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Poetry by Rachel A. Gold

Irish Celtic Folk Myths:
A Wee Sample from the Tain*

How the “Hound of Culann” won his name

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When Culann the smith prepared a feast for Conchobar, King of Ulster, he asked that the King bring only a few retainers, since he earned his wealth from his smithy, and did not have an estate rich enough to feed a great host. Conchobar therefore took with him only fifty of his bravest nobles.
As Conchobar departed he saw a little boy (one of many fostered at his court) performing feats of skill and courage on the playing fields, against three times fifty other boys. He beat them all at ball- games and at wrestling. Conchobar, marveling at the boy’s strength and skill, invited him to the feast.
The boy replied: “I have not yet played enough, master Conchobar, but I shall follow you later.”
When Conchobar arrived at the feast, his host Culann asked him if anyone else was to follow. Forgetting the boy, Conchobar said “no,” and so Culann unleashed his enormous hound to guard the fort and its cattle.
At the moment the boy came in sight, and to the horror of Culann and his guests, the hound ran to attack him. The little boy, unconcerned, threw aside his ball and hurley, seized the mighty dog with his bare hands, and smashed it to fragments against a stone.
The Ulstermen ran to the boy and took him to Cinchobar, who was greatly relieved, for the boy turned out to be Sedanta mac Sualtamh, his sister’s son. Culann the smith formally welcomed him, but mourned the loss of his great dog, for it was the strong defender of his home and cattle.
The little boy replied: “I shall raise a puppy of the same breed for you, and until he is ready to serve you, I shall protect your cattle myself.”
“Then you shall be called the Hound of Culann (Cu Chulainn),” said Cathbad the Druid.

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Fergus describes his foster-son, the Battle of Ulster hero, Cu Chulainn

“You will not encounter a warrior harder to deal with, nor a spear-point sharper or keener or quicker, nor a hero fiercer, nor a raven more voracious, nor one of his age to equal a third of his valour, nor a lion more savage ... nor doom of hosts, nor one better able to check a great army. You will not find there any man his equal in age like unto Cu Chulainn in growth, in dress, in fearsomeness, in speech, in splendour, in voice and appearance, in power, in rage and anger, in victory and in doom-dealing and in violence, in stalking, in sureness of aim and in game killing, in swiftness and boldness and rage.”

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Cu Chulainn offers Fergus hospitality

This is a ritual offering of hospitality and safe conduct, but somewhat spartan as Cu Chuliann was on campaign.
“Welcome, master Fergus,” said Cu Chulainn. “If fish swim in the estuaries you shall have a salmon and a half; or else if a flock of birds fly over the plain you shall have a barnacle goose and the half of another; or you shall have a handful of cress or seaweed, a handful of laver. a drink from the sand. I shall go to the ford to encounter an opponent if he challenges you and you shall be guarded until you have slept.”

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*quoted from Simon James, The World Of The Celts, London: Thames and Hudson, 1993, p. 159.

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Tuesday, 04-May-2010 14:47:05 EDT