Notable Literary Warriors

There are many examples of famous warriors and kings throughout Irish history. Because of the immense volume, we can only focus on a specific number of warriors, but for more reading: The Táin translated by Ciaran Carson and Early Irish Myths and Sagas translated and compiled by Jeffrey Gantz. Also, of interest, an essay by M. Jones on the similarities between characters in The Táin and Beowulf.

This is an image of Cú Chulainn - a famous literary warrior - killing a blacksmith named Culand's dog. This is also the story behind Cú Chulainn's name. Image found at Wikimedia Commons[1] . (US Public Domain).

Cú Chulainn

Perhaps the most famous Irish warrior of all time, Cú Chulainn appears throughout Irish literature in many different stories such as "Bricriu's Feast"[2] and The Táin. In The Táin, Cú Chulainn is the only Ulstermen left to fight because of "the curse."[3] Only being a teenager, he still fights day and night against the vast multitudes of Ailill and Medb's Connacht army. We are shown multiple elements of the "warrior code" in ancient Ireland through many truces and one-on-one battles. These are helped arranged with Fergus' knowledge of Cú Chulainn and the Ulster way. Fergus is even persuaded to fight Cú Chulainn even tough he is his foster father. Fergus asks for a pardon from the fight, which later Cú Chulainn uses to stop Fergus from killling all the Ulstermen in the final battle. Cú Chulainn continues to fight against overwhelming odds in fords, with spears, against gangs of fían, until he eventually needs a break. While resting his father Lug comes to him and gives him 3 nights rest to heal his injuries. While resting a gang of young Ulstermen attack and kill hundreds of Connacht but die to the man. When Cú Chulainn wakes and hears this, the "Torque" or riastradh seizes him. The Torque is an expression of ultimate battle lust represented by a severe disfigurement of Cú Chulainn where one eye grows big and the other shrinks and his body is contorted into overpowering muscle positions. With the Torque, Cú Chulainn is able to overcome all odds, even in the only even fight in The Táin, the battle with Fer Diad. In the climaxing and heartrending part of the epic, Cú Chulainn is forced to fight his own foster brother Fer Diad, although its against warrior code. Fer Diad is tricked into believing he will gain Finnabair[4] (like many of the Connacht fighters) and that Cú Chulainn was insulting him. After pleading not to fight, Cú Chulainn defeats Fer Diad on the 4th day and laments his death afterward. Ironically, although Cú Chulainn fought the entire time against the army, the final battle of The Táin is fought almost entirely without his intervention, only to stop Fergus.

There are many stories of Cú Chulainn and many stories that he appears in. For a throughly more enjoyable and entertaining tale read Ciaran Carson's The Táin. While I have focused on The Táin, additional stories about his birth,[5] childhood,[6] and his wasting sickness[7] can be found in Gantz's book.

Although Cú Chulainn is a warrior, his status within the warrior caste is never explicitly described. For Matthew Gallagher's article classifying the legendary hero, see the PDF below:

Also, Cú Chulainn is able to do what seems to be superhuman acts throughout his life. Read James Gamboa's article below to see if this qualifies him to be Irish deity.

Fergus Mac Róich (Click on Name For More Information)

Fergus was Cú Chulainn's foster father and this role effects many of the outcomes of battles throughout The Táin. Fergus has his own followers that followed him into his exile and we see him speaking to them in the story. In the final battle he is asked by Cú Chulainn to cease fighting (after chopping some hills and Ulstermen) on account of a previous pact. Fergus Mac Róich's name possibly means "manly energy of a son of a super-horse."[8] In some other stories, Fergus is said to have extermely large genitalia and require seven women to satisfy himself.

Cormac Mac Airt

Cormac is the son of Art and the grandson of Conn. His mother was the daughter of Olc Aiche, who then placed 5 bands of protection on him "against slaying, drowning, fire, sorcery, wolves, and against every evil."[9] Before Cormac's birth, Art leaves for battle and doesn't return. After his birth, his mother falls asleep outside where a she-wolf came and suckled him without her knowledge. Cormac runs with the wolves[10] until a hunter named Luigne Fer Trí takes him away. For a year Cormac is raised by Luigne Fer Trí until his mother finds out and takes him away to hid with his father's foster-father. Cormac is fostered for thrirty years until he returns to his rightful kingdom of Tara. When arriving in Tara he finds a woman unhappy with an unjust ruling and he goes before Mac Con[11] and tells him so. Mac Con then asks for Cormac's judgement and proclaims that it is rightfully Cormac's seat and returns home. This is how Cormac becomes king of Tara.

For more information:[12]

Cormac tells us that he has "marched against a troop of five when [he] was one," tracked boar alone, and he has been ready to go to battle when he was one versus one hundred. These are said to be some of the notable things he accomplished when he was younger that prepared the way for his kingship.[13]
  1. ^ Wikimedia Commons. US Public Domain.
  2. ^ Gantz, "Early Irish Myths and Sagas" pg. 219 (Bricriu's Feast)
  3. ^ Gantz, "Early Irish Myths and Sagas" pg. 127 (The Labor Pains of the Ulaid & The Twins of the Macha)
  4. ^ Ailill and Medb's beautiful daughter
  5. ^ Gantz, "Early Irish Myths and Sagas" pg. 130 (The Birth of Cú Chulaind)
  6. ^ Gantz, "Early Irish Myths and Sagas" pg. 134 (The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulaind)
  7. ^ Gantz, "Early Irish Myths and Sagas" pg. 153 (The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulaind & The Only Jealousy of Emer)
  8. ^ Carson, "The Táin" pg. 210 Note #9
  9. ^ "The Heroic Biography of Cormac Mac Airt" pg. 125
  10. ^ possible reference to fían
  11. ^ Temporary King of Tara
  12. ^ James MacKillop. "Cormac mac Airt." A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. 2004. (October 14, 2010).
  13. ^ "Tecosca Cormac" pg. 19