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, dull or brownish red, used for the colour of dried blood or red hair. The Cróeb Ruad (modern Irish Craobh Rua, "dull red branch") was where the king sat; its name has survived as the townland of Creeveroe in County Armagh. The Cróeb Derg (modern Irish Craobh Dearg, "bright red branch") was where the 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.
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.
There is a Hurling team in Brussels, Belgium, called Croabh Rua.
The name "Knights of the Red Branch" was also used by an Irish Catholic fraternal organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Appearance in fiction
Red Branch is the title of a Morgan Llewellyn book written in 1989. The book's story centers around Cúchulainn but 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 that 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.
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