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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – Cu Cuchulainn

Cu Cuchulainn is a prominent hero of ancient Irish literature, featuring in a series of legends known as the Ulster Cycle. According to these myths, Cu Cuchulainn was one of the Knights of the Red Branch. The knights were warriors who served Conchobar mac Nessa, king of the Ulaid people of northeast Ireland. Cu Cuchulainn was fearsome from a young age, born with seven fingers on each hand, seven toes on each foot, and seven pupils in each eye. Read on to learn more about this epic warrior, famed for his raids, romantic conquests, and berserk rages.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Cu Cuchulainn.


The Ulster Cycle, also known as the Ulaid, is a series of Irish myths and legends centered on the royal court of Emain Macha. Emain Macha, located near the city of Armagh in Northern Ireland, was the seat of King Conchobar mac Nessa. Cu Cuchulainn is a central figure in the Ulster Cycle myths, with the stories relating Cu Cuchulainn’s many exploits. One early legend recalls how he got his name. Originally born Sétanta, the son of Deichtre and the god Lugh, he killed the fierce guard dog of Culann the blacksmith. Not only did this act earn him the title Cu Cuchulainnthe Hound of Culann—but it also placed him under a prohibition against eating the meat of a dog. (Sounds odd, I know, but this comes up again later!)


The Cattle Raid of Cooley is the longest and perhaps the best-known myth of the Ulster Cycle. The Cattle Raid of Cooley is thought to have been composed in the 7th-8th centuries, but was revised several times. In The Cattle Raid, Queen Medb (also known as Maeve) of Connaught seeks to purloin the famous brown bull of Cooley from the Ulstermen. Medb debilitates the Ulstermen with a curse (the nine days’ sickness), but Cu Cuchulainn singlehandedly delays the Connaught army. He defeats every champion Queen Medb sends against him in dramatic fashion, including his own foster brother Ferdiad. Despite this heroic effort, however, Medb eventually makes off with the brown bull.


A warrior’s reputation rests in part on his weapon, and Cu Cuchulainn was no exception. Fortunately for him, his weapon was just as fearsome as he was. The Gáe Bulg, literally translated to “belly dart,” was a spear made from the bones of a sea serpent. Cu Cuchulainn received the Gáe Bulg from Aife, his mistress and the daughter of his teacher Scáthach. The deadly spear was said to pierce a foe’s body in a single wound, but once in the body, open into dozens of barbs.

EMER For many years Cu Cucuhlainn preferred the bachelor life. However, his fellow Knights of the Red Branch were eager to see him wedded so that their own wives would stop desiring him. Cu Cuchulainn eventually found a woman he believed to be his equal: Emer, the daughter of Forgall the Wily. Living up to her father’s reputation, Emer spoke to Cu Cuchulainn in puns and riddles, setting up a challenge for him to win her hand. Despite Forgall’s attempts to distract Cu Cuchulainn, first by dispatching him to the aforementioned Scáthach and then by attempting to marry his daughter to Lugaid, King of Munster, he was ultimately unsuccessful.


Cu Cuchulainn’s years of murder and mayhem eventually caught up with him. The children of Calatan, a sorcerer he had killed, conspired to bring Cu Cuchulainn down. When riding to meet Calatan’s children, Cu Cuchulainn encountered a series of dire omens. Deichtre tried to give him a cup of wine for good luck, but the wine turned into blood. A group of hags—secretly the war goddess Morrigan in disguise--tricked him into eating the meat of a hound, which weakened him. (See? Told you it was important!) Unwilling to flee the field, Cu Cuchulainn lashed himself to a rock so he could die on his feet. For three days his enemies feared to approach him, until a raven landed on his shoulder, and he remained still.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

  • Bard Mythologies has great summaries of some of the notable tales of the Ulster Cycle, including Cu Cuchulainn’s death.

  • Cu Cuchulainn attained his skill at war through the wise teachings of Scathach.

  • Check out this article to learn why exactly Cu Cuchulainn was so fearsome in battle.

  • Nowhere was Cu Cuchulainn’s martial prowess on better display than during the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Learn more about this battle by watching this video!


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