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Aided Oenfhir Aífe


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[Ir., The Tragic Death of Aífe's Only Son; also The Tragic Death of Connla].

A short foretale of the Táin Bó Cuailnge [Cattle Raid of Cooley], dealing with Cúchulainn's's unwitting killing of his own son in combat. The story is an Irish instance of the international tale best known in the Persian narrative of Sohrab and Rustum (folk motif: N731.2).

The men of Ulster were assembled when they saw a boy coming on the sea in a boat of bronze with gilded oars. The men were awe-struck at the boy's powers to make birds do his will. They sent two champions to challenge him, but he defied them both. Only Cúchulainn seemed equal to the task. As he was summoned, his then wife Emer begged him not to go because she said that the boy was the son of Cúchulainn's earlier encounter with Aífe, and thus his only son. The hero disparaged such womanish talk and said that he would kill the boy for the honour of Ulster.

As the two challengers met, Cúchulainn demanded to know the boy's name and said his opponent would die if he would not tell. The boy responded with a stroke of his sword, shaving the older man’s head. They began to wrestle, and Cúchulainn pressed the boy so hard that his feet penetrated into stone up to his ankles. They went into the water, hoping to drown one another. At last Cúchulainn cast his spear, Gae Bolga, into the boy, at which the latter cried, ‘That is what Scáthach did not teach me.’ Because Scáthach had also taught Cúchulainn, the older man immediately knew the boy's identity. He took Connla in his arms, carried him ashore, and cast him before the Ulsterman. ‘Here is my son,’ he said.

See commentary by Jan de Vries, ‘Das Motiv der Vater-Sohn-Kampfes im Hildebrandslied’, Germanisch-romanische Monatsschrift, 3 (1953), 257–74; de Vries' ‘Nachschrift’ in the same volume, 257–74, is expanded into ‘Le Conte irlandais Aided óenfhir Aífe…’, Ogam, 9 (1957), 122–38. Vernam E. Hull, ‘The Death of Connla’, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, 29 (1962/4), 190–1. Much of this story is used by W. B. Yeats in his poem ‘Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea’ (1892), where the son is known as Finmole, and in his play On Baile's Strand (1904); it is also retold in the ballad ‘Sons of North Britain’, as collected in Nova Scotia. James Macpherson transmogrified it in his ‘Carthon’ of the Poems of Ossian (1763)

Subjects: Religion.


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