Ireland’s boy hero: a warrior journey

Tracing the trail of Setanta

Slieve Foy from the Flagstaff Peninsula © fineArt Photography/Shuttershock

Cast your imagination back to a myth-filled Ireland, a realm of roaming fairy folk, miraculous mystics and warring chieftains. Deep within these hills, a boy began his journey to become a hero…

A boy and his hurley

It was against this storied landscape that young Setanta set out across the Cooley Mountains, making his way through the thicket-strewn terrain, a dream in his heart and a hurley stick in his hand. His quest? To prove his worth as a warrior to his uncle, the High King of Ulster, and join the ranks of Macra: the trainee division of the legendary Red Branch Knights.

To shorten the journey, Setanta hit a sliotar (ball) with his hurley along the route before him. Along hilly peaks and deep gullies, through bouncing bracken and purple heather, he battled through rain and mist. Yet he always kept his eye on the prize – and on the sliotar surging ahead.

© Conor Phelan

A hero's welcome

Passing through the verdant valley of Glenmore, climbing the peak of Slieve Foy, Setanta looked out over the ocean. He drank in the emerald stillness of Carlingford Lough, unable to know that, millennia later, their names and his own would be forever intertwined in legend.

Finally, he reached the royal court of King Conchobar. The Macra were assembled on the grass outside the castle, over 100 of them in total, playing hurling with a swiftness that rivalled the wind. But Setanta beat them one and all, attracting the attention of the king, who welcomed the boy with open arms.

The journey continues

Over the years that followed, Setanta would himself become a Red Branch Knight, and eventually one of the most feared and fearsome names of Irish legend: Cú Chulainn.

To this day, the All-Ireland Poc Fada commemorates Setanta’s epic journey across the Cooley Mountains, with 12 of the island’s best hurlers aiming to cross the same stretch of land with the fewest whacks of the ball. Though thousands of years have passed, it remains a dream deep in the hearts of many to follow in the footsteps of Setanta. So: do you have what it takes? The mountains are waiting…

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