I was reminded of one of my very favorite parts of Irish folklore, and now I have to tell you all about it. I like to call it “Cu Chulainn’s fear of boobies.”
There is never a moment I don’t find this hilarious.
Cu Chulainn’s fear of boobies is first mentioned in the story in which he becomes a warrior. You know this one; it’s very famous. It’s in the Tain, and everything. Cu overhears Cathbad the druid saying that whoever takes up arms that day with live a life of glory, so Cu runs off to do just that and ends up receiving Conchobor’s weapons and chariot because he’s Cu Chulainn who cares if he is six years old he’s too cool for other weapons and chariots.
So Cu and the charioteer (who’s probably wishing he’d retired) ride off and Cu ends up challenging these three foreign warriors to a battle while the poor charioteer bites his fingernails and hopes he’s not about to watch a six-year-old be violently decapitated (spoilers, he’s Cu Chulainn, he does the decapitating, while the people in the castle are wondering what the SHIT is happening down there).
After killing three grown men, lust for blood not sated, Cu Chulainn heads home, pausing on the way to kidnap a bunch of animals and tie them to the chariot. And that’s how he returns to Emain Macha, thundering along in this chariot, screaming with rage, with all this bewildered swans and deer and shit running along wondering what the fuck is happening.
Someone sees this and tells Conchobor, “oh shit oh shit Cu Chulainn is going to kill us all” to which Conchobor presumably replied “what” and had to have the whole thing explained. After someone patiently told him about this extremely angry six-year-old with all the animals, Conchobor said, “No, it’s cool, just send out a bunch of women to show him their boobs” to which I can only imagine the warriors went, “Boobs, sir?” and Conchobor confidently said, “Boobs. Trust me on this, guys.”
Since everyone in Ulster does trust Conchobor, despite mountains of evidence telling them they shouldn’t, a bunch of women -in some versions led by Conchobor’s own wife- go out and flash their boobs at Cu Chulainn. Cu is so embarrassed by all the naked titties that he flings himself out of the chariot and covers his eyes. The Ulster warriors grab him and dunk him in a barrel of water, which immediately begins to boil because that’s how pissed this child is. Angry enough to boil water on contact. They dunk him in a second barrel, which begins to steam. They dunk him in a third one which stays cold and then Cu’s not angry anymore, and then everyone goes and gets drunk or something, I don’t know.
Hey wait! You might say. Cu was only six in that story! And six-year-olds are dumb! That doesn’t mean he’s afraid of boobies!
WELL GUESS WHAT IT HAPPENS AGAIN LATER IN THE ULSTER CYCLE.