Tuesday, August 23, 2005


UI's Celtic Mythology - Finn MacCool

Finn MacCool, sometimes called Finn Mac Cumaill or Fionn MacCumal, was the leader of the Fianna, or Fenians, the select band of warriors which guarded the High King of Ireland. His father, Cumal, a previous leader of the Fenians, was killed by Goll, a Fenian warrior. Cumal had eloped with a girl named Hurna and her father urged Goll to avenge this dishonour. Goll slew Cumal, but later Cumal's son Finn was born and brought up secretly. One of his tutors was the druid Finegas, who lived beside the River Boyne and caught the Salmon of Knowledge. He gave the fish to his pupil to cook, but Finn burnt his thumb on the flesh and in sucking it obtained wisdom.

So great was Finn MacCool's prowess as a warrior that he was soon appointed over the head of Goll to lead the Fenians, as his father had done. Goll accepted this decision with good grace, a gesture that may explain why Finn MacCool did not challenge Goll over his father's death. Indeed, Goll eventually married one of Finn MacCool's daughters, though he also slew his son. This last act of violence was too much and the Fenians pursued him. Trapped, Goll chose to starve to death rather than surrender. Finn MacCool used to quote a saying of Goll: "A man lives after his life but not after his dishonour."

Under Finn MacCool's leadership, the Fenians reached the high point of their fame as a warrior band. The pursuit of Diarmuid Ua Diubhne, the foster-son of the love god Aonghus, alone took sixteen years. He had taken Grainne, the daughter of High King Cormac Mac Art, but she was betrothed to Finn MacCool at the time. The Fenians were relentless in the chase, but a peace of sorts was begrudgingly agreed. However, Finn never forgave Diarmuid for the elopement, and he exulted over his rival's mortal wound, which he had received when hunting.

The account of Finn MacCool's own death is unclear. Some sagas tell how he fell attempting to quell an uprising among the Fenians themselves, while others refer to an Arthur-like undeath in a cave. There he was supposed to remain in a deep sleep until such time as Ireland needed his aid.

Personally, I can remember well the stories of Finn MacCool, particularly the one about the Salmon of Knowledge. Finn would be up there with Cuchulainn as one of my favourite figures in Celtic mythology.


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