| Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|The story of Ferdiad, a boy of Ireland, in the time of High King Brian Boru, when the Danes were pillaging the Irish countryside. How his foster-father Angus becomes poet to the High King and how Ferdiad himself recovers a lost treasure. Gives a glimpse into the customs and social life of the Celts, with special emphasis on their artistic achievements, including the Book of Kells and the stories of Cuculain. Ages 8-10 |
HOW CUCHULAIN GOT HIS NAME
 "YOU know," began Angus, "it was in the brave days of
the Red Branch Knights, hundreds and hundreds of years
ago. Every summer these famous warriors used to go to
the dun of Concobar Mac Nessa, king of Ulster, which is
in the northern part of Ireland, and while there they
would practice drills and hold contests of strength and
go through all sorts of feats of arms.
"One summer when they were thus visiting King Concobar,
on a certain day a great flock of birds alighted on the
wheat fields and began to eat the ripe grain. The king
and a party of his knights went out with slings and
stones to drive them off. But the birds kept flying
 and farther away till at last when it grew dark they
had lured King Concobar and the rest to where a fairy
mound rose from the banks of the river Boyne.
"When they looked about for somewhere to sleep, they
could find only a tumble-down hut, and with this they
had to content themselves; that is, all but one of the
knights who went exploring further till he saw an
opening in the fairy mound and entering it he came to a
beautiful house and was met at the door by a handsome
young man who told him his name was Lugh of the Strong
Arm. In a little while the young man's wife came in
and the knight stared with surprise for he recognized
her as Dectera, a lovely girl who with fifty of her
maidens had disappeared from the court of King Concobar
a whole year before.
"When the knight went back to the hut where the others
were and told what he had seen, King Concobar at once
sent for Dectera
 to return to the court with him. She refused, but next
morning they found in the hut her beautiful baby boy
whom she had sent as a gift to the people of Ulster,
for the Druids had made great prophecies about what a
great hero he should be."
"Who were the Druids?" asked Conn.
"Why," said Angus, "they were the priests of long ago,
before the blessed Saint Patrick came and taught our
Celtic people about Christ and started the Christian
religion in Ireland.
"But everybody in King Concobar's time believed what
the Druids said," went on Angus, "so the Red Branch
Knights took the baby back with them and found a nurse
for him, and the king gave him a large piece of land
and a rath for his inheritance and he was named
Setanta. By and by, when he was seven years old, he
was sent to be brought up in the court and be a
foster-son of King Concobar. He was a fine strong boy
and soon excelled all the other boys
 at court in running and leaping and riding horseback
and shooting with bow and arrow and in hurling the
spear, and all the things you boys now are being
"Now one summer, when Setanta was about ten, King
Concobar and some of the knights who had come again for
the yearly practice in arms, decided to pay a two days'
visit to their friend a flaith named Culain who lived a
number of miles from the king's palace. When they were
ready to start they asked Setanta to go with them, but
he was busy playing a game of hurley and he wanted to
finish it; so he said he would come later in the
"The king's party went on, and Culain welcomed them and
spread a great feast and by the time they had finished
it was quite late in the evening, and they had
forgotten all about Setanta. Then all at once they
heard a most ferocious baying outside."
"Yes," cried Ferdiad, for the boys were
 very fond of this story, "it was the hound of Culain
that had been let loose to guard the rath for the
night, and it was as big and fierce as that lion beast
that lives across the sea somewhere and everybody is so
afraid of! One of the merchants from the south of Gaul
told us about it at the fair!"
"I have heard of the lion," said Angus, "and they say
it is very terrible, but I believe I would as soon meet
it as one of our Celtic wolf-hounds on guard. As the
folks in Culain's rath listened the noise grew louder
as if the hound was fighting fiercely. At this they
"And there stood Setanta with his foot on the dead
hound!" broke in Conn excitedly.
"Yes," said Angus, "when it sprang on him he had seized
it by the throat and killed it all by himself. The
king and knights were amazed and they carried Setanta
into the house and declared he would be a great hero.
But while they were all exclaiming about Setanta's
 feat, Culain stood apart, sad and silent; for he
thought a great deal of his hound that had guarded his
rath faithfully for years.
"As soon as Setanta noticed this, he said courteously
to Culain that he was sorry he had been obliged to kill
his hound, but that if he would give him a young dog he
would train it so well that in a few years it would be
as brave and faithful as the hound he had lost. And he
said that meantime, if Culain would give him a spear
and shield, he himself would stay and guard the rath
from all harm.
"Wasn't that splendid of Setanta!" exclaimed Ferdiad.
"Yes, indeed!" answered Angus, "and from that time on
he was called 'Cuculain,' and every one who knows the
stories of our Celtic heroes knows that his is the most
famous name of all. But that will do for to-day," and
Angus rose to go into the house.
"I must go, too," said Conn, and as the boys
 strolled together to the door of the dun, he added,
"Next week school begins in the monastery over the
hill. I'll see you there, won't I?"
"Yes," said Ferdiad, "father Angus says that is where I
am to go, so good-by till then."
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