Cúchulainn (whose name is also sometimes spelled Cú Chulainn, Cú Chulaind, Cúchulain, or Cuchullain) lived some time in the centuries either side of 200BC, if he lived at all. He was a legendary Irish hero whose name lives on in that of the Cuillin mountain range on the Isle of Skye. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Cúchulainn appears in the medieval Irish heroic legends and sagas of the Ulster Cycle. He also appears in Scottish and Manx folklore. His father was a god, Lugh, and his mother was Deichtine, the sister (or in some versions the daughter) of Conchobar mac Nessa, the King of Ulster. The child that appears from their union is called Setanta, and is fostered by several Irish nobles. As a boy, Setanta showed considerable early prowess at sports. One day, Sétanta visited the house of Culann the smith. Although he was expected, Culann's huge guard dog was loose and attacked Setanta, who killed it with a hurling stick. Setanta promised to rear a replacement and, in the meantime, guard Culann's house himself. As a result he was given the name Cú Chulainn or "Culann's Hound".
At the age of seven, Cúchulainn began to train as a warrior. Later he fell in love with Emer, daughter of Forgall Monach. Her father secretly opposed the marriage, but said that it could take place once Cúchulainn had completed his training as a warrior at Dún Scáith on the Isle of Skye, where the mythical warrior queen Scáthach ran her "school for heroes". Cúchulainn and his friend Ferdiad duly travelled to Skye and gained access to Dún Scáith, where Scáthach turned them into fully fledged warriors. She also gave Cúchulainn his deadly barbed spear, the Gáe Bulg.
As part of his training Cúchulainn helped Scáthach overcome a neighbouring female chieftain, Aífe or Aoife (who by some accounts was also Scáthach's sister), and forced her to make peace, in the process fathering a son by Aífe. Cúchulainn also ended up sleeping with Scáthach's daughter Uathach, whose husband Cochar Croibhe he then killed in a duel. On completion of his training, Cúchulainn also slept with Scáthach.
After completing his training, Cúchulainn returned to Ireland, only to find that Forgall was still refusing to let him marry Emer. Cúchulainn responded by capturing Forgall's fortress and his treasure, killing twenty-four of the defenders including Forgall himself, and abducting Emer, who he subsequently married. Some years later, Connla, Cúchulainn's son by Aífe, came to Ireland to find his father. Cúchulainn mistook him for an intruder and killed him. When he found out the truth Cúchulainn was grief-stricken.
Cúchulainn most heroic exploit came with the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or the "The Cattle Raid of Cooley". This is the slightly odd name for an episode in the myths in which Cúchulainn single handedly defended Ulster from the army of the Queen Méabh, the Queen of Connacht by taking on the attackers, one by one, in single combat, until the army of Ulster recovered from a curse that had been placed on them and came to his assistance.
After many more exploits recounted by the Ulster Cycles, most involving Cúchulainn's prowess as a warrior in the face of overwhelming odds and, often, the supernatural powers of his enemies, he was eventually killed by trickery. He is later said to have reappeared as a ghost when Saint Patrick was trying to convert King Lóegaire mac Néill, the High King of Ireland, to Christianity, and warned the King of the perils of Hell. From a Scottish perspective, his name lives on in that of the Cuillin mountain range on the Isle of Skye.