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Cú Roí

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[Ir., hound of the plain (?); hound of god (?)].

Usually seen as a hero of Munster, Cú Roí is one of the most enigmatic figures in early Irish narrative; he may also be a divinity, king, chieftain, wizard, sorcerer, and traveller. His patronymic, mac Dáire, may imply a divine origin, as Dáire (see DÁIRE (1)) is but another name for Bolg. He is usually portrayed as an antagonist of Ulster whose story is intertwined with that of Cúchulainn at several points.

He became a fighter at the age of 7, and carries an immense rock in one hand and an axe in the other. It was said that Ireland could not contain him for his haughtiness. He seeks fir fer [the truth of men], a code of honour among warriors; thus he is often the severest judge of heroism. E. C. Quiggin once asserted that Cú Roí was the centre of a cycle of Munster mythology now lost. The several stories linking him with Cúchulainn are widely known. While raiding the Otherworld, here located in Scotland, Cúchulainn is aided by Cú Roí, who appears as an uncouth stranger. They capture three marvellous cows, a cauldron, and a lady named Bláithíne. When Cúchulainn refuses to share the booty, Cú Roí seizes the lot and thrusts the Ulster hero into the ground up to his armpits. As an additional ignominy, Cú Roí shaves off Cúchulainn's hair with his sword.

Cú Roí also appears in disguise, this time as a bachlach [ugly churl or herdsman], in a contest to determine who is the greatest of the three heroes, Conall, Lóegaire, and Cúchulainn. Cú Roí demands that first each of the heroes should cut off his head and second that he should cut off theirs. Conall and Lóegaire strike their blows, but the intruder merely picks up his head; neither will allow him to return the blow. Cúchulainn's blow also fails to slay the bachlach, but when the hero prepares himself to receive a blow in return, Cú Roí reveals his identity and proclaims Cúchulainn champion. See FLED BRICRENN [Briccriu's Feast]. Cú Roí wishes to do battle with Cúchulainn in the Táin Bó Cuailnge [Cattle Raid of Cooley], but Medb dissuades him. Cúchulainn kills Cú Roí when aided by the betrayal of Cú Roí's wife, Bláithíne. The death does not go unavenged, however, as Cú Roí's poet, Ferchertne (3), clasps Bláithine in his arms and jumps off a sheer cliff on the Beare peninsula with her in a deadly embrace.

Cú Roí's magical, impregnable fortress revolves on its axis each night so that the entrance can never be found after sunset, a distinction it shares with fortresses in other Celtic as well as in some Asian narratives. Cú Roí can control the rotation through a spell, even when he is in distant lands. Cúchulainn once helps to defend the fortress by defeating nine monstrous intruders. The fortress is usually associated with the Iron Age ruin on Cahirconree in the Sliab Mis (Slieve Mish) mountains about 10 miles sw of Tralee on the Dingle peninsula, Co. Kerry; Cahirconree, also Caherconry, etc., preserves the name of Cú Roí; the fortress is known as Cathair Chon-Raoí of Sliab (or Slieve) Mis in Corcu Duibne in early Irish narrative. Additionally, he is sometimes thought to reside at Temair Luachra, also in Co. Kerry. Cú Roí's best-known son is Lugaid mac Con Roí or mac na Trí Con. His followers are the Clann Dedad. Two figures who may be doubles for Cú Roí are Conganchnes mac Dedad and Lóch Mór. A Welsh figure briefly named in Culhwch ac Olwen appears to be a counterpart to Cú Roí; his name is variously rendered as Cubert son of Daere, Chubert map Dare, or Corroi map Dayry. The Breton Esclados le Roux, guardian of a fountain in Brocéliande, may also be a counterpart. A recent translation of Aided Chon Roí [The Tragic Death of Cú Roí], appears in Two Death Tales from the Ulster Cycle, trans. Maria Tymoczko (Dublin, 1981).


Subjects: Religion

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