One of the biggest dog breeds is the Irish wolfhound and despite their size, they are adorable. Maybe because Mia looks like a miniature black version of them, maybe it’s just the way their hair stands playfully in all directions, or maybe because they are not always aware of how big they are but I think they look like giant puppies.
But of course they weren’t bred to be cute, they were strong hunters, protected the nobles against wolf attacks, and were highly valued.
According to some breed facts in 391 AD, the Roman statesman Quintus Aurelius Symmachus wrote a letter of thanks to his brother for the gift of seven Irish hounds, noting that “all Rome viewed them in wonder”. If they were already known by Roman times, were they part of Irish mythology? That simple question led me down in quite a zigzag rabbit hole with ChatGPT (or as I call it in this series, Delta, the AI), from Ulaidh to the “Hound of Ulster”, the most famous Irish warrior, Cú Chulainn. (If you want to read more on the myths and tales Chat GPT shared with me, I saved our conversation here.)
According to legend, Cú Chulainn was attending a feast at the home of Culann, a famous blacksmith. When he arrived, he was greeted by Culann’s fierce watchdog, which attacked him. Cú Chulainn, in a fit of rage, killed the dog with his bare hands.
Upon realizing his mistake, Cú Chulainn felt immense guilt and offered to serve as the new watchdog for Culann’s home until a replacement could be found. He also promised to raise and train a new puppy to take the place of the dog he had killed.
Over time, Cú Chulainn and the new puppy, Sétanta, formed a close bond. Sétanta quickly grew into a fierce and loyal companion, accompanying Cú Chulainn on many of his adventures and battles. He was said to have been able to sense danger before anyone else and was often the first to alert Cú Chulainn to any threats.
In one story, during a battle, Cú Chulainn was badly injured and unable to fight. Sétanta, sensing his master’s distress, leapt into battle and fought fiercely to defend him, ultimately saving Cú Chulainn’s life.
The bond between Cú Chulainn and Sétanta is a testament to the deep connection between humans and their animal companions, and has become an important part of Irish folklore and cultural heritage.
This is one of Chat GPT’s “false positives” when it takes parts of the story and puts it together in a way that sounds logical but it not quite correct. The boy, Cú Chulainn, did indeed kill the watchdog of Culann according to legend, but Setanta was not his dog, but his birthname. Cú Chulainn means the “Hound of Culann”, given to him when he took on the duties of the watchdog he killed. He goes on to become Ireland’s hero but personally, I find it hard to forgive him for killing a dog.
An artist, Cheryl Rose-Hall however re-imagined the hero’s journey. In her version in the afterlife he made peace with the dog he killed, and the two has a shamanic connection protecting the sacred area of Tara.
That’s the benefit of mythology: it doesn’t have to stay the same. Maybe in my mythology about Cú Chulainn, the dog becomes the hero. Here is my version:
Once, the boy Setanta sneaked out to attend the feast of Culann, the king’s trusted advisor. He was too young to be invited but it was his only chance to meet him. He begged and begged his parents but they said no and left without him. Not long after, Setanta went after them.
It was dark already, the domain of the fairies, but Setanta had his father’s spear that would keep the fairies away, so he wasn’t worried. But the fairies were clever, and they showed him a false path, leading him more and more to the depths of the woods. Setanta felt the spear getting heavier in his hands, and soon he wasn’t able to walk further. Slipping to the ground, he felt the fairies surrounding him, only the spear keeping him away.
“I will die fighting!” he shouted to them, but heard only their awful laughs in response.
His eyes started to close, the spear almost fall from his hands, when a huge grey hound jumped over him, growling angrily at the fairies. Setanta woke immediately, grabbing the spear but the fairies attacked. The hound and the boy fought by each other’s side, until finally the fairies gave up and ran back underground.
Setanta turned to thank the dog for his help but he was badly injured. Many scars bled from his whole body, and Setanta was too small to carry him back home. He waited by his side until sunrise but as light came to the forest, so did it leave the hound’s body.
The sun showed Setanta the towers of Culann, and he ran to the castle. He made such commotion, shouted so loud, that Culann himself looked out his window. He saw the boy with the spear, covered in blood, and his pack of hounds started to howl. He knew what it meant: one of their own was lost.
Setanta took Culann and his dogs back to the hound who saved him. He learned his name was Dánacth, and he told them he was a hero and offered himself in the dog’s place. Setanta and Culann buried Dánacht under the castle’s oak tree, and Setanta visited him every day. True to his word, he stayed with the hounds, feeding them, keeping them clean, watching with them over the castle. Soon, his name, Setanta, was forgotten, and he was know only as the Hound of Culann: Cú Chulainn.
This post is part of the A to Z blogging challenge of April 2023.
Topic of this year is “The AI, the dog and the witchling”, real and fictional stories partially written/inspired by Artificial Intelligence, featuring Mia and Missy.
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3 thoughts on “Irish hounds and mythology”
Love this post. Excellent share of a story and mythology with some history as well.
I’m focused on the April #AtoZChallenge.
Proof of Existence, book two in my dark urban fantasy series, is out this month.
I’m running a giveaway on my blog.
J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Reference& Speculative Fiction Author, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, and Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge
Thank you for your visit, glad you liked it!
They do look like giant puppies!
Ronel visiting for I:
My Languishing TBR: I
Infinite Knowledge: Thoth