At the time of Cuchulainn's birth, Conor Mac Nessa was the king of Ulster. He had a sister named Dechtiré who was about to be married to an Ulster chieftain named Sualtam when she mysteriously fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, she was gone as were fifty of her attendants. No one had an idea where they had gone.

Several years passed without word of the women. One day, a large flock of birds landed at Emain Macha and ate everything in sight as the Ulstermen helplessly watched. Not a single growing thing was left. Conor was so angry he ordered his chariot and set off after the flock to hunt them down. He was joined by some members of his household.

As the king and his followers started after them, the birds flew off in the direction of the Boyne river, where the dwellings of the Tuatha Dé Danaan were located. Although they rode quickly and unhindered, the birds were always just ahead of them.

As evening approached, three birds broke off and led the king and his group towards Brugh na Boinne. As they reached the river, a sudden snow storm hid the birds from view. Conor order his company to dismount and find shelter for the night.

Bricriu Poison-Tongue, a satiric poet, was wandering in the dark when he heard a strange, low sound. He saw nothing, but started off in the direction from which the sound came. Suddenly, he came upon a large, spacious house. He went to the door and saw a handsome couple.

"You are welcome, Bricriu," said the man. Since the man knew his name, Bricriu knew his must be one of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. Looking more closely at the man, he realized that it was Lugh of the Long Arm. "You are welcome a thousand times over," added the woman at Lugh's side.

Bricriu returned to the King and his company to tell him that he had found shelter for the night. Conor was delighted to hear this and the group followed Bricriu back to Lugh's house. When they arrived, Lugh was there to greet them, but the woman had retired for the evening. They were made welcome and retired for the night.

he next morning they met the woman, who had given birth to a son the previous evening. It was then that they realized that the woman was Dechtiré. She and the fifty maidens had been spirited away in the shape of birds by Lugh who was taken with Dechtiré's beauty. Lugh asked them to take the child and raise it among the warriors of Ulster.

So they took the baby, Dechtiré and the fifty maidens and returned to Emain Macha. Dechtiré married Sualtam, and all the chiefs, champions, druids, poets, and lawgivers of Ulster raised the boy, each sharing with him the special knowledge which they possessed. He was called Setanta.

He was raised in Dun Breth on the Plain of Muirthemne. When he was six years old, he asked to join the boy's camp in Emain Macha which Conor had set-up to train specially selected boys to be warriors. His mother said that he was too young, but Setanta insisted.

He took his bronze stick and ball, his javelin, a toy spear, and a small wooden shield and left for the camp. The boys were all on the green when Setanta arrived. Some were practicing their fighting skills and others were playing hurley.

Setanta rushed straight into the game, stealing the ball from one of the boys and dodging around the others. He scored a goal easily. Their captain was Folaman, Conor's son. He was outraged at the intrusion and rallied the boys together to attack this ruffian who had interrupted their game.

The boys threw their burley balls at Setanta, but he dodged every one of them. Then they threw their spears at him, but he deflected them all with his wooden shield. Suddenly a war spasm came over the boy. His face became distorted with anger, his teeth were bared and his hair stood straight up on end.

In a frenzy, Setanta rushed at the group of boys and knocked down fifty of them who were far bigger than he. Then he chased five others through a hall where the king and Fergus Mac Roi were playing chess and jumped right over the chess board set out between the two men. Conor grabbed the boy by the arms and asked what was going on.

Setanta explained who he was and the welcome which the boys had given him on his arrival. Conor then explained that the boys are forbidden to allow a newcomer to join them until he has first claimed their protection. Setanta apologized saying that had he known that, he would have done what was required.

Conor explained the situation to the boys and asked them to take Setanta under their protection. They agreed and Setanta was allowed to join their ranks. No sooner had they restarted the game than the boy attacked them once again.

When the king asked him what he was doing, Setanta said that the boys had to agree to come under his protection just as he had agreed to come under theirs. The terrified boys agreed to place themselves under Setanta's protection although he was not yet seven years old.


The Birth of Cuchullainn from the Ulster Cycle.

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Copyright © 1998 The Sacred Fire. All rights reserved.
Revised: October 31, 1998.