Red Branch Knights

The Red Branch Knights flourished under Conor MacNessa in the first century of our era. Cuchulain was their most renowned hero. His first name was Setanta, and he came by the popular name in this way: Setanta being then six years old killed a fierce dog belonging to a smith called Cullain. “Little boy,” said the smith, “that was a good member of my family you took from me, a safeguard of raiment, of flocks, and of herds.” “Be not angered thereat,” said the boy, “for in this matter myself will pronounce an equitable award. If in all Erin there be a whelp of that dog’s breed, by me shall he be nurtured till he be as fit for action as his sire (that I have killed). In the meantime myself will do thee a bandog’s office in guarding of thy cattle and substance and strong place.” “Well hast thou made the award,” said Concabar, and Cathbad the Wizard, chiming in, declared that he could not have done it better, and that thenceforth the boy should bear the name Cuchulain, or Culain’s hound. “I like my own name better,” said the boy—“Setanta MacSultaim.” “Never say it,” remonstrated Cathbad, “for all men in the world shall have their mouths full of that name.”

Meve, Queen of Connaught, at this time, resolved to invade Ulster. She had her army mobilised and formed into three corps, each consisting of 3,000 men, besides contingents from other provinces, who joined her forces. On arriving on the borders of Ulster she found many of the men of that province suffering from a serious malady called the noinden ulad, a kind of lethargy which lasted for some days. The heroes of both armies in the meantime fought single-handed. The feats of Cuchulain surpassed all the others. Ferdiad was the most formidable of his antagonists, and the fight between them lasted four days, at the end of which Ferdiad was worsted. A few years later Meve again invaded Ulster, and a battle was fought in which Cuchulain fell mortally wounded at the age of twenty-seven years.

The exploits of that period have come down to us in story. The historical and romantic tales of that cycle are the best in the Irish language. The most celebrated of the tales is the Tain bo Cuailnge.

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Early Irish History and Antiquities, and the History of West Cork

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