The Ulster Cycle

Heroic legends from Ireland

Cú Chulainn’s Shield

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A law was made by the Ulstermen that they should make silver shields, and that the engraving on each shield should be different. At that time Cú Chulainn was at his training with Scáthach and Búanann. When he saw the kind of shields that were being made for him in that land, he went to the specialist shield-maker, Mac Endge.

‘Make me a shield,’ he said, ‘and make sure no other other Ulsterman’s shield has the same engraving on it.’

‘I can’t do that,’ said Mac Endge, ‘for I used up all my skill on the Ulstermen’s shields.’

‘I swear by my weapon,’ said Cú Chulainn, ‘I will kill you if you don’t make it as I ask.’

‘I am under Conchobar’s protection against you,’ said Mac Endge.

‘Go to Conchobar for protection,’ said Cú Chulainn, ‘and I’ll still kill you.’

Cú Chulainn headed home, and Mac Endge became very depressed. Just then he saw a man sitting in the skylight, a two-pronged fork in his hand.

‘This is terrible,’ said the man.

‘You’re telling me!’ said Mac Endge. ‘I’ll be killed if I don’t make Cú Chulainn his shield.’

‘Clean your house,’ said the man, ‘and have ashes strewn on the floor, as deep as a man’s feet.’

It was done as he said, and he marked out one of the portions of the design in the ashes. Lúathrinde (a point brought swiftly, or a point brought from the ashes) was the name of the point, and, as Dubdetba said, ‘If I were Mac Endge, this is how I would engrave,’ and further, ‘this is how Dubdetba makes shields.’

It was this Lúathrinde that was cut into Cú Chulainn’s shield, and Dubán (“Blackie”) was the name of the shield.


Notes and manuscript sources

  • An anecdote found in the manuscript H.3.17. This is my own translation, with thanks to Breandán Dalton, Dennis King, and especially David Stifter for their help and suggestions. © Patrick Brown 2003.
  • Lúathrinde (‘swift-point’ or ‘ash-point’) is thought to be the name of a motif or style of engraving, or perhaps the instrument used to create such engraving. Given the “two-pronged fork” weilded by Mac Endge’s mysterious visitor, it is probably a pair of compasses, such as would have been used to create the familar La Tène style of Celtic art.


References

  • R I Best (1911), “Cuchulainn’s Shield”, Ériu 5, p.72
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Written by paddybrown

November 7, 2009 at 10:52 am

Posted in Arms, Crafts, Cu Chulainn

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