers, they attack Medb’s army and engage in a ferocious battle.
Since Cú Chulainn is still recovering from his wounds, he cannot join the battle. However, he then sees his foster father Fergus leading a division of soldiers.
At this point, he jumps into battle and confronts Fergus. Due to their previous agreement, Fergus yields to Cú Chulainn and retreats from the battle with his troops.
Seeing this happen, Medb’s allies in the battlefield start to retreat out of fear that they will be slaughtered. With her help rapidly diminishing, Medb herself is forced to flee along with her own soldiers. She retreats all the way back to her own kingdom, Connacht.
Nonetheless, while Cú Chulainn had been fighting Medb’s warriors in single combat, some of Medb’s army had managed to find the Donn Cuailnge and capture it. Therefore, although Medb flees back to her land, she succeeds in taking the bull.
However, the Donn Cuailnge fights the special bull that Medb already owned. During the struggling, both bulls trample and kill Bricriu. Eventually, the Donn Cuailnge kills its rival and then charges back to Ulster. However, after it arrives, it drops down dead.
The Death of Connla the Son of Cú Chulainn
Previously, Cú Chulainn had left Aífe pregnant in Scotland after he completed his training with Scáthach. He had given her a golden ring to give to the child. He had told Aífe that when the child was old enough to wear the ring, they should be sent to Ireland.
Now, years later, the son born to Aífe (named Connla, or Conloach) travels to Ireland to meet his father, wearing the ring. However, there is a problem.
Before Cú Chulainn left Aífe all those years ago, he imposed three ‘geasa’, or magical prohibitions, on their child. These prohibitions are:
- He could not abandon his journey to Ireland to find his father once he started
- He could not back down from a challenge
- He could not identify himself to anyone who asked.
These instructions lead to tragedy when Connla finally meets his father. Cú Chulainn assumes that he is an enemy by the way he is behaving, and he demands that the youth identify himself. Due to the prohibitions Connla is under, he does not reveal his identity.
Cú Chulainn and his son battle fiercely. Connla has an opportunity to take a fatal shot, but misses intentionally because he does not wish to kill his father. However, Cú Chulainn eventually manages to land a fatal wound on Connla with the Gáe Bolga.
Due to the golden ring, Cú Chulainn finally realises that this is his son by Aífe. He is devastated, especially as Connla expresses in his dying breath his desire to have fought side by side with his father.
The Tragedy of Derbfogaill
When Cú Chulainn was training in Scotland with Scáthach, he had rescued a Scandinavian princess named Derbforgaill. Because of this, she fell in love with him. After he returned to Ireland, she travelled to his country to try to find him, but she did so in the form of a swan.
Thinking that it is a simple bird, Cú Chulainn shoots a stone into the sky with a slingshot and hits Derbforgaill, causing her to fall the ground. As she does, she returns to human form.
Realising that she is a person, Cú Chulainn saves her by sucking the stone out from the wound in her side. At this, she declares her love for him. However, the fact that he has tasted her blood prevents him from being able to marry him.
Therefore, Derbforgaill is given in marriage to Cú Chulainn’s foster son, Lugaid Riab nDerg. But out of jealousy of her desirability, some of the women of Ulster mutilate her, and she dies of her injuries.
Her husband Lugaid is so grief-stricken that he dies, while Cú Chulainn seeks revenge on the women responsible. He tears down a house in which at least 150 of the women are hiding, killing them all.
The Tragedy of Blathnát
King Cú Roí joins the men of Ulster on a campaign to the Isle of Man, during which Princess Blathnát is abducted. She loves Cú Chulainn, but Cú Roí insists on taking her for himself. He manages to fight off Cú Chulainn for long enough to run away with Blathnát in his clutches.
Although Cú Roí cannot be killed through normal processes (such as beheading, as seen from the incident at Bricriu’s feast), there is a special way in which he can be killed. The exact process varies depending on the version of the story.
In any case, Blathnát learns about the special way in which Cú Roí can be killed, and she informs Cú Chulainn of this. With this knowledge, Cú Chulainn successfully kills his enemy.
However, Cú Roí’s poet is furious with Blathnát for revealing his master’s weakness, so he grabs her and jumps off a cliff with her, killing them both.
Cú Chulainn’s Love for Fand the Fairy
At some point, Cú Chulainn falls in love with a divine being named Fand, the wife of Manannán mac Lir. She has been left by her husband and attacker by a group called the Fomorians. Cú Chulainn agrees to help her if she agrees to marry him.
Fand does not want to marry Cú Chulainn, but she knows she has no other choice due to the severity of her situation. However, when the two of them meet, she falls in love with him.
Cú Chulainn’s wife, Emer, becomes bitterly jealous over this particular relationship (she apparently has no issue with other lovers of Cú Chulainn). She even attempts to kill Fand, but she eventually decides to let them have each other once she sees the depth of Fand’s love for Cú Chulainn.
Ironically, this generosity on the part of Emer motivates Fand to reconcile with Manannán instead, allowing Cú Chulainn and Emer to be together again. The couple drink a magical potion from a druid to make them forget about the whole event.
Cú Chulainn’s Death
Cú Chulainn’s death is brought about by a conspiracy composed of Queen Medb along with several sons of men whom Cú Chulainn had killed. Most notable is Lugaid mac Cú Roí. He has three magical spears produced. It is prophesied that each one will kill a king.
Medb leads another invasion of Ulster, hoping to draw out Cú Chulainn so that the conspirators can kill him with Lugaid’s spears.
Elsewhere, Cú Chulainn is forced to break one of the geasa, or prohibitions, that he is under. One of his prohibitions is to never reject food offered to him, but another one is to never eat dog meat. He is offered dog meat as food, compelling him to break one of the geasa.
Cú Chulainn eats the dog meat, and immediately he becomes spiritually weaker.
When he sees Medb’s army invading, he goes out to fight it. Lugaid uses one of his spears to kill Láeg, Cú Chulainn‘s ‘king’ of charioteers. Another spear is used to kill Cú Chulainn’s horse, Liath Macha, known as the ‘king’ of horses. The third spear hits Cú Chulainn himself, mortally wounding him.
Cú Chulainn’s Last Stand
In the most well-known version of the death of Cú Chulainn, he ties himself to a standing stone so that he can continue to face his enemies even while dying. He does, however, eventually expire due to the severity of his wounds.
Due to his fearful reputation, his enemies are too scared to approach him even after he appears dead. It is only when a raven lands on his corpse and begins plucking out his eyes that his enemies are certain that it is safe to approach.
Lugaid cuts off Cú Chulainn’s head, but when he does, a light shines from his body and his sword falls from his hand. As it does, it cuts off Lugaid’s hand.
Lugaid then flees, but is caught and killed by Conall Cernach, who had previously sworn to avenge Cú Chulainn if he died first.
Sources for the Legend of Cú Chulainn
The tales of Cú Chulainn are not found in any single text or even a single definitive, harmonised collection of tales.
Rather, they make up a large part of the Ulster Cycle, which is the collective term for various tales of different types that were written across centuries and are all about the men of Ulster, particularly during the reign of King Chonchobar.
There are many tales that mention Cú Chulainn, but here are some of the most important:
- Tonmarch Emire
- Compert Con Culainn
- Conailla Medb míchuru
- Fled Bricrenn
- Táin Bó Cúailnge
- Serglige Con Culainn
- Aided Chon Culainn
A few of these tales are found in the 12th-century Book of Leinster.
Cú Chulainn in Modern Media
Being an exceptionally famous figure from Irish legend, Cú Chulainn has appeared in many pieces of modern media. Some examples include:
- Cuchulain of Muirthemne, published in 1902 by Lady Augusta Gregory, in which the author presents a rather sanitised version of the tale of Cú Chulainn.
- Various plays written by William Bulter Yeats in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #3, Marvel Comics, released in 1993.
- Gargoyles, a Disney TV show that began in 1994, in which Cú Chulainn appears as one of the main characters.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cú Chulainn
Who Were Cú Chulainn’s Parents?
Cú Chulainn’s mother was Deichtine the daughter of Cathbad the druid. His human father was Sualtam mac Róich.
In the earliest version of the legend of Cú Chulainn, Sualtam is genuinely his father. However, in later versions, Cú Chulainn’s true father is actually the god Lugh.
What Were Cú Chulainn’s Battle Frenzies?
Cú Chulainn experienced supernatural battle frenzies, which were known as a ‘ríastrad’ in Irish. During these frenzies, his body would distort into a monstrous form, and he would behave like a ferocious wild animal with no concept of friend or foe.
Was Cú Chulainn a God?
In most of the legends, Cú Chulainn is presented as a demi-god. However, in the earliest account of his conception, he has two fully-human parents. But even in this version, the god Lugh is involved in his birth.
However, there are some scholars who believe that Cú Chulainn was actually understood to be an incarnation of the god Lugh himself.
Where is Cú Chulainn Buried?
In the Book of Leinster, the head and right hand of Cú Chulainn are said to be buried at Tara, a hill of ancient ceremonial importance in County Meath, Ireland.
However, another source places the burial place of Cú Chulainn at a location called Síd Truim. Where exactly this was is unknown, but it appears to have been located somewhere on the Boyne River in Leinster, Ireland.
Was Cú Chulainn Real?
There is no hard evidence for Cú Chulainn’s existence. However, there is next to no reliable information at all about any kings or notable warriors in Ireland in such an early period.
Therefore, the lack of contemporary documents mentioning Cú Chulainn does not mean that he did not exist. It simply means that we cannot say for sure one way or the other.
When Did Cú Chulainn Live?
Cú Chulainn was said to have lived at some point in the first century BCE or the first century CE.
One record (the Chronicon Scotorum) places his death in 1 CE. On the other hand, an earlier record (the Lebor Gabála) places the reign of his contemporary king (and foster son) Lugaid Riab nDerg in the middle of the first century CE.
Yet in the Annals of the Four Masters, dating to about the same time as the Chronicon Scotorum, the reign of that king is placed in the latter part of the first century BCE. So the sources are not consistent, but clearly Cú Chulainn’s life is placed somewhere within the first century BCE or the first century CE.
What Weapon Did Cú Chulainn Use?
Cú Chulainn used a special weapon called the Gáe Bolga. There is some debate regarding what exactly this was, but it appears to have been a type of spear. After entering the flesh of its victim, it cut into the victim with 30 barbs. For this reason, it needed to cut out of its victims rather than just pulled from their body.
Celtic Mythology Bibliography
- James MacKillop – A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
- Proinsias Mac Cana – Celtic mythology (Library of the world’s myths and legends)
- Philip Freeman – Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes
- Margaret Alice Murray – The God of the Witches