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The Legend of Cu Chulainn Part 1

In the pages of Irish and Scottish folklore, Cu Chulainn (which translates into ‘Culann’s Hound’) appears in myths and folklore, with a tale that illustrate how he gained a reputation for himself after accomplishing deeds throughout his childhood. This article explores his early life and the legends surrounding his entrance into the world.

Before being known as Cu Chulainn, the mythological hero was originally referred to as Setanta, and the story regarding his birth and childhood has many twists and turns.

The Birth of Cu Chulainn (Setanta)

When it comes to the details of Cu Chulainn’s birth, a handful of different tales exist. The earliest version was referred to as ‘the Conception of Cu Chulainn’ and depicts his mother Deichtine as the daughter and charioteer of the king of Ulster, Cochobar mac Nessa. During a quest to locate a flock of magical birds, Deichtine joins the king and other nobles. However, it begins to snow and the Ulstermen are forced to seek shelter. They happen upon a home where they are welcomed to rest.

During their stay, the wife of the host goes into labor and Deichtine helps out with the birth of the child, which turns out to be a baby boy. At the same time, a mare gives birth to two colts at the same time. Morning comes and the Ulstermen find that they are at the Brug na Boinde, which is the Neolithic mound at Newgrange. The house is no longer standing and all of the occupants have disappeared. All that is left behind is the two colts and the child.

Deichtine brings the boy to her home and raises him as her own. Unfortunately, he becomes sick during his early childhood and dies. The god Lugh appears to Deichtine and informs her that he was the host that night in the woods and that he has placed his child in her womb. He says that the child is to be given the name of Setanta. However, her pregnancy is a scandal, as she is already promised to become the wife of Sualtam mac Roich. Immediately, the Ulstermen believe that Conchonar is the father of the child, so Deichtine ceases the pregnancy so that she can enter the bed of his husband as a ‘virgin-whole.’ Later on, she conceives a son whom she gives the name Setanta.

Another version, which emerges later on, is best known in traditional circles. Deichtine is known as Conchobar’s sister and she vanishes from Emain Macha , the capital of Ulster. Similar to the previous version, the Ulstermen go on a hunting expedition and are forced to find shelter in a nearby house when a snowstorm starts to brew. Lug is their host in this version and his wife gives birth to a son that night , only the wife is Deichtine. The child is named Setanta. An argument ensues between the Ulster nobles over who will become a foster-father to the child”¦ (continued in Part 2)