Cathbad (Old Irish pronunciation: [ˈkaθvað]) or Cathbhadh (modern spelling) is a druid name. Characters named Cathbad feature prominently in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology as well as in Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series of novels.
In Irish mythology
Cathbad is the chief druid in the court of King Conchobar mac Nessa, in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. He also features in both accounts of Conchobar's birth, one of which details him as the King's father. In the first, Nessa, daughter of Eochaid Sálbuide, the then king of Ulster, asks the druid what it is an auspicious time for (as he had the ability to foretell the future). Cathbad replies, "for begetting a king on a queen". There were no other men around, so Nessa takes Cathbad to bed and conceives a son.
In the second version, Cathbad, who is a leader of a band of fianna (landless warriors) as well as a druid, attacks Nessa's foster-father's house, killing all 12 of them. Because the culprit cannot be identified, Eochaid is powerless to do anything about it, so Nessa forms her own band of 27 fianna to track him down. However, one day, when she goes off on her own to bathe, Cathbad comes upon her alone and unarmed, and demands her as his wife. She has no choice but to agree. However, in this version, Nessa's child is the son of Nessa's lover High King Fachtna Fáthach, as oppressed to Cathbad's. Regardless though, Nessa goes into labour, and Cathbad tells her if she can manage not to give birth until the following day, her son will be a great king and have everlasting fame. Nessa sits on a flagstone by the river Conchobar and the following morning gives birth. The baby falls into the river, but Cathbad lifts him out, names him Conchobar after the river, and brings him up as his own son.
The druid was also present at the birth of Deirdre and prophesied her tragic fate, but Conchobar ignored him. On another occasion, the young Cúchulainn overheard Cathbad prophesies that anyone who took arms on that day would have everlasting fame but a short life; he immediately ran to Conchobar and asked to be armed.
Ruth Galloway series
In Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series of novels, Michael Malone - the godfather of Ruth's daughter - is a druid who goes by the name Cathbad. He is also an active member of the Elginists, who in A Room Full of Bones (2012), describe themselves as an organization "dedicated to the return of cultural artefacts to their countries of origin. There is a bit about the Elgin Marbles"[...].
- Kinsella, Thomas (1969). The Táin. Oxford University Press. p. 3.
- "Cathbad". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2014. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
- Whitley, Stokes, ed. (1908). "Tidings of Conchobar son of Ness". Ériu 2.
- Meyer, Kuno (1883-1885). "Anecdota from the Stowe MS". Revue Celtique 6 (992): 171–186.
- Stokes, Whitley (1910). "Tidings of Conchobar mac Nessa". Ériu 4: 18–38.
- Meyer, Kuno (1884). "Anecdota from the Stowe MS. No 992". Revue Celtique 6: 178–182.
- Heroic Romances of Ireland I. Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved December 24, 2011.
- A Dying Fall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2013. p. 362. ISBN 9780547793696.
- Griffiths, Elly (2011). The Janus Stone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 49. ISBN 9780547523545.
- Griffiths, Elly (2012). A Room Full of Bones. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780547506975.
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