Cuchulainn is a legendary hero of Ireland.

Cuchulainn & the Cattle Raid of Cooley

The importance of cattle to the Celts is clearly demonstrated in the part of the Ulster Cycle known as the Táin Bó Cualnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). Maeve, queen of Connaught, comparing her wealth with that of her husband Ailil, found that in all things they were equal, except that Ailil had a fantastic bull among his cattle and Maeve did not. Learning that the king of Ulster owned a brown bull the equal of her husband’s, she sent a messenger to offer the king generous gifts (including herself) for the loan of the bull for a year. As the king was about to accept, the queen’s emissary boasted that they could have taken the bull regardless. Insulted, the king sent them back to Connaught empty-handed. Angered by his refusal, Maeve led her people to war to take the bull as a prize.

Because of a curse, the warriors of Ulster could not awaken to do battle with Maeve’s forces. Instead, Cuchulainn, son of Lugh, went out alone to fight them. His invincible spear (the gae bolg) and battle fury stood him in good stead, and he killed many Connaughtmen each day until he agreed to single combat instead. Though Cuchulainn won against each champion sent to fight him, Maeve secretly stole the bull while Cuchulainn was engaged in battle and drove it back across the border into Connaught. There it fought with the bull of Connaught and killed it. Having received terrible wounds itself, the brown bull of Ulster returned home and dropped dead.

One of the champions Maeve sent against Cuchulainn was his foster brother Ferdia. Ferdia had no wish to fight Cuchulainn because to do so, the two had to break their brotherly oaths to each other. Maeve insisted, and as her sworn warrior, Ferdia had to accept the challenge. Ferdia was slain in the battle. Cuchulainn’s Dán caught up with him after Ferdia’s death. En route to his final battle, he was met by the Morrigan (goddess of warfare, and some say death), who invited him to share a meal of roasted dog with her. Cuchulainn was under two geasa: never to refuse a feast, and never to eat dog. Forced to break one geas, he chose to dine rather than insult the goddess. Thus doomed, Cuchulainn fought his last battle and was mortally wounded. Tying himself to a stone pillar, he battled on until he died.


  1. CTD. Immortal Eyes: Court of All Kings, p. 29.
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