Emerald Isle

Cuchulainn Meets His Son

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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Ulster Cycle

Cuchulainn Meets His Son

They say the fury of a storm in a high tempest has nothing on the fury of a woman scorned, and few women have ever felt quite so scorned as Aoife the warrior-queen after she found out that her lover Cúchulainn had married another woman, Emer! She had borne a son for him, but in her wrath she decided to turn the child against him.

She spoke not a word of this to Connla, which was the boy's name, but trained him well in all the arts of a warrior. She sent him to Scathach also, that he would become Cúchulainn's equal in war, and when the ring his father had given her fit his thumb, she sent him away to Ireland.

But first she put on him three geases, or magical forbiddings. The first was that he should never turn back from his journey. The second was that he should never back down from a fight, but tackle all comers, and the third was that he should never, under any circumstances, tell anyone his name.

Proudly the young man set off to meet his father, armoured in fine mail and a broad shield, and his ship landed near Baile's Strand. It so happened that King Conchobar and his men were nearby at the time, and they spotted this warrior's approach. Admiring his poise from a distance, King Conchobar sent a messenger to ask his name.

Well, the messenger came back with the news that the lad refused to speak his name, no matter what the custom was! King Conchobar was enraged and asked whether any in his host would defend the King's honour, at which Conall Cearnach stood up and gravely declared that he'd teach the boy a lesson.

Striding to the beach, he challenged Connla and told him that there was no need for a fight, but fight they would if he refused to tell his name.

“Then fight we must!” said Connla, and fight they did. By the end of it Conall it was who lay bleeding into the sand, and so his reputation passed to Connla. King Conchobar was nonplussed and decided to play his strongest hand, sending for Cúchulainn, who came as quick as the wind.

Like the King, Cúchulainn was impressed by the young man's stance and bearing, and even more so when he heard that Conall had fallen by his hand, but when he demanded to know the lad's name, he was told the same story and more – that Connla was under a geas never to speak his own name when asked.

Although he understood now, Cúchulainn had no choice but to fight for the King's honour, and they did battle as few battles had ever been fought! Blow for blow, strike for strike Connla matched him, up and down as though he fought his own mirror image. As this continued, the hero-light began to shine from Cúchulainn's head, and at last Connla knew who he must be.

Turning aside his spear thrust at the last moment, he shouted that he was Cúchulainn's son Connla, but too late, for the deadly Gae Bolg - javelin of a thousand barbs - had pierced him and destroyed him in every part and joint.

Even with the battle-spasm still on him, Cúchulainn cradled his dying son in his arms, and they both cursed Aoife. After his son died, his fury grew to greater heights than ever before, and he smote trees like reeds into splinters and boulders like apples into dust and rubble.

Then he began to threaten the assembled host of the King for he was gripped by the furies, so Cathbad the druid cast a spell on him to make him think the waves of the ocean were attacking warriors, and he strove with them from the waxing of the moon to the waxing of the moon until he collapsed from exhaustion.

As for Aoife, when she heard the end of the tale that she had begun, she wept bitter tears till the end of her days, reaping now at last the full fruits of wrath and vengeance, knowing she had lost her son and Cúchulainn both forever. And isn't it a pity more people don't learn from her lesson.

Baile's Strand is close to the spot marked on the map below if you care to visit!


Further Tales from the Ulster Cycle

Irish fairy tales, Irish folklore