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← The myth of Ireland's two greatest warriors - Iseult Gillespie

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Showing Revision 4 created 07/24/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. Cú Chulainn, hero of Ulster,
    stood at the ford at Cooley,
  2. ready to face an entire army
    singlehandedly—
  3. all for the sake of a single bull.
  4. The army in question belonged
    to Queen Meadhbh of Connaught.

  5. Enraged at her husband’s possession
    of a white bull of awesome strength,
  6. she had set out to capture
    the fabled brown bull of Ulster
  7. at any cost.
  8. Unfortunately, the King of Ulster
    had chosen this moment

  9. to force the goddess Macha to race
    her chariot while pregnant.
  10. In retaliation, she struck down him
    and his entire army with stomach cramps
  11. that eerily resembled childbirth—
    all except Cú Chulainn.
  12. Though he was the best warrior in Ulster,

  13. Cú Chulainn knew he could not take on
    Queen Meadhbh’s whole army at once.
  14. He invoked the sacred rite
    of single combat
  15. in order to fight
    the intruders one by one.
  16. But as Queen Meadhbh’s army
    approached,
  17. one thing worried him
    more than the grueling ordeal ahead.
  18. Years before, Cú Chulainn had travelled
    to Scotland

  19. to train with the renowned
    warrior Scáthach.
  20. There, he met a young warrior
    from Connaught named Ferdiad.
  21. They lived and trained side-by-side,
    and soon became close friends.
  22. When they returned
    to their respective homes,

  23. Cú Chulainn and Ferdiad found themselves
    on opposite sides of a war.
  24. Cú Chulainn knew Ferdiad
    was marching in Meadhbh’s army,
  25. and that if he succeeded
    in fending off her troops,
  26. they would eventually meet.
  27. Day after day, Cú Chulainn
    defended Ulster alone.

  28. He sent the heads of some
    of his adversaries back to Meadhbh’s camp,
  29. while the rushing waters of the ford
    carried others away.
  30. At times, he slipped into a trance
    and slayed hundreds of soldiers in a row.
  31. Whenever he saw the queen in the distance,
    he hurled stones at her—
  32. never quite hitting her,
  33. but once coming close enough
    to knock a squirrel off her shoulder.
  34. Back at the Connaught camp,
    Ferdiad was laying low,

  35. doing everything he could
    to avoid the moment
  36. when he’d have to face
    his best friend in combat.
  37. But the Queen was impatient
    to get her hands on the prize bull,
  38. and she knew Ferdiad was
    her best chance to defeat Cú Chulainn.
  39. So she goaded him
    and questioned his honor
  40. until he had no choice but to fight.
  41. The two faced off at the ford, matching
    each other exactly in strength and skill

  42. no matter what weapons they used.
  43. Then, on the third day of their fight,
    Ferdiad began to gain the upper hand
  44. over the exhausted Cu Chulainn.
  45. But Cú Chulainn had one last trick
    up his sleeve:

  46. their teacher had shared
    a secret with him alone.
  47. She told him how
    to summon the Gáe Bulg,
  48. a magical spear fashioned
    from the bones of sea monsters
  49. that lay at the bottom of the ocean.
  50. Cu Chulainn called the spear,
    stabbed Ferdiad to death, and collapsed.
  51. Meadhbh seized her chance
    and swooped in with the rest of her army

  52. to capture the brown bull.
  53. At last, the men of Ulster were recovering
    from their magical illness,
  54. and they surged out in pursuit.
  55. But they were too late: Queen Meadhbh
    crossed the border unscathed,
  56. dragging the brown bull with her.
  57. Once home, Meadhbh
    demanded another battle,

  58. this time between the brown bull
    and her husband’s white bull.
  59. The bulls were well matched,
    and struggled into the night,
  60. dragging each other all over Ireland.
  61. At long last, the brown bull
    killed the white bull,

  62. and Queen Meadhbh was finally satisfied.
  63. But the brown bull’s victory
    meant nothing to him.
  64. He was tired, injured, and devastated.
  65. Soon after, he died of a broken heart,
    leaving behind a land
  66. that would remain ravaged
    by Meadhbh’s war for years to come.