Sunday, 5 October 2008
Penguin Classics €11.99
FUBSY but ferocious, Setanta Ó Sualdaim was a nasty piece of work.
At the age of seven the pup was beating the tripes out of 150 other Ulster sprogs when King Conchobhar, brother of Setanta's mother, Dechtire, asked his nephew to dinner with his blacksmith, Cullen.
Blacksmiths, in the Bronze and Iron Ages, were the techie tigers. They made all the weapons of mass destruction.
The king arrived at Cullen's, and Cullen let loose his massive mastiff with three men on the end of each of its three chains.
When Setanta turned up, dilly-dallying with his hurley, javelin and sliotar, he killed this family pet. But he told the weeping smith that he'd train up another dog - sure isn't one as good as another? - and meanwhile act as a guardian for the house and business.
So he got the name Cú Chullain - Cullen's Hound.
Fast-forward 10 years, the Connachtmen are advancing, led by huffy Queen Medhbh, in a fury because her best bull has gone over to her husband's herd.
The Ulstermen are under a curse put on them by a gravid sprinter and pre-pubertal Cúchullain, now a vicious superboy, is the only one who can defend them.
Ciaran Carson's new version is unlike the stately complexities of the myth, but has a slangy, riveting immediacy.