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Irish - Táin Bó Cúailnge

The Cattle Raid of Cúailnge: How Cú Chulainn got his name

This centrepiece of Medieval Irish heroic narrative describes an expedition undertaken by Queen Medb of Connacht to acquire the Brown Bull of Cúailnge in the northern territory of the Ulaid. Since past misdemeanours meant that the men of the Ulaid were suffering from a debilitating illness at the time, defence of their realm fell on a mere youth of seventeen years, Cú Chulainn by name, who proved more than equal to the task. Curious about their opponent, the Connacht men seek information concerning him at an early stage from northerners in their midst. In a cineamatic flashback, Fergus responds by relating a series of Cú Chulainn’s remarkable boyhood deeds. Central to them is the well-known story of how he acquired a new name, ‘Hound of Culann’ — an episode symbolising his transition from boy to warrior at the precocious age of six years. With no more than his toys as weapons, he successfully wards off a ferocious canine attack. Moreover, his composure throughout is in marked contrast to the panic engendered in his adult kinsmen when they realise that as a result of the bungling of his uncle and foster-father, King Conchobar, the boy has been locked out. Similarly we note his maturity in the face of Culann’s dismay; in no time at all the situation is made good. It is indeed no wonder that one whose control and skill were such at the age of six should go on to great things. Like the Táin’s medieval audiences, we await with anticipation the telling of these.