Red Branch

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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, russet, used for the colour of dried blood and for red hair.[1] The Cróeb Ruad (modern Irish Craobh Rua, "russet branch") was where the king sat;[2] its name has survived as the townland of Creeveroe in County Armagh. The Cróeb Derg (modern Irish Craobh Dearg, "bright red branch") was where 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.[2]

Modern usage[edit]

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.[3]

There are three known hurling teams, two sharing the name Craobh Rua.[4] in Brussels, Belgium, Camlough in County Armagh and The Columbia Red Branch in Portland Oregon USA.

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.[5]

The "Red Branch Morris" and "Ceoltori Creabh Rua" (Musicians of the Red Branch) are a traditional folk dancing team and their musicians. They first performed in 1972 in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and continue to perform occasionally.

In California, a group called Knights of the Red Branch (see Knights of the Red Branch Inc) describe themselves as a "Non Profit Social Welfare organization based in the San Francisco Bay area...[that] promotes friendship and peaceful resolutions to conflict". In 2015 they commissioned a report entitled Modelling Irish Unification.[6]

Appearance in fiction[edit]

Red Branch is the title of a Morgan Llewellyn book written in 1989. The book's story centers on Cúchulainn and takes place largely within the ranks of the Red Branch.

In The Wheel of Time, a fantasy series by Robert Jordan, the Band of the Red Hand, which resembles the Red Branch Knights, makes its appearance.

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 from Maeve's viewpoint.

In Cormac McCarthy's debut novel The Orchard Keeper, Red Branch is the name of the town where the majority of the 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, an advocate 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 Henry H. Neff's Tapestry Series, including The Hound of Rowan, The Second Siege, The Fiend and the Forge, The Maelstorm and The Red Winter.

In the anime/manga/visual novel Fate/Stay Night, mages summon legendary heroes to fight each other to the death for a wish-granting artifact called the "Holy Grail". One of the heroes summoned is Cú Chulainn.


  1. ^ Dictionary of the Irish Language, Compact Edition, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1990, pp. 204, 512
  2. ^ a b Whitley Stokes (ed. & trans.), "Tidings of Conchobar mac Nessa", Ériu 4, 1910, pp. 18-38
  3. ^ Conflict Archive in Northern Ireland
  4. ^ Belgium Hurling & Camogie Website
  5. ^ Bernard Donahue, Obituary of Francis P. Donahue, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 20, 1911
  6. ^