The Irish see the ancient Celtic warrior Cú chulainn (ku hool in) as a classic tragic hero who sacrificed everything, including family, to defend his home in Ulster Ireland. My purpose in presenting these legends is show how they relate to Clan Donald. I recently had a reader suggest that this ancient tragedy also reflects a modern real tragedy experienced by so many Scottish mothers (Aifee) who lost their sons (Connla) fighting their Celtic kin (Cú chulainn) in Ulster Ireland. Hopefully this is behind us now. Although this legend is centuries older than the nations of Ireland, Scotland, or Great Britain, the tragedy of political conflict upon families portrayed by this classic Celtic myth is timeless!
The young Cú chulainn was quick to accept the challenge of the Druid who declared,“The youth who should take up arms on this day would become of all men in Erin most famous for great deeds, yet will his life be short and fleeting”. Cú chulainn journeyed to the land of shadows (Skye, Alba) to learn the art of war from the warrior queen Sgathach (Gaelic meaning wing seeSkye). After a year Cú chulainnhad proven his ability. He was famous for entering into a “war rage” in which he could defeat all rivals.
Sgathach soon went to battle against a rival warrior queen, Aifee (or Aoife). Sgathach feared Aife (one source identifies Aife as Sgathach’s sister) so Sgathach slipped Cú chulainn a potion so he would sleep through the battle and live. But what would have caused a normal man to sleep 24 hours Cú chulainn slept off in an hour. He followed the trail of Sgathach’s army and found Aife was overcoming his mentor’s warriors. Before engaging Aife in combat Cú chulainn asked Sgathach what was of most value to his opponent. He engaged Aife in “man to woman” combat and was facing defeat when Aife shattered his sword. But he distracted her by asking if that was her chariot going over the cliff (what she valued most). This distraction allowed Cú chulainn to disarm and overcome Aife. He spared her life on condition she pledge a lasting peace with Sgathach.
Cú chulainn and Aife quickly progressed from rivals to lovers, but Cú chulainn left the land of shadows before Aife gave birth to his son, Connla. Before leaving Cú chulainn instructed Aife to charge his son under geise(a solemn Celtic oath) to not refuse battle with any man and not tell his name to anyone.
As a young man Connla came from Alba to Ulster and defeated every warrior sent against him until the king called for Cú chulainn. Cú chulainn slew Connla his only son, in defense of Ulster .
The real tragedy is how much Celtic blood has been shed on both sides of the 400 year Ulster conflict.