Gregory: Cuchulain Of Muirthemne

Pdf Gregory, Lady, Cuchulain Of Muirthemne, London: John Murrary, 1902
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Cuchulain of Muithemne by August, Lady Gregory (1852-1932) is a modern retelling of the legends of the warrior hero Cuchulainn based on the Ulster Cycle of Gaelic mythology. It was first published in 1902 with an introduction from her friend and collaborator in the Abbey Theatre, William Butler Yeats. She wrote the work to popularise the ancient stories for a new inquistive audience of Irish nationalists.

Lady Gregory was born into Anglo-Irish Protestant priviledge as the daughter of rich landowners. As a young girl she was exposed to Irish folklore through her family nurse, Mary Sheridan. However it was not until later life as a wealthy widow that she was encouraged by Irish literary friends to learn Gaelic and became an Irish cultural nationalist. Gregory immersed herself in the folklore of the Irish peasantry and ancient manuscripts which she used as the basis for a series of collections which became highly popular.

Cuchulainn is the son of the Celtic god Lug, but his original name was Sétanta. He is fostered by the nobility of Ulster who teach him wisdom, eloquence and justice for the weak. Sétanta becomes a skilled hurler and is invited to a feast at the palace of King of Ulster, Conchobar Mac Nessa when he is attacked by the monstrous hound of Culann which guards his palace.  He kills the dog by firing a sliotar into his mouth and agrees to take its place earning the nickname Cuchulain or 'Culann's Hound.'

Cuchulain is told a prophecy that he will be a great warrior but will be cursed with a short life. He soon earns a reputation for ferocity in battle, usually riding a chariot while his good looks make him irresistible to women. To prevent him from stealing their wives and daughters, the Ulstermen choose Emer to be his wife. Cuchulainn also has an illegitimate son who seeks him out years later only tragically for Cuchulainn to kill him, mistaking him for an intruder.

Cuchulain rescues a princess from being sacrificed. After he returns home she transforms herself into a swan so she can fly after him but he shoots her with his sling. Realising who she is, he sucks out the stone from her side. She marries his foster son but she is disfigured by the Ulsterwomen because of her beauty. After she dies and his foster son dies of sorrow, Cuchulainn brings down a house killing 150 of the women.

When the men of Connaught are sent by Queen Maeve to steal the Brown Bull of Cooley, Cuchulain fights them single handedly with his sling. He kills his best friend Ferdiad who is fighting on the opposite side. Maeve is defeated but Cuchulainn spares her life.

In yet another legend Cuchulainn is tricked into cutting off the head of Cú Roí as part of a wager. Cú Roí magically survives picking up his head and prepares to return the favour but Cuchulainn submits humbly. Cú Roí is moved and does not behead him after all. Cú Roí is eventually killed when he tries to steal Blathnát, the daughter of the King of the Isle of Man but in revenge for the death of his master, a poet grabs the girl and jumps from a cliff killing them both.

Cuchulainn has many lovers but his infidelity is tolerated by Emer until he falls in love with Fand, the wife of the King of the Sea. Emer plans to kill Fand but is moved by her love for her husband and plans to give him up to her. The love triangle is resolved when both Cuchulain and Emer drink a magical potion that erases the memory of the affair.

Queen Maeve and the sons of enemies killed by Cuchulain plot revenge. Cuchulain loses his supernatural protection when he eats dogmeat after falling for a ruse. Three spears are made and the first is used to kill his charioteer, the second to kill his horse and the last to mortally wound Cuchulainn himself. He dies standing up after he ties himself to a standing stone and his enemies only dare to approach him when a raven perches on his shoulder.

The legends of Cuchulainn contain similarities to the legends of the classical heroes Achilles, Theseus and Hercules, the Biblical hero Samson and elements of the stories of King Arthur and his Round Table. Cuchulain became hugely popular with Irish republicans who fought from 1916-1923. A statue of Cuchulainn at the GPO in Dublin commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising and the executed rebel leaders. The GAA or Gaelic Athletic Association also used the legend of Sétanta to promote the playing of the Irish national game of hurling.

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