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CUCHULAINN - THE HOUND OF ULSTER
There was a time in Irelands history when chivalry and chieftainry ruled the land. When the country was occupied by bands of warriors who spoke only their native tongue and who cherished their heritage and civilisation. This was the time of Conor McNessa and the High Kings of Ireland, of the Gamanraide and the Red Branch Knights of the Emania. It was the time of Cuchullain.
All of the warrior bands had their own Seanachie, a person responsible for recounting the deeds of times past, a chronicler of the ages. Cuchullain was their most famous subject and hundreds of tales of his heroic deeds, both real and imagined, have survived to this day.
Cuchullain was the nephew and foster son of King Conor of Emania, and was originaly named Setanta. He arrived at the Court to find the youths playing Camán (hurling) and, having with him his red bronze hurley he so outplayed the other youths that his future greatness could be seen by all of the Court. The warriors of the Red Branch acknowledged him as a blood relative of the King and heard him proclaim before the Druids in the Hall of Heroes:
'I care not whether I die tomorrow or next year,if only my deeds live after me'.
Cuchulainns greatest deed was perhaps when he alone held back the forces of Connaught and had to fight his friend, Ferdiad, who was the champion and chief of the Connaught Knights of the Sword. Ferdiad and Cuchullain had trained together in arms in their youth and it was displeasing to Cuchullain to have to fight his friend of old. He tried to dissuade Ferdiad against fighting by reminding him of their days in training, when they were both subjects of the great female champion, Scathach, in Alba.
'We were heart companions, We were companions in the woods, We were fellows of the same bed, where we used to sleep the balmy sleep. After mortal battles abroad, In countries many and far distant, together we used to practice, and go through each forest, learning with Scathach'.
Ferdiad would not be swayed. Lest he weaken under Cuchullains pleas he responded only with taunts against his friend, now foe.
So they fought. They fought for four days and eventually, after a tremendous effort, Cuchullain laid Ferdiad down and then fell into a trance of sorrow and weakness after the epic duel.
As is the way with such heroes, Cuchulainn died on the battlefield. He was propped against a large rock whilst dead, with a spear in his hand and a buckler on his arm, and with such a defiant attitude was able to strike fear into his enemies even after death.