Bricriu hoped to pit the three greatest heroes of Ulster; Cu
Chulainn, Loegaire and Conall Cernach; against each other by creating a contest to see
which one was the best and could claim the champion's prize.
The three heroes and their wives began squabbling and eventually they
decided to go to King Ailill and Queen Medb of Connacht.
They approached on three chariots and the king and queen became fearful
that they would storm the court and kill everyone.
Medb met them, with vats of water and fifty maidens to care for them.
They told Ailill and Medb that they had come to seek their judgement in the dispute.
Ailill couldn't decide so Medb took the decision upon herself. Deciding
that they were all different and it was impossible to judge the one better than the other,
she handled it easily.
Firstly she called for Loegaire and told him he was the best. She gave
him a bronze cup with its base decorated with a white gold bird as proof of her choice.
Next she called Conall Cernach and told him the same. She gave him the
same cup but in white gold with a golden bird at its base.
Finally she called Cu Chulainn and Ailill joined her in telling him
that he was the best. His cup was red gold and its bird was carved from a priceless gem.
The heroes entertained the court with a game of throwing the wheel.
Loegaire barely managed to reach the top of the wall of the hall, but Conall Cernach's
managed to hit the ridgebeam, however Cu Chulainn hit the ridgebeam so hard that the wheel
flew out of the hall and landed on the ground outside. He then took one hundred and fifty
needles and threw them up in the air so that each was threaded through the eye of the
After this they left, each taking a different route home. Conall
Cernach and Cu Chulainn were held up by adventures along the way and so Loegaire arrived
back in Ulster first.
He falsely announced their deaths and so the court was in mourning. A
mighty argument ensued only to be broken up by Cu Chulainn's step-father, who suggested
that another hero should claim the champion's prize because none of them returned with any
proof that he had been chosen.
At this challenge Loegaire produced his bronze cup, followed by Conall
Cernach who showed his better cup, the one of gold. Cu Chulainn claimed the champion's
prize with his cup of red gold and the bird of precious stone, but Loegaire and Conall
Cernach refused to acknowledge him.
So off they went to Cu Roi for his judgement. He was away but his wife
was there to wine and dine them. They were told to do nightwatch, one standing watch each
night. The first night Leogaire stood watch for he was the eldest.
At dawn a huge giant attacked. He picked up Loegaire like a rag doll
and tossed him over the walls.
The following night the same fate befell Conall Cernach.
The third night a monster from the lake attacked Cu Chulainn. Just
after he killed it the giant attacked. In order to spare his life, the giant said that he
would give Cu Chulainn anything in exchange. Cu Chulainn wanted the champion's prize and
the giant granted him his wish.
Cu Roi returned home and heard the tale and he granted Cu Chulainn the
champion's prize. Again Loegaire and Conall Cernach refused to acknowledge it. Cu Chulainn
was tired of the contest so he let it rest.
Some time later, when the three heroes were away from home, an ogre
approached and challenged the people there to a game of beheading. He would let one of
them behead him and then the following night he would behead them.
One of them agreed to it and beheaded the ogre. To their amazement he
just got up and picked up his head and walked off.
The following night he returned but the warrior was no where to be
So he struck a similar deal with someone else. He was beheaded and
walked off. But the next night the warrior was not to be found.
This went on for three nights and on the fourth people gathered to
watch, with Cu Chulainn among them, so the ogre challenged him.
Cu Chulainn beheaded the ogre and he walked off. The next night the
ogre returned and called for Cu Chulainn. Cu Chulainn was a hero and would keep his word
so he stepped out and laid his head on the chopping block.
The ogre raised his axe and swung ... but as he would have struck Cu
Chulainn the ogre turned the axe so that only the shaft struck Cu Chulainn.
He then proclaimed Cu Chulainn as the champion of champions because he
was the only one who had valour and honour and kept his word, even if it meant his death.
He walked off and as he did so he turned into Cu Roi and thus his
judgement of the heroes was final.