The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn

When Culann the Smith invited Conchobar to a feast at his house, he asked that the king should not bring a great host, for he, Culann, would make his feast not out of the plenty of land and name, but from the fruits of his own two hands and tongs. So Conchobar went, and took but a hundred and fifty chariots with him, of the best and proudest of the heroes of the Ulaid.

Then Conchobar visited his playing-field; for it was his custom always to visit it at his going and his coming, to ask their greeting of the boy-troop there. There he saw Sétanta playing ball against the three fifties of boys, and defeating them. When they drove at the hole he filled the hole with his balls and they could not stop a single one; when it was their turn to drive the balls into the hole, he thwarted them all alone, so that not a single ball went in. When they were wrestling, he alone overthrew the three fifties of them, and they could not fit to gather around him in numbers enough to overthrow him. When they played the stripping-game, he stripped all the boys completely, and the three fifties of them could not even pluck the brooch from out his cloak.

Conchobar thought it a wonder to see. He said, »Would his feats compare in the same way to those of other men, if he lived to be a man?« Everyone said they would.

»Come with me,« said Conchobar to the boy, »to the feast we are going to: for you are a guest there.«

»I haven't had my fill of play yet, master Conchobar«, said the boy. »I will come after you.«

When they had all arrived at the feast, Culann asked Conchobar, »Do you expect anyone to follow you?«, and Conchobar said no, because he had forgotten about the boy, his fosterling.

»I have a watch-dog«, said Culann: »three chains on that dog, and three men on each chain. Let slip the dog to ward the cattle, and let the court be shut.«

Then the boy comes, gamboling over the plain. The hound makes for him, but he goes on playing: he would throw his ball, and his hurley-stick after it, so that it struck the ball in the air: one cast was not longer than another. He threw his toy javelin after them, and caught it before it touched the ground: it didn't hinder his sport with stick and ball. And the hound came on. Seeing all this from the walls of the court, the Ulstermen could not move for horror: they thought that the boy should not be alive when they reached him, even had the gates to the court been open.

Now when the hound comes upon the boy, he throws his ball and hurley-stick aside; he grasps the hound by the apple of its throat with one hand, and its back by the other, and he dashes it against a stone beside him so that all the limbs of it spring apart. (Or as others tell it, he shoots his ball into the maw of the hound, and with such force that it tears right through, spilling the entrails.)

There was a great jubilee among the Ulstermen, that the son of the king's sister had not been killed. They rushed out, some through the gates, others over the wall in their hurry; they took the boy and set him on Conchobar's knee.

Culann came out of the house then, saying, »I welcome your coming into this house, for the sake of your mother. But for me, I lament that I ever thought to make a feast! Mine is a life lost, and my herd is a herd stolen, without my hound! He vouchsafed my honor and my life, that man of the household who has been taken from me, my hound. He was ward and guard to our land and our cattle; he was protection of our every beast, our every house and field.«

»No great matter that«, said the boy; »I will raise for you a whelp of the same litter, and I will be a hound for the defence of your cattle and that of yourself, until that dog grows; indeed I will ward all Muirthemne Plain, so that not a herd nor a single head of cattle be taken away from it, unless I have my death first.«

»Then from now on your name shall be Cú Chulainn«, said Cathub the druid.

»I don't like that for my name«, said the boy.

But it was.

The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn

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