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Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Fionn mac Cumhaill (Irish pronunciation: [ˈfʲin̪ˠ mˠakˠ ˈkuːw̃əlːʲ] (Northern), [ˈfʲiːn̪ˠ mˠakˠ ˈkuːw̃əlʲ] (Western), [ˈfʲuːn̪ˠ mˠakˠ ˈkuːlʲ] (Southern), anglicised /ˈfɪn mə ˈkuːl/ (in early texts Finn or Find mac Cumail or mac Umaill, anglicised to Finn McCool in the Romantic Period of the 1800s) was a mythical hunter-warrior of Irish mythology, occurring also in the mythologies of Scotland and the Isle of Man. The stories of Fionn and his followers, the Fianna, form the Fenian cycle or Fiannaidheacht, much of it purported to be narrated by Fionn's son, the poet Oisín.

Fionn or Finn is actually a nickname meaning "fair" (in reference to hair and/or skin colour), "white", or "bright". His childhood name was Deimne [dʲeβ̃nʲi] (Modern Irish [dʲeβʲɨnʲɨ] (Southern [dʲəinʲɨ]) "Sureness, Certainty", and several legends tell how he gained the nickname when his hair turned prematurely white. The name "Fionn" is related to the Welsh name Gwyn, as in the mythological figure Gwyn ap Nudd, and to the continental/Roman British Celtic Vindos, also a 'nickname' for a god such as Belenos.

The 19th century Irish revolutionary organisation known as the Fenian Brotherhood took its name from these legends. The Scottish name Fingal comes from a retelling of these legends in epic form by the eighteenth century poet James Macpherson.

Contents

Legend

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Birth

Most of Fionn's early adventures are recounted in the narrative The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. He was the son of Cumhall, leader of the Fianna, and Muirne, daughter of the druid Tadg mac Nuadat who lived on the hill of Almu in County Kildare. Cumhall abducted Muirne after her father refused him her hand, so Tadg appealed to the High King, Conn of the Hundred Battles, who outlawed him. The Battle of Cnucha was fought between Conn and Cumhall, and Cumhall was killed by Goll mac Morna, who took over leadership of the Fianna.

Muirne was already pregnant, so her father rejected her and ordered his people to burn her, but Conn would not allow it and put her under the protection of Fiacal mac Conchinn, whose wife, Bodhmall the druidess, was Cumhall's sister. In Fiacal's house she gave birth to a son, who she called Deimne.

Boyhood

Muirne left the boy in the care of Bodhmall and a warrior woman, Liath Luachra, who brought him up in secret in the forest of Sliabh Bladma, teaching him the arts of war and hunting. As he grew older he entered the service, incognito, of a number of local kings, but when they recognised him as Cumhal's son they told him to leave, fearing they would be unable to protect him from his enemies.

The young Fionn met the leprechaun-like druid and poet Finn Eces, or Finnegas, near the river Boyne and studied under him. Finneces had spent seven years trying to catch the salmon of knowledge, which lived in a pool on the Boyne: whoever ate the salmon would gain all the knowledge in the world. Eventually he caught it, and told the boy to cook it for him. While cooking it Fionn burned his thumb, and instinctively put his thumb in his mouth, swallowing a piece of the salmon's skin. This imbued him with the salmon's wisdom. He then knew how to gain revenge against Goll, and in subsequent stories[citation needed] was able to call on the knowledge of the salmon by sucking his thumb.

The salmon's place in this tale displays the esteem in which this particular family of fish is held in many different mythologies. The particular species thought to be referenced in this tale, is the Salmonidae midlandus variant[citation needed]. This species held a special place of esteem in traditional Irish stories due to its strength, its appearance, (significantly more scales than other species, and therefore a more striking range of colours), and its relative scarcity. The story of Fionn and the salmon of knowledge bears a strong resemblance to the Welsh tale of Gwion Bach.

Adulthood

Every year for twenty-three years at Samhain, the fire-breathing fairy Aillen would lull the men of Tara to sleep with his music before burning the palace to the ground, and the Fianna, led by Goll mac Morna, were powerless to prevent it. Fionn arrived at Tara, armed with his father's crane-skin bag of magical weapons. He kept himself awake with the point of his own spear, and then killed Aillen with it. After that his heritage was recognised and he was given command of the Fianna: Goll willingly stepped aside, and became a loyal follower of Fionn, although in many stories their alliance is uneasy and feuds occur. Fionn demanded compensation for his father's death from Tadg, threatening war or single combat against him if he refused. Tadg offered him his home, the hill of Alan, as compensation, which Fionn accepted.

Love life

Fionn met his most famous wife, Sadbh, when he was out hunting. She had been turned into a deer by a druid, Fear Doirich. Fionn's hounds, Bran and Sceolan, who were once human themselves, recognised she was human, and Fionn spared her. She transformed back into a beautiful woman, she and Fionn married and she was soon pregnant. However Fear Doirich (literally meaning Dark Man) returned and turned her back into a deer, and she vanished. Seven years later Fionn was reunited with their son, Oisín, who went on to be one of the greatest of the Fianna.

In The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne, one of the most famous stories of the cycle, the High King Cormac mac Airt promises the now aging Fionn his daughter Gráinne as his bride, but Gráinne falls instead for one of the Fianna, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, and the pair runs away together with Fionn in pursuit. The lovers are aided by Diarmuid's foster-father, the god Aengus. Eventually Fionn makes his peace with the couple. Years later, however, Fionn invites Diarmuid on a boar hunt, and Diarmuid is badly gored by their quarry. Water drunk from Fionn's hands has the power of healing, but when Fionn gathers water he deliberately lets it run through his fingers before he gets back to Diarmuid. His grandson Oscar threatens him if does not bring water for Diarmuid, but when Fionn finally returns it is too late; Diarmuid has died.

Death

Accounts of Fionn's death vary; according to the most popular, he is not dead at all, rather, he sleeps in a cave below Dublin, surrounded by the rest of the Fianna. One day they will awake and defend Ireland in the hour of her greatest need. In one account, it is said they will arise when the Dord Fiann (his hunting horn) is sounded three times, and they will be as strong and as well as they ever were,[1]however this may have arisen due to confusion between the Fianna and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is well known that the British did impinge their beliefs on Irish history and culture, and may have altered the tale to their own liking. Or alternatively, the Irish borrowed the idea from the Arthurian legend. A tale of the 10th or 11th century says that Mongán (died c.625), son of Fiachnae mac Báetáin but also said to be the son of Manannán mac Lir, was Fionn reborn.

Fionn as a giant

Many geographical features in Ireland are attributed to Fionn. Legend has it he built the Giant's Causeway as stepping-stones to Scotland, so as not to get his feet wet; he also once scooped up part of Ireland to fling it at a rival, but it missed and landed in the Irish Sea — the clump became the Isle of Man and the pebble became Rockall, the void became Lough Neagh. Fingal's Cave in Scotland is also named after him, and shares the feature of hexagonal basalt columns with the nearby Giant's Causeway in Ireland.

In Newfoundland, and some parts of Nova Scotia, "Fingal's Rising" is spoken of in a distinct nationalistic sense. Made popular in songs and bars alike, to speak of "Fingle," as his name is pronounced in English versus "Fion MaCool" in Newfoundland Irish, is sometimes used as a stand-in for Newfoundland or its culture.

In Manx folklore, Fionn is a giant known as Finn MacCooill. One story [2] says that he came to live in the Isle of Man, whereupon a Manx buggane came to fight against the famous Irish giant. Wanting to avoid a fight, Finn hid in the cradle while his wife entertained the buggane, pretending her husband was the baby and trying to scare off their visitor. She gave the buggane a griddle-cake with the iron griddle hidden in it, which he could not eat, and told him that her husband always ate such cakes. Then she gave a second cake to Finn, who easily ate it. Seeing that even the 'baby' was so strong, the buggane thought better of his fight and slunk off. However, later the two did meet and had a great battle at Kirk Christ Rushen. Finn's feet carved out the Channel between the Calf of Man and Kitterland, and the other channel between Kitterland and the Isle of Man. The buggane's feet at Port Erin made the opening for the port there. At last the buggane got the upper hand and the injured Finn had to flee. Finn could walk on the sea, but the buggane could not. Unable to follow, the buggane tore out a tooth and flung it after Finn, where it struck him and fell into the sea to become the Chicken Rock. Finn turned and shouted a curse on the rock, which is why it is such a hazard to sailors.

Modern literature

Malvine, dying in the arms of Fingal, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson

In 1761 James Macpherson announced the discovery of an epic written by Ossian (Oisín) in the Scottish Gaelic language on the subject of "Fingal" (Fionnghall meaning "white stranger":[3] it is suggested that Macpherson rendered the name as Fingal through a misapprehension of the name which in old Gaelic would appear as Finn[4]). In December 1761 he published Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language. His cycle of poems had widespread influence on such writers as Goethe and the young Walter Scott, but there was controversy from the outset about Macpherson's claims to have translated the works from ancient sources. The authenticity of the poems is now generally doubted, though they may have been based on fragments of Gaelic legend, and to some extent the controversy has overshadowed their considerable literary merit and influence on Romanticism.

A story of the battle between Fionn MacCumhail, who in this tale is claimed to have resided in the valley of Glencoe, in Scotland, and a Viking host led by Earragan makes an appearance in the book Glencoe: The Story of the Massacre, Secker & Warburg, 1966 by John Prebble. The story tells of the approach of forty Viking galleys up the narrows by Ballachulish into Loch Leven, and the ensuing battle between the Norsemen and the Feinn of the valley of Glencoe, in which Earragan is slain by Goll MacMorna.

Fionn mac Cumhaill features heavily in modern Irish literature. Most notably he makes several appearances in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and some have posited that the title, taken from the street ballad "Finnegan's Wake", may also be a blend of "Finn again is awake," referring to his eventual awakening to defend Ireland.

In a discussion on Tom O' Neill's somewhat irreverend book of 'new' Fionn Mac Cumhaill tales, Gary Chapman claims that modern treatments of Irish legends such as those of the hero cycle and Finn McCool[5] stories face interesting challenges if they are to bring the magic alive for 21st century readers. With this book as backdrop he discusses the challenges facing writers attempting to keep the spirit of the hero legends alive in modern literature. He asserts that the context and the medium in which folklore and legend is relayed today is so different than that in which it was relayed when initially transcribed (by monks and later by folklorists) that the novelist is faced with a choice between being true either to the letter of the early recordings or to the spirit of the early storytellers and bards - which he claims was primarily to entertain.

Fionn also appears as a character in Flann O'Brien's comic novel, At Swim-Two-Birds, in passages that parody the style of Irish myths. Morgan Llywelyn's book Finn Mac Cool tells of Fionn's rise to leader of the Fianna and the love stories that ensue in his life. That character is celebrated in "The Legend of Finn MacCumhail", a song by the Boston-based band Dropkick Murphys featured on their album Sing Loud Sing Proud!:

This mighty soldier on the eve of the war he waged
told his troops of lessons learned from battles fought:
"May your heart grow bolder like an iron-clad brigade"
said this leader to his outnumbered lot.
Known as a hero to all that he knew,
long live the legend of Finn MacCool!
The brave celtic leader of the chosen few,
long live the legend of Finn MacCool!

Contemporary Scottish poet Marie Marshall has written a semi-serious ballad in parody of 19c neo-medievalism "How Finn McCool became Lord of Tara". It deals with how Finn saved the noble house of Tara from the evil spell of Allan-of-the-Harp, an elf-king with a hatred of human prosperity. A sample passage runs thus:

For three and twenty years the hall
Of Tara’s King was razed and burned
On Harvest Eve. But none recall
Who from that eldritch sleep returned
The harping of the evil elf –
In mystery was Tara cloaked –
Until young Finn McCool himself
The right of rest and board invoked
One summer’s end, and joined their feast.
A modest boy of humble mien,
He sat the lowest, ate the least,
Observed the merrymaking scene.
At midnight sharp came Allan in
And shrouded all with slumber foul
Except the youthful paladin,
Who hid a spear beneath his cowl
And pressed the blade against his cheek.
Then Allan stalked around the room
And wrathfully began to speak.
“This is brave Goll McMorna’s doom,
That once a year shall Tara fall
And fire her rising towers destroy.
And thus I curse you, one and all!”
At which, up sprang the noble boy…

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Augusta, Lady Gregory - Gods and Fighting Men, Ch. The Last of the Great Men p. 290
  2. ^ Manx Fairy Tales, Peel, L. Morrison, 1929
  3. ^ Behind the Name: View Name: Fingal
  4. ^ Notes to the first edition
  5. ^ 'Finn McCool, Finn MacCool, and Fion MacCumhaill are amongst the commoner variations on the name of the hero referred to in Chapman's article

Redirecting to Fionn mac Cumhaill


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Wikipedia

English

Etymology

Fionn means "fair" (in reference to hair color)

Proper noun

Fionn mac Cumhail

  1. (Irish mythology) A legendary hunter-warrior in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology, also known in Scotland and Isle of Man. Born Deimne.

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