Aoife of the Land of Shadows

Aoife’s War and Peace with Cú Chulainn

The tales of old are filled with wonder. The story of Aoife, and both her rivalry with and love for Cú Chulainn, is no exception.

Aoife was the warrior-princess daughter of Árd-Greimne who resided in the Land of Shadows. Her sister, Scáthach, had been Cú Chulainn’s instructor in battle tactics. But Aoife and Scáthach were at odds with one another, and Aoife challenged her sister to war.

aoife and cu chulainn
Aoife was the sister of Scáthach.

Scáthach told Cú Chulainn to remain behind and avoid the battle, lest Aoife tries to kill him, for she was a renowned warrior of great strength. Cú Chulainn, however, followed his teacher to the Land of Shadows. Aoife seized the opportunity and challenged him to single combat, a popular tactic in ancient Irish lore.

Before their battle, Cú Chulainn came to Scáthach and asked her, ‘What does Aoife care about more than anything?’

Scáthach replied, ‘She values her horse and chariot more than all else.’

Cú Chulainn and Aoife were well-matched, for he had been trained by Aoife’s sister. But during the fight, Aoife swung and shattered Cú Chulainn’s sword. Fallen, he can only watch as Aoife raises her weapon for her final blow.

Cú Chulainn remembers the words that Scáthach had told him, and he cries out before her blow: ‘Your horse and chariot have fallen!’

Fearful, Aoife turns to seek out her chariot and its splendid horse, and Cú Chulainn knocks her from her feet.

Impressed by his cunning ingenuity, Aoife admits defeat. She is ready to die. But Cú Chulainn makes her an offer. ‘I will spare your life if you make peace with your sister Scáthach.’

Aoife accepts. She falls in love with Cú Chulainn and he with her. He lives in the Land of Shadows with her for many years, but when he is required to return to Ireland, he gives to her a gold ring. Aoife tells him that she will bear his child.

Some years later, a young warrior arrives in Ireland who is called Connlaí. Cú Chulainn challenges him to single combat and wins. And in the boy’s dying breath, Cú Chulainn is told that Connlaí is his own son, borne of Aoife of the Land of Shadows.

Peter J Merrigan
Peter J Merrigan was first published at the age of 17 in the Simon & Schuster anthology, Children of the Troubles. He has studied extensively and maintains a passion for pre-Christian Ireland. He is the author of the Ailigh Wars Saga novels, set in Iron Age Ireland.
peter@peterjmerrigan.com