It might interest the men of Ulster to know that in antiquity Macha, the mythical wife of the equally mythical Crunniuc mac Agnomain, cursed them. A legendary athlete, Macha was forced to compete in a race while nine moths pregnant. (Given the circumstances, you can hardly blame her for feeling a little upset). In revenge, she cursed all Ulstermen to suffer the same agonies of childbirth, for five days and nights, whenever they are in the greatest difficulty or danger. In the epic tale of "The Tain," we meet Macha and the greatest Ulster hero of them all, Cu Chullain, the man who frequently wades knee deep in blood but always somehow manages to keep his long flowing locks immaculate. Few epic characters are as funny, as psychologically rich or as fond of a good joke as this gigantically overgrown schoolboy, and Carson presents him in all of his unforgettable majesty. Penguin, $15.

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