The Red Branch (from Old Irish Cróeb Ruad, meaning "dull red branch"; alternatively, from Old Irish Cróeb Derg, meaning "bright red branch") is the name of two of the three royal houses of the king of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa, at his capital Emain Macha (Navan Fort, near Armagh), in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. In modern retellings it is sometimes used as the name of an order of warriors, the Red Branch Knights.
The names of two of Conchobar's houses can be translated as "Red Branch", as Old Irish had two words for "red": derg, bright red, the colour of fresh blood, flame or gold; and ruad, dull or brownish red, used for the colour of dried blood or red hair. The Cróeb Ruad (modern Irish Craobh Rua, "dull red branch") was where the king sat; its name has survived as the townland of Creeveroe in County Armagh. The Cróeb Derg (modern Irish Craobh Dearg, "bright red branch") was where the severed heads and other trophies of battle were kept. His third house was called the Téite Brec or "speckled hoard", where the heroes' weapons were stored.
The name Red Branch Knights was used by a loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland in September 1992 to claim responsibility for incendiary devices and a blast bomb left in a Dublin- based bank in Newtownabbey. Statements were sent to the media threatening action against anyone with political or economic links with the Republic of Ireland. They are not known to have been responsible for any casualties during the Troubles.
The name "Knights of the Red Branch" was also used by an Irish Catholic fraternal organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and San Francisco, California in the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries.
Appearance in fiction
The Red Branch warriors, including Cúchulainn and the sons of Usnech, appear as main characters in The Swan Maiden (2009), a novel by Jules Watson about the life of Deirdre The Raven Queen tells more of the story, mainly Maeve's view.
In Cormac McCarthy's debut novel The Orchard Keeper, Red Branch is the name of the town where the majority of the narrative's events take place. Themes of paternity, heroism and pastoralism abound in the novel and several of the characters make oblique references to the poetry of William Butler Yeats, himself an advocate of the mythic tales of the Ulster Cycle. Other appearances in fiction of The Red Branch and the story of The Cattle Raid Of Cooley and of Cúchulainn are featured in the series created by Henry H. Neff, called The Tapestry Series. The books are in order as follows: The Hound Of Rowan, The Second Siege, and The Fiend And The Forge and The Maelstorm.
In the anime/manga/visual novel, Fate/Stay Night, mages summon legendary heroes of the past to fight each other to the death for a wish granting artifact called the "Holy Grail". One of the heroes summoned is Cú Chulainn.
- Dictionary of the Irish Language, Compact Edition, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1990, pp. 204, 512
- Whitley Stokes (ed. & trans.), "Tidings of Conchobar mac Nessa", Ériu 4, 1910, pp. 18-38
- Conflict Archive in Northern Ireland
- Belgium Hurling & Camogie Website
- Bernard Donahue, Obituary of Francis P. Donahue, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 20, 1911