In the Tain Bo Cuailnge, there is a story about how Cu Chulainn got his name.
In the kingdom of Ulster, there lived a smith named Culainn. The custom at the time was for noblemen to throw feasts, and to invite the local men of note to attend.
Culain threw a feast, and invited Conchobar, the King of Ulster, to this feast. Conchobar in turn, invited his nephew Setanta (later Cu Chulainn) along. Setanta was playing hurling at the time, with the other boys of Emain Macha, and told Conchobar he would follow on when the game finished.
After Conchobar arrived at the feast, and with some drink on him, he forgot that Setanta was still to arrive. Culainn believed there were no more guests to come, so released his fearsome wolfhound, which guarded his flocks at night. This hound would attack anyone who came onto Culainn's land.
Setanta was travelling with his hurl and ball, having come straight from the game. The hound found him, howled, and attacked with jaws wide. Setanta took his hurl, and hit the ball straight down the hound's throat, killing it on the spot.
As the howl echoed over the feast, Conchobar remembered his nephew, and the men left in a great hush, sure that Setanta would be dead. But when they arrived, Setanta was safe, standing over the hound's lifeless body. The men gave a cheer, happy that the king's nephew was alive
Culainn, however was overcome with grief. He had raised the hound from a pup, and now feared for his flocks safety. When Setanta saw this, he immediately swore to guard Culainn's land until he could train a pup to be the equal of the hound he had just killed. And from that day forth, he was known as Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culainn.
So what lessons are contained in this story?
- The calm mind sees opportunity at all times. It would be easy to be intimidated by the hound's appearance, and go on the defensive. Cu Chulainn saw the hound's open jaws as a vulnerability, and attacked instead. By remaining calm, he was able to see oppurtunity where others could not.
- Adapt your tools to suit your problem. Where some would see only a hurl and ball, sports equipment, Cu Chulainn saw a distance management tool, a missile, which allowed him to attack while staying safe. By considering the properties of his tools, rather than their intended use, he was able to creatively solve a difficult problem.
- Accept the situation as it is, take responsibility for your part in it, and take action to achieve a better outcome. Cu Chulainn accepted that he had to make amends for the killing of the hound. He could have played the blame game, and said "This is not my fault, because xyz". But he decided to focus on solutions, rather than blame, and immediately began to work to resolve the situation.
- Have compassion for those affected by your actions, and work hard to provide an acceptable solution. Cu Chulainn guarded Culainn's flocks at night until he had trained his replacement.
This story tells us a lot about the qualities that were valued by Irish society. Cu Chulainn's resolve, creativity, resourcefulness, sense of responsibility, and compassion are all on show in this story.
Remember, Cu Chulainn took his name, not from the mighty feat of killing the hound, but from his actions and attitude afterwards. This is the real sense of heroism that Irish mythology celebrates, and an attitude we could all benefit from.