The Tain Bo Culaigne

The Slaying Of The Smith's Hound By Cuchulain, And The Reason He Is Called Cuchulain

   Then it was that Cormac Conlongas son of Conchobar spake: "Again that little lad performed a second deed in the following year." "What deed was that?" asked Ailill.
   "A goodly smith there was in the land of Ulster, Culann the Smith, by name. He made ready a feast for Conchobar and set out for Emain to invite him. He made known to him that only a few should come with him, that he should bring none but a true guest along, forasmuch as it was not a domain or lands of his own that he had, but the fruit of his two hands, his sledges and anvils, his fists and his tongs. Conchobar replied that only a few would go to him.
   "Culann went back to the smithy to prepare and make ready meat and drink in readiness for the king. Conchobar sat in Emain till it was time to set out for the feast, till came the close of the day. The king put his fine, light travelling apparel about him. Conchobar came on to the fair-green, and he saw a thing that astounded him: Thrice fifty boys at one end of the green and a single boy at the other, and the single boy won the victory at the goal and at hurling from the thrice fifty boys. When it was at hole-play they were-- a game of hole that used to be played on the fair-green of Emain-- and it was their turn to drive and his to keep guard, he would catch the thrice fifty balls just outside of the hole, and not one went by him into the hole. When it was their turn to keep guard and his to drive, he would send the thrice fifty balls into the hole without fail, and the boys were unable to ward them off. When it was at tearing off each other's garments they played, he would strip off them their thrice fifty suits so that they were quite naked, and they were not able all of them to take as much as the brooch from his mantle. When it was at wrestling they were, he would throw those same thrice fifty boys to the ground under him, and they did not succeed all of them around him in lifting him up.
   Conchobar looked with wonder at the little lad. "O, ye youths," cried Conchobar. "Hail to the land whence cometh the lad ye see, if the deeds of his manhood shall be such as are those of his boyhood!" "'Tis not just to speak thus," exclaimed Fergus; "e'en as the little lad grows, so will his deeds of manhood grow with him." "The little lad shall be called to us, that he may come with us to enjoy the feast to which we go." The little lad was summoned to Conchobar." Good, my lad," said Conchobar." Come thou with us to enjoy the feast whereto we go, for thou art a guest." "Nay, but I will not go," the little boy answered." How so?" asked Conchobar." Forasmuch as the boys have not yet had their fill of games and of sport, and I will not leave them till they have had enough play." "It is too long for us to await thee till then, little boy, and by no means shall we wait." "Go then before us," said the little boy," and I will follow after ye." "Thou knowest naught of the way, little boy," said Conchobar. "I will follow the trail of the company and of the horses and chariots."
   "Thereafter Conchobar came to the house of Culann the Smith. The king was waited upon and all were shown honour, as befitted their rank and calling and privileges, nobility and gentle accomplishment. Straw and fresh rushes were spread out under them. They commenced to carouse and make merry. Culann inquired of Conchobar: "Hast thou, O king, appointed any to come after thee this night to this dûn?" "No, I appointed no one," replied Conchobar, for he had forgotten the little lad whom he had charged to come after him. "Why so?" asked Conchobar. "An excellent bloodhound have I, that was brought from Spain. When his dog-chain is loosed from him, no one dares approach the same cantred with him to make a course or a circuit, and he knows no one but myself. The power of hundreds is in him for strength."
   Then spake Conchobar, "Let the dûn be opened for the ban-dog, that he may guard the cantred." The dog-chain is taken off the ban-dog, and he makes a swift round of the cantred. And he comes to the mound whereon he was wont to keep guard of the stead, and there he was, his head couched on his paws, and wild untameable, furious, savage, ferocious, ready for fight was the dog that was there.
   "As for the boys: They were in Emain until the time came for them to disperse. Each of them went to the house of his father and mother, of his foster-mother and foster-father. Then the little lad went on the trail of the party, till he reached the house of Culann the Smith. He began to shorten the way as he went with his play-things. When he was nigh to the green of the fort wherein were Culann and Conchobar, he threw all his play-things before him except only the ball.
   The watch-dog descried the lad and bayed at him, so that in all the countryside was heard the howl of the watch-hound. And not a division of feasting was what he was inclined to make of him, but to swallow him down at one gulp past the cavity of his chest and the width of his throat and the pipe of his breast. And the lad had not with him any means of defence, but he hurled an unerring cast of the ball, so that it passed through the gullet of the watch-dog's neck and carried the guts within him out through his back door, and he laid hold of the hound by the two legs and dashed him against a pillar-stone that was near him, so that every limb of him sprang apart, so that he broke into bits all over the ground.
   Conchobar heard the yelp of the ban-dog. "Alas, O warriors" cried Conchobar; "in no good luck have we come to enjoy this feast." "How so?" asked all. "The little lad who has come to meet me, my sister's son, Setanta son of Sualtaim, is undone through the hound." As one man, arose all the renowned men of Ulster. Though a door of the hostel was thrown wide open, they all rushed in the other direction out over the palings of the fortress. But fast as they all got there, faster than all arrived Fergus, and he lifted the little lad from the ground on the slope of his shoulder and bore him into the presence of Conchobar.
   And Culann came out, and he saw his slaughter-hound in many pieces. He felt his heart beating against his breast. Whereupon he went into the dûn. "Welcome thy coming, little lad," said Culann, "because of thy mother and father, but not welcome is thy coming for thine own sake. Yet would that I had not made a feast." "What hast thou against the lad?" queried Conchobar. "Not luckily for me hast thou come to quaff my ale and to eat my food; for my substance is now a wealth gone to waste, and my livelihood is a livelihood lost now after my dog. Good was the friend thou hast robbed me of, even my dog, in that he tended my herder and flocks and stock for me.
   "Be not angered thereat, O Culann my master," said the little boy." It is no great matter, for I will pass a just judgement upon it." "What judgement thereon wilt thou pass, lad?" Conchobar asked. "If there is a whelp of the breed of that dog in Erin, he shall be reared by me till he be fit to do business as was his sire. Till then myself will be the hound to protect his flocks and his cattle and his land and even himself in the meanwhile.
   "Well hast thou given judgement, little lad," said Conchobar. "In sooth, we ourselves could not give one that would be better," said Cathba. "Why should it not be from this that thou shouldst take the name Cuchulain, ('Wolfhound of Culann')?" "Nay, then," answered the lad; "dearer to me mine own name, Setanta son of Sualtaim." "Say not so, lad," Cathba continued; "for the men of Erin and Alba shall hear that name and the mouths of the men of Erin and Alba shall be full of that name!" "It pleaseth me so, whatever the name that is given me," quoth the little lad. Hence the famous name that stuck to him, namely Cuchulain, after he had killed the hound that was Culann's the Smith's.
   "A little lad did that deed," added Cormac Conlongas son of Conchobar, "when he had completed six years after his birth, when he slew the watch-dog that hosts nor companies dared not approach in the same cantred. No need would there be of wonder or of surprise if he should come to the edge of the marches, if he should cut off the four-pronged fork, if he should slay one man or two men or three men or four men, now when his seventeen years are completed on the Cattle-driving of Cualnge!"