The Ulster Warrior Hero Cú Chulaind
12th century, Old Irish. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, Ireland.
One test brings Cú Chulaind into a magic mist, where he is quickly accosted by a giant.
'Cú Chulaind was born in mysterious circumstances,' said Miranda. 'He was given to Ulster by those of the supernatural Sidhe who lived in the passage graves near the River Boyne. His father was believed to be Lugh, one of the principal Irish gods.'
'When did this all take place?' asked Quintin.
'Supposedly around the time when most of Britain was occupied by the Romans,' replied Miranda. 'But like the stories of King Arthur, elements of the tales possibly derive from much older traditions. In the tales of Ulster, Cú Chulaind always maintains his links with the Sidhe, with the people of the Otherworld. In a rambling comedy called Bricriu’s Feast, for example, the story describes how the three principal warriors of Ireland are lured to a feast and tricked into squabbling like kids over the largest share of the food, which of course means the ability to feed the largest number of retainers. They undergo a series of trials to see who is the bravest, which Cú Chulaind always wins but after which he is constantly accused of cheating by the others because of his links with the Sidhe. It's found in a manuscript dating to the early twelfth century.
'These trials are overseen by a number of different judges, and although Cú Chulaind always wins, the other two always refuse to accept the verdict. One such test brings each of them in turn into a magic mist, always a gateway into the Otherworld, where they are accosted by a giant. Cú Chulaind is the only one not to drop his weapons and flee in terror, but the others accuse him of collusion with the world of the dead and refuse to accept the test as fair.'