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Cuchulain

In old Celtic myths, a sun-god's son, Cuchulain, could change himself in much remarkable ways in order to win. Usually thought of as small, youthful and beardless, he was strong and extraordinarily good at killing and became a chief figure in a cycle of Irish legends.

He passed beyond what was normal-looking and got a reputation, instead of a solid, home-based life. There seems to be a lesson involved here. [Ird; Iri]

The legend of the Irish champion Cuchulain resembles the story of Achilles from ancient Greece. The Irish formed Cuchulain to be the best among their heroes.

In one tales Cuchulain withstood a giant, and then was attacked by a dragon that flew on horrible wings from a neighbouring lake and seemed ready to devour everything in its way. Cuchulain sprang up - it was a wonderful hero-leap - thrust his arm into the dragon's mouth and down its throat, and tore out its heart. After the monster fell dead, he cut off its scaly head. He came to be told of as the champion of the heroes of all Ireland. [▾Link]

"The Irish can tell a good yarn can't they?" [BBC - ▾Link]

Cuchulain, "Hound of Culann" is also spelled Cúchulainn, Cú Chulainn, Cú Chulaind, Cúchulain, or Cuchullain.

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Stories of Patrick

In certain tales of fiction there may be many things to ponder, and some learned men do. A lot of tales contain obvious hints on how to make it.

A certain MacLir had a daughter. He gave her to prince Angus to foster her. Angus had a very secret place called Brugh, by the Boyne river. The steward of Angus had a daughter born to him at the same time. Her name was Ethni. She became the handmaid of the young princess among the hidden people [fairies and so on] of Ireland.

Ethni grew up into a lovely and gentle maiden. But one day it was discovered that she did not eat at all, although the rest of the household fed as usual on the swine of MacLir. He was called in to find out of it, and then a sad thing came to light: One of the chieftains of the hidden people who had been on a visit with Angus, had tried to make love to her by force, smitten by the girl's beauty. After that she would not eat what the others ate any longer.

But MacLir and Angus had been on a voyage to the East. They brought back from there two cows with milk that never ran dry. And as the cows were supposed to have come from a sacred land, Ethni lived on their milk from then on.

Time went by in huge leaps. One summer day the princess went down with all her maidens to bathe in the river Boyne. Ethni was one of them. When arraying herself afterwards, Ethni discovered to her dismay that she had lost the particular veil that hid her from mortal eyes and which allowed her to enter the world of the hidden ones as well. The others left and did not notice how she was left behind. Ethni was at a loss and could not find her way back to their place.

She wandered up and down the banks of the river and sought in vain for her old-time companions and the hidden place all lived in. Then she came to a walled garden. Looking through the gate, she saw a man in a long brown robe. It was a Christian monk, and the house was a little church. The monk let her in.

When she had told her story to him he brought her to St. Patrick, who baptised her.

After that, Ethni was one day praying in the little church when she suddenly heard a rushing sound in the air. Many sad voices called her name as if from a great distance. Her own kinfolk were still looking for her! She sprang up to reply, but was so overcome with emotion that she fell in a swoon. She came through after a while, but from that day life did not matter much any more. In a very short time she died with her head on the breast of St. Patrick. He administered to her the last rites, and let the church be named after her.

The adopted maid may not adapt full well, even after two thousand years.

Early Years

Who was Patrick? He was a British Celt who became patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He was not necessarily the first missionary there, and he was not Irish.

He has been credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and driving away all the snakes there. But there were never snakes - or other reptiles - in Ireland for Patrick to chase out. Besides, monks and monasteries were to be found in Ireland at the time of Patrick, too. Traditions in the south and southeast of Ireland refer to early saints. Allegedly they preceded St. Patrick. Their missions may well have come through trading relations with the Roman Empire.

He might in part have Christianized the Picts and Anglo-Saxons too. We can't tell exactly when Patrick was born or when he died. But he flourished in the 400s it is fair to suggest. AD 492/493 is preferred as the year of his death nowadays.

A record from the 800s includes a reply by Patrick to charges made by British ecclesiastics, his short ▾Confession. In it, he describes his life at a Roman villa in Britain before he got captured by Irish raiders, and became a slave in Ireland. After seven years, six of them as a herdsman, he escaped: In a dream he heard that the ship in which he was to escape, was ready, and fled. After starving and suffering he got home and was united with his family again.

Places of Patrick

Afterwards Patrick may have paid a short visit to the Continent. Returning to Britain from there he had another dream, in which he got a letter headed "The Voice of the Irish." It made him guess that many Irish begged him to walk once more among them. At any rate, he was educated and ordained into the priesthood. Then, beset by doubts as to whether he was fit for the task or not, he managed to be sent as a missionary to Ireland.

His misgivings left him. He journeyed far and wide, baptised and confirmed with untiring zeal, but focused on the north and west. One authority has it that Patrick visited the mountain Croagh Patrick (Cruach Phádraig) in County Mayo and that he began his ministry there.

It is also said that Patrick began his mission in Ireland at Saul in former Down county in eastern Northern Ireland. A monastic school flourished at Bangor from the 500s. Patrick's well and bath houses are preserved somewhere in Downpatrick, and a boulder marks his reputed grave. It is in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral.

The work of Patrick was predominantly based in the north and associated with the rulers of Armagh, in early Ulster. He established his centre near Emain Macha, at Armagh. He had so much success that he was credited by his 7th-century biographers, Tirechán and Muirchú, with converting all the Irish to Christianity. It is said that Patrick dealt fairly with non-Christians. Before the end of the 600s Patrick had become a legendary figure. One of the legends will have it that he destroyed the snakes of Ireland by driving them into the sea. And what may be the most popular legend is connected with the shamrock: It had Patrick explain to an unbeliever the concept of the Holy Trinity, three Persons in one God. This was done by showing the three-leaved plant with one stalk. The shamrock is the national flower of Ireland.

Patrick is also said to have founded the first church on Man.

In the 500s and 600s a monastic system developed, groups of Christian settlements were loosely linked together. The reputation of early saints developed in proportion to the power of the political dynasties connected with them.

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Stories of Columba

Enthusiasm for Christianity lead Irishmen to devote themselves to living as monks, as hermits, and as missionaries. They travelled far. ▾St. Columba founded (c. 563) the monastery of Iona: it is off the northwest coast of Scotland. Iona became the best-known base for the Celtic Christianisation of Scotland. Iona's offshoot Lindisfarne on Holy Island, which lies three kilometres off the coast of Northumberland in the English border country, was a stronghold for that area till Norse Vikings raided the monastery in 793 as the start of the Viking Age, which lasted for about 250 years. A chronicle tells:

AD. 793. . . . On the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter. [The Anglo Saxon Chronicle].

This was not the first time that raiders had landed in Britain. Six years earlier the same chronicles state for the year 787: "This year . . . came first three ships of the Northmen from the land of robbers. . . . These were the first ships of the Danish."

One contemporary explanation of the raids and the pillage and slaughter was that the Northumbrians had brought it on themselves. The scholar Alcuin (735-804), an advisor to Emperor Charlemagne, writes in this vein a letter to the bishop Higbald of Lindisfarne (780-803) not long after the attack:

Either this is the beginning of greater tribulation, or else the sins of the inhabitants have called it upon them. Truly it has not happened by chance, but it is a sign that it was well merited by someone . . . Consider carefully, brothers, and examine diligently, lest perchance this unaccustomed and un-heard of evil was merited by some unheard-of evil practice. Consider the dress, the way of wearing the hair, the luxurious habits of the princes and people.

Alcuin's letter carried the idea that a raid on the holiest site in eighth century Britain suggested that the local community had done something very bad, and that Vikings were embodiments of the wrath of God. And a quick glance through the Chronicles brings to light that usurpers, murders and political assassination were common, even hairstyles and fashion sense had become "reckless and unholy" . . .

Vikings from Norway and Denmark came in greater numbers across the sea after 793. "Discipline meted out by God" had a new face, spoke a new language and scared the living daylights out of the Anglo Saxons, Nick Attwood thinks [▾Link].

But let us revert to Columba. He was born in 521 in Ireland, and died in 597 on the Inner Hebrides. He is also called Colum or Columcille. Tradition credits him with the main role in converting Scots to Christianity. But first he studied and was ordained priest (ca. 551), and founded churches and the monasteries Daire Calgaich in Derry, and Dair-magh in Durrow.

Columba and his twelve disciples went on to erect a church and a monastery on the island of Iona (c. 563), the springboard for converting Scotland. The last years of Columba's life appear to have been spent mainly in Iona, where he was revered as a saint.

The Life of Columba was written by St. Adamnan of Iona in the 600s.

A Story of Columba

As Columba was sitting by the hearth in the monastery, he saw at some distance Lugbe of the tribe Mocumin, reading a book. Suddenly Columba said to him,

"Take care, my son, take care, for I think that the book you read is about to fall into a vessel full of water."

But when the youth rose soon after to perform some duty in the monastery, he forgot the words, and the book which he held under his arm suddenly fell into the water-pot, full of water.

Fruits of a Tree

There was a very fruitful apple tree on the south side of the monastery somewhere in Derry, in its immediate vicinity.

When those who had settled there complained about how utterly bitter the apples were, Columba went to the tree one day in autumn, came to it, raised his hand and blessed it, and insisted on such as,

"You bitter tree, let all your bitterness depart from you; let all your apples be changed into the sweetest."

From that moment all the apples of the tree became amazingly sweet to taste.

If the fruits of a tree are not to your taste, you could still rest in its shade.

Seeing into the Gape of Happenings to Come

One day when Columba stayed in Iona, a certain brother named Berach wanted to sail to the Tiree island. He went to Columba in the morning, asking his blessing. The saint looked at him and said,

"My son, take very great care today: Don't attempt sailing directly over the open sea to the Tiree island. Rather take a circuit, and sail round by the smaller islands, to avoid being terrified by a huge monster and hardly able to escape."

Berach departed. When he reached his ship, he set sail without giving heed to the saint's words. But as he was crossing over the larger arms of the sea there, a whale, huge and amazingly large, raised itself like a mountain. As it floated on the surface it opened its mouth and gaped; the mouth was bristling with teeth.

Then the rowers, hauling in their sail, pulled back in utmost terror. They had a very narrow escape from the agitated waves caused by the animal. They were also struck with wonder as they remembered the words of Columba.

Columba and the Ness monster

When Columba was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he had to cross the river Nesa (the Ness). When he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man. According to the account of those who were burying him, a short time earlier, when he was swimming, he had been seized and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water.

His wrecked body had been taken out with a hook by those who came to aid him in a boat, but it was too late. When Columba heard this, he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. The man was Lugne Mocumin; he obeyed without the least delay. Taking off all his clothes except his tunic, he leaped into the water.

As the man swam in the middle of the stream, the monster was lying at the bottom. When it felt the water above disturbed by the man swimming, it suddenly rushed out, roared awfully, and darted after him with its mouth wide open. Columba saw what happened and raised his holy hand while all the rest, brethren and strangers, were stupefied with terror. Invoking the name of God he formed the sign of the cross in the air and commanded the ferocious monster,

"You shall go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed."

At the voice of the saint the monster was terrified and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne as he swam, that there was no more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast.

When the brethren saw that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, they were struck with admiration and gave glory to God in the blessed man. Even the heathens that were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle they had witnessed, to extol the God of the Christians.

BACKGROUND: Tales of the Loch Ness serpent go a long way back. It appears that the creature got (better) publicly known from AD 565 when Columba fought a batte with a terrifying monster in the lake. [◦More]

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St. Patrick tales, St. Columba tales, Celtic folktales, tales of Celts, Literature  

St. Patrick tales, St. Columba tales, Celtic stories, tales of Celts, To top Section Set Next

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