Sharkey, Niamh  

Irish Legends for the Very Young


Charming tales of Irish legends for younger readers.


Aimed at early readers and written to be read aloud to young children, Irish Legends for the Very Young contains a new retelling of three of the best-loved Irish legends:
The Children of Lir, How Setanta Became Cúchulainn and Oisín in Tír na n'Óg.
Retold with the young reader in mind, these tales are charmingly illustrated by the author, Niamh Sharkey.
To find out more about Niamh Sharkey, click here.
ISBN 9781856351447
Sample:How Setanta became Cúchulainn When little Setanta went to sleep at night, he dreamed wonderful dreams. In these dreams he was a Red Branch knight with a silver sword and a golden shield. He was the bravest warrior in all Ireland and could fight any man or beast. Charging through dark woods on horseback, riding through the deepest of glens or climbing the highest mountains, Setanta would have fantastic adventures. But all dreams must come to an end and in the morning when he awoke, Setanta was still just a boy. During the sunny days, Setå_anta loved to go hunting and fishing with his father. His father's name was Sualtaim; he was a brave warrior and taught Setanta many things. The two would set off in the darkness before sunrise and go hunting in the forests near their home. Sualtaim brought his son everywhere, teaching him the ways of a warrior. For his seventh birthday, Setanta got a hurley stick and a tiny silver ball from his father and mother. Setanta thought his presents were marvellous and he played with them all day. He even brought them to bed with him! Setanta asked his father every day, 'When will I be old enough to join the Red Branch knights?' Sualtaim would answer: 'Setanta, you're only seven years old. The Red Branch knights are all fully grown men. Maybe next year I'll let you join the Machra.' The Machra were like boy scouts, young boys who learned the skills of hunting and sport. They trained to be young warriors. The best of the best became knights of the Red Branch. One night Setanta was in bed and supposed to be asleep but he was awake and feeling thirsty. He crept downstairs to fetch a cup of water and as he reached the kitchen door he heard his mother and father talking. He put his ear to the door and realised that they were talking about his mother's brother Conor, who lived at Emhain Macha. His uncle was the king of Ulster! The Red Branch knights lived in his castle! Setanta could not believe his ears. He decided there and then to travel to his uncle's stronghold, sure that the king would let him join the knights of the Red Branch. Setanta crept upstairs, dressed himself for a journey and took up his hurley and silver ball. He tiptoed past the kitchen and let himself out the front door. It was pitch dark outside when he started and the journey was a slow one. During the day he threw his silver ball high in the air as he walked, and bounced it along with his stick. At night he slept under the stars in the dark forests. His sleep was light since he knew the woods were full of wild animals who might gobble him up for dinner. After many days like this Setanta at last reached his uncle's great fort. Outside, a group of boys were playing hurling. They were the older boys from the Machra. Setanta jumped in and started to play, even though he was tired from his long journey. He ran rings around the older boys, even slipping under a taller boy's legs to score a goal. He shouted in delight but when he turned around, ten sets of angry eyes stared at him. The Machra were very very upset to be beaten by such a small fellow. The ten angry boys jumped on Setanta but again he was more than fit for the lot of them. He tossed them to the ground and broke all their hurleys. King Conor was looking from his bedroom window in the castle and was amazed to see ten of his best young warriors beaten by such a small boy. He hurried outside to talk to him. Conor called to the boy: 'Who are you?' Setanta turned around. 'My name is Setanta,' he said, 'son of Dechtire and Sualtaim. I have travelled many miles to join the company of the Red Branch knights.' 'My goodness,' cried the king, 'you are my sister's child. I am your uncle, Conor the king. Welcome to Emhain Macha. 'As to your wish to join the Red Branch' The king shook his head. 'I'm sorry, nephew, but you are far too young. All the knights are fully grown men. Maybe in a couple of years you will have a better chance.' Setanta was sad. His dreams were shatterå_ed. When Conor saw the tears in Setanta's eyes he had an idea. 'Why don't you explore the fort and then follow me to Culann's castle. He is throwing a feast and all the Red Branch knights will be there. You will meet them.' King Conor's castle was huge. Setanta counted one hundred and fifty rooms! The ceilings were made of copper and bronze that sparkled like gold. Setanta could see his reflection in them as he ran about. As the sun began to sink Setanta began the long trek to Culann's castle. He was so excited: at last he was to meet the Red Branch knights! Culann was the most famous smith in Ulster. Smiths forged weapons for the warriors and Culann made the deadliest swords. If your finger even touched the blade of one of his weapons it would bleed. Culann was throwing a mighty feast to follow a day of hunting on his lands. It was to thank Conor and his knights for buying their swords from him. The feasters were entertained by feats of juggling, poetry, songs and dancing. There was plenty of food and too much wine. Towards the end of the feast Culann turned to Conor to ask, 'Is anyone else coming to the feast?' Conor was more than a little drunk; he had had too much red wine. Culann was a blur in front of him. Conor forgot that he had asked little Setanta to come along later. 'No, I don't think so,' he answered. 'Why?' Culann replied that he had a great hound tied up in the grounds. 'He is the most feared dog in Ireland, with the strength of one hundred men. If nobody else is coming I will set him free to protect us while we're sleeping.' 'That's fine by me,' said King Conor as he stumbled upstairs to bed. A great yellow moon glowed in the purple sky above Setanta's head as he made his way to Culann's fort. The night was so cold he could see his breath making patterns in the air. Ahead of him he could just make out the soft glow of Culann's castle in the distance. He decided to sit down for a little rest. A bloodcurdling howl made him freeze. A second howl echoed through the forest. He stood up, trying not to make a sound. He couldn't see anything moving at all. As if from nowhere, the hound of Culann appeared. He was the biggest dog Setanta had ever seen, the size of a small horse! When the hound growled and gnashed his teeth he foamed at the mouth. Mad red eyes were fixed on Setanta as the hell-hound got ready to pounce. Setanta looked around for a weapon. Tossing sods of grass at this barking mad dog wouldn't save him; his hurley and ball were his only chance. Suddenly the hound leapt, and as it did so Setanta took a deep breath, bounced his silver ball on the ground and smacked it with his hurley. With the speed of light the silver ball flew through the air and got the hound right between the eyes! The beast stopped in mid-flight and fell to the ground at the boy's feet. King Conor fell across the bed, asleep before he even had time to cover himself with his bearskin. He awoke almost immediately to the sound of chilling howls and the noise of fighting. He dashed from the bedroom and ran down the steps of the castle shouting,'I forgot about little Setanta. He will be minced up by the hound of Culann.' Half-dressed Red Branch knights ran out into the dark, followed by Culann and Conor. The sight that met them made them rub their eyes: they found a little boy standing beside the dead hound. Culann cried in horror, 'What has happened to my mastiff?' 'I am truly sorry,' said the boy. 'I am Setanta, son of Sualtaim. I am the one who killed your guard dog with my silver ball.' 'I am glad that you are safe, young Setanta,' said Culann sadly, 'but I shall be lost without my hound that I loved and that protected me when I went to sleep at night.' 'Do not worry, Culann,' said Setanta in a manly voice. 'I shall find you the cleverest whelp in the country and train it to be the best watchdog in Ireland. Until that day I will guard your sheep and your castle against invaders.' Culann scratched his head and then smiled broadly. 'Thank you, Setanta,' he said. 'I am content that you shall guard my castle for you have proved that you are stronger than any hound. Henceforth your name will be Cú Chulainn, 'Culann's hound.' The Red Branch knights laughed when they heard that a seven-year-old boy was to be the new hound of Culann. Setanta was delighted to meet the knights at last. He went around shaking all their hands and asking their names. He had to tell them crossly to stop laughing: he was going to be the best guard dog on two legs that they had ever seen. Cúchulainn became the best guard in the whole of Ireland. The smith made him a special sword and shield to guard his fort. When the Red Branch knights saw how strong he was they asked him to join, even though he was still a young boy. Setanta's dream had come true! Even when Cúchulainn became the leader and the most famous of the Red Branch knights, he always kept the little silver ball close at hand. It had once saved his life, and there was no way of knowing when he would need it again.