“Crógacht” (meaning “Bravery” in Irish Gaelic), was inspired by one of the most dramatic tales in Irish mythology, known as “Aided Óenfhir Aoífe”, or “The Death of Aoife’s only son”.
It tells the story of the legendary hero Cuchulainn’s epic journey to the Isle Of Skye where he seeks to learn the arts of war from the Scythian warrior woman Scáthach. The decisions he then has to make set the events in motion that will lead up to his son Conlaoch’s tragic fate…
“Slán”, meaning “farewell”, represents the departure of Conlaoch's soul as he exits his mortal body and starts on his journey to earn his place in the Celtic otherworld.
In Celtic storytelling tradition, the essence of a fallen hero is sometimes kept alive through various transformations into living beings, allowing him to learn from history and gather wisdom. When Conlaoch finally learns what he needs to know to be accepted among the people of the Sidhe, he reflects on how it all came about…
Isle Of Skye
Conlaoch’s father, Cuchulainn, once fell in love with Emer, daughter of Forgall Monach. Forgall was opposed to this and demanded that Cuchulainn should prove himself worthy by training in arms with the warrior-woman Scáthach who lived on the Isle of Skye in Alba (Scotland). Cuchulainn accepted, and with the help of Lugh (a Celtic god who was said to be his father), he traversed the plain of Ill-Luck and finally reached Scáthach’s abode. But in order to enter he still had to cross an impossible bridge. The scholars of Scáthach all mocked him when he didn’t succeed on his first three attempts. Infuriated, he did not give up and on the fourth time he managed to get to the other side with one giant leap. With this demonstration of courage and vigour, he was able to convince Scáthach to train him.
Scáthach and her sister Aoife ruled over a vast number of Scythian tribes near the Black Sea, when they were betrayed and defeated by the Roman Empire. Relentlessly hunted, they were forced to move to Alba. On their journey they joined forces with a Dacian prince whose people had been wiped out by the Romans. Over time, Aoife and the prince became lovers. When the Dacian prince questioned Scáthach’s leadership, it was decided that a chariot race should settle the dispute. The prince fell under his chariot and died.This started a feud between the two sisters and they each went their separate ways from that day on. The Picts, who had been tracking the Scythian fugitives, were impressed by Scáthach’s prowess and offered her a place to stay. In return she offered to teach them her skills. Thus, she started building an army to fight the hated Roman Empire.
Feats Of War
For a year and a day, Scathách promised to instruct Cuchulainn in her warrior skills. He acquired each new feat with the greatest of ease. When she had nothing else left to teach him, she deemed him worthy to be trained in the use of the Gae Bolg, a terrible barbed spear that was hurled with the foot. Its use always resulted in a deadly outcome because it could only be removed by cutting away the flesh, leaving it’s victim disembowelled…
During Cuchulainn’s training, Scáthach faced a battle against her sister Aoífe, who still sought revenge for her lover’s death and who now commanded a number of rivaling Pictish tribes. She didn't want Cuchulainn to participate in the fight because she suspected that the young man would let Aoife’s beauty blind him. So she gave him a powerful sleeping potion, but because of his great strength, it only put him to sleep for an hour and he soon joined the battle. After slaying her three champions, he faced Aoife in single combat. However, his sword shattered under the blows of Aoife’s superior Dacian blade. When Aoife was about to deliver the final blow, Scáthach distracted her by screaming out that her horses and chariot, which had belonged to her Dacian prince, had fallen off a cliff. At that instant, Cuchulainn seized Aoife and threw her to the ground. He spared her life on the conditions that she would call off her enmity with her sister, and that she would stay with him and bear him a son.
Ár Nasc Fola
“Ár nasc fola” means "our blood bond" and refers to the child that was conceived during the blissful time that Aoife and Cuchulainn were together on the Isle Of Skye .
When Cuchulainn’s training had ended, he had no other choice but to return to Erin. He told Aoife that his son was to be named Conlaoch, and that he wanted him to become a formidable warrior. He was to be trained by Scáthach, and would have to obey three geasa : first that he was never to turn back on his path, second that he should never refuse a challenge, and third that he should never tell anyone his name. He gave Aoife a golden ring and told her to send the boy to his father as soon as the ring fitted his thumb. No one knew where Cuchulainn had gotten this ring… Some said that it had once belonged to Elathan, a legendary king of the mythical Fomor, who had ruled over the land in ancient times. So Aoife stayed behind and raised her son as his father had instructed. And when he was old enough to wear the ring, his mother provided him with the weapons of a champion and he departed for Erin in a small boat of bronze with gilded oars…
As Conlaoch set foot on Baile’s strand, his arrival was detected by the Red Branch Knights and he was approached by the warrior Cuinare, who asked him his name and lineage. Because of the geasa, Conlaoch could not comply and was immediately challenged to a duel. After a swift fight, Cuinare lay dead at Conlaoch's feet. A few others challenged him, but all suffered the same fate. Therefore the greatest hero of Ulster was called for. Conlaoch then was unaware that he would come up against his father, Cuchulainn himself. Again he was asked for his name and could not answer because of his code of honour that he had to obey. After a long and terrible battle, Cuchulainn got in trouble and used the gae bolg as a last resort. At that instant, he noticed the ring on the boy's finger and suddenly realized what he had done. He was thrown into a fit of rage and grief because he had killed his own son…
But what Cuchulainn could not know, was that Conlaoch's journey had not ended. As he died, his soul was channelled through Elathan’s ring, and he started on a mystical journey to find his place among the people of the Sidhe…
by Kris Verwimp
Crógacht lyrics [click]