HOW CUCHULAIN GOT HIS NAME
HAT evening at supper, Meave sat silent, as though she
were revolving matters in her mind. When supper was
ended and she and her husband and Fergus, with one or
two others of her chief captains, sat in the tent-door
around the fire, looking out on the hosts who rested at
close of day by the forest fires, singing and telling
tales, as was their wont after the evening meal, Meave
said to Fergus, "Just now you spoke of that little boy
as Setanta, but I have heard him called Cuchulain, or
Culain's Hound; how did he get that name?"
And Cormac, Conor's son, answered eagerly, "I will tell
you that story myself, for I was present, and I know
the way of it."
"Well, tell us now," said Meave and Ailill both at
And Cormac said—"In Ulster, near Cuchulain's
country, was a mighty artificer and smith, whose name
was Culain. Now the custom is, that ever man of means
and every owner of land in Ulster, should, once in a
year or so, invite the King and his chiefs to spend a
few days, it may be a week or a fortnight, at his
house, that he may give them entertainment. But Culain
owned no lands, nor was he rich, for only the fruit of
his hammer, of his anvil and his tongs, had he.
Nevertheless he desired to entertain the King at a
 banquet, and he went to Emain to invite his chief. But
he said, 'I have no lands or store of wealth; I pray
thee, therefore, to bring with thee but a few of thy
prime warriors, because my house cannot contain a great
company of guests.' So the King said he would go,
bringing but a small retinue with him.
"Culain returned home to prepare his banquet, and when
the day was come, towards evening the King set forth to
reach the fort of Culain. He assumed his light,
convenient traveling garb, and before starting he went
down to the green to bid the boy-corps farewell.
"There he saw a sight so curious that he could not tear
himself away. At one end of the green stood a group of
a hundred and fifty youths, guarding one goal, all
striving to prevent the ball of a single little boy,
who was playing against the whole of them, from getting
in; but for all that they could do, he won the game,
and drove his ball home to the goal.
"Then they changed sides, and the little lad defended
his one goal against the hundred and fifty balls of the
other youths, all sent at once across the ground. But
though the youths played well, following up their
balls, not one of them went into the hole, for the
little boy caught them one after another just outside,
driving them hither and thither, so that they could not
make the goal. But when his turn came round to make
the counter-stroke, he was as successful as before;
nay, he would get the entire set of a hundred and fifty
balls into their hole, for all that they could do.
"Then they played a game of getting each other's cloaks
off without tearing them, and he would have their
mantles off, one after the other, before they could, on
their part, even unfasten the brooch that held his
 When they wrestled with each other, it was the same
thing: he would have them on the ground before all of
them together could upset him, or make him budge a
"As the King stood and watched all this, he said:
' 'Tis well for the country into which this boy has
come! A clever child indeed is he; were but his acts
as a grown man to come up to the promise of his youth,
he might be of some solid use to us; but this is not to
be counted upon.' "
"Then," Fergus said, breaking in upon the tale, "I was
vexed because the King seemed to doubt the child,
whether his after deeds would equal the promise of his
youth; and I spoke up and said, 'That, O King, I think
not wisely said; have no fear for this boy, for as his
childish deeds outstrip the acts of childhood, so will
his manly feats outshine the deeds of heroes and great
men.' Then the King said to me, 'Have the child
called, that we may take him with us to the banquet.'
"So when Setanta came, the King invited him; but the
boy said, 'Excuse me now awhile; I cannot go just now.'
'How so?' said the King, surprised. 'Because the
boy-corps have not yet had enough of play.' 'I cannot
wait until they have,' replied the King: 'the night is
growing late.' 'Wait not at all,' replied the child;
'I will even finish this one game, and will run after
you.' 'But, young one, knowest thou the way?' asked
the King. 'I will follow the trail made by your
company, the wheels of their chariots and hoofs of the
horses on the road,' he replied."
starts; and in time for the banquet he reaches Culain's
house, where, with due honour, he is received. Fresh
rushes had been strewn upon the floor, the tables all
 the fires burning in the middle of the room. A great
vat full of ale stood in the hall, a lofty candlestick
gave light, and round the fires stood servants cooking
savoury viands, holding them on forks or spits of wood.
Each man of the King's guests entered in order of his
rank, and sat at the feast in his own allotted place,
hanging his weapons up above his head. The King
occupied the central seat, his poets, counselors, and
chiefs sitting on either hand according to their state
and dignity. As they were sitting down, the smith
Culain came to Conor and asked him, 'Good now, O King,
before we sit at meat I would even know whether anyone
at all will follow thee this night to my dwelling, or
is thy whole company gathered now within?' 'All are
now here,' said the King, quite forgetting the wee boy;
'but wherefore askest thou?'
" 'It is only that I have an excellent watch-dog, fierce
and strong; and when his chain is taken off, and he is
set free to guard the house, no one dare come anywhere
within the same district with him; he is furious with
all but me, and he has the strength and savage force of
a hundred ordinary watch-dogs. This dog was brought to
me from Spain, and no dog in the country can equal
him.' 'Let him be set loose, for all are here,' said
Conor; 'well will he guard this place for us.'
"So Culain loosed the dog, and with one spring it
bounded forth out of the court of the house and over
the wall of the rath, making a circuit of the entire
district; and when it came back panting, with its
tongue hanging from its jaws, it took up its usual
position in front of the house, and there crouched with
its head upon its paws, watching the high road to
Emain. Surely an extraordinarily cruel and fierce and
savage dog was he.
 "When the boy-corps broke up that night, each of the
lads returning to the house of his parent or his
fosterer or guardian, Setanta, trusting to the trail of
the company that went with Conor, struck out for
Culain's house. With his club and ball he ran forward,
and the distance seemed short on account of his
interest in the game. As soon as he arrived on the
green of Culain's fort, the mastiff noticed him, and
set up such a howling as echoed loud through all the
country-side. Inside the house the King and his
followers heard, but were struck dumb with fear, nor
dared to move, thinking surely to find the little lad
dead at the door of the fort. As for the hound
himself, he thought with but one gulp to swallow
Setanta whole. Now the little lad was without any
means of defence beyond his ball and hurley-stick. He
never left his play till he came near. Then, as the
hound charged open-jawed, with all his strength he
threw the ball right into the creature's mouth; and as
for a moment the hound stopped short, choking as the
ball passed down its throat, the lad seized hold of the
mastiff's open jaws, grasping its throat with one hand
and the back of its head with the other, and so
violently did he strike its head against the pillars of
the door, that it was no long time until the creature
lay dead upon the ground.
CUCHULAIN SLAYS THE HOUND OF CULAIN.
"When Culain and the warriors within had heard the
mastiff howl, they asked each other, as soon as they
got back their voices, 'What makes the watch-dog cry?'
'Alas!' the King said, "tis no good luck that brought
us on our present trip.' 'Why so?' inquired all. 'I
mean that the little boy, my foster-son and Fergus's,
Setanta, son of Sualtach, it is who promised to come
after me; now, even now, he is doubtless fallen by the
 hound of Culain.' Then, when they heard that it was
Conor's foster-son who was without, on the instant to
one man they rose; and though the doors of the fort
were thrown wide they could not wait for that, but out
they stormed over the walls and ramparts of the fort to
find the boy."
"Quick they were," said Fergus, interrupting, "yet did
I outstrip them, and at the rampart's outer door I
found the child, and the great hound dead beside him.
Without a pause I picked up the boy and hoisted him on
my shoulder, and thus, with all the heroes following,
we came to Conor, and I placed him between the
"Yes, so it was," said Cormac, taking up the story
again where he had left it; "but let me tell of Culain.
The smith went out to find his dog, and when he saw him
lying there, knocked to pieces and quite dead, his
heart was vexed within him. He went back to the house,
and said, ''Twas no good luck that urged me to make
this feast for thee, O King; would I had not prepared a
banquet. My life is a life lost, and my substance is
but substance wasted without my dog. He was a defence
and protection to our property and our cattle, to every
beast we had and to our house. Little boy,' said he,
'you are welcome for your own; that was a good member
of my family thou didst take from me, a safeguard of
raiment, of flocks and herds.' 'Be not vexed thereat,'
replied the child, 'for I myself will fix on my own
punishment. This shall it be. If in all Ireland a
whelp of that dog's breed is to be found, 'tis I myself
will rear him up for thee till he be fit to take the
watch-dog's place. In the meantime, O Culain, I myself
will be your hound for
 defence of your cattle and for your own defence, until
the dog be grown and capable of action; I will defend
the territory, and no cattle or beast or store of thine
shall be taken from thee, without my knowing it.'
" 'Well hast thou made the award,' said they all, 'and
henceforward shall your name be changed; you shall no
longer be called Setanta; Cu-Chulain, or the "Hound of
Culain," shall your name be.
" 'I like my own name best,' the child objected. 'Ah,
say not so,' replied the magician, 'for one day will
the name of Cuchulain ring in all men's mouths; among
the brave ones of the whole wide world Cuchulain's name
shall find a place. Renowned and famous shall he be,
beloved and feared by all.' 'If that is so, then am I
well content,' replied the boy.
"So from that day forth the name Cuchulain clung to
him, until the time came when he was no longer
remembered as the Hound of Culain's Fort, but as the
guardian and watch-dog of defence to the Province
against her foes; and then men loved best to call him
'The Hound of Ulster.'
"Now," continued Cormac, "it would be reasonable to
expect that the little boy, who, at the age of six or
seven years slew a dog whom a whole company would not
dare to touch when he was at large, would, at the age
of a grown youth, be formidable to Ulster's foes."
And Meave was forced to admit that it was likely that