The Hero Fionn MacCuil of the Magic Realm
In the magic realm Fionn is a hunter-warrior. The stories of Fionn and his followers the heroic Fianna, form the Fenian Cycle (or Fiannaidheacht), narrated by his son, the poet Oisín. “Fionn” is actually a nickname meaning “blond”, “fair”, “white”, or “bright”. His childhood name was Deimne, literally “sureness” or “certainty”. He was born in the village of Ballyfin meaning ‘town of Fionn’. Fionn is not dead, rather, he sleeps in a cave beneath Ireland, surrounded by the rest of the Fianna. One day they will awake and defend Ireland in the hour of her greatest need. It is said they will arise when Fionn’s Dord Fiann is sounded three times, and they will be as strong as they ever were.
The Legend of How Fionn was Born
He was the son of Cumhall – leader of the Fianna – and Muirne, daughter of the druid Tadg mac Nuadat. Cumhall abducted Muirne after her father refused him her hand. Tadg appealed to the High King, Conn of the Hundred Battles, who outlawed Cumhall. A Battle 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 with FIonn, so her father 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, whom she called Deimne.
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 Legend of Fionn and the Salmon of Knowledge
The young Fionn met the leprechaun-like druid and poet Finnegas near the river Boyne and studied under him. Finnegas had spent seven years trying to catch Fintan 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 whenever he was sucking his thumb.
The Legend of How Fionn Became Leader of the Fianna
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 and kept himself awake by sticking the point of his own spear into his forehead. The pain would not let him sleep and then Fionn killed Aillen with the same spear. 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 Allen, as compensation, which Fionn accepted.
The Legend of Fionn and his First Wife Sadhbh
Fionn met his most famous wife, Sadhbh, when he was out hunting. She had been turned into a deer by a druid, Fear Doirich (literally meaning Dark Man), for she had refused to marry him. 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 the moment she set foot on Fionn’s land, as this was the one place she could regain her true form. She and Fionn married and she was soon pregnant. However, Fear Doirich returned and turned her back into a deer, whereupon she vanished. Fionn spent seven years searching for her, but to no avail. Fortunately, he was later reunited with their son, Oisín, who went on to be one of the greatest of the Fianna.
The Legend of the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne
The High King Cormac mac Airt promises 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 a boar. Although water drunk from Fionn’s hands has the power of healing, he deliberately lets it run through his fingers and Diarmuid dies.
The Giant Fionn MacCuil of the Faerie Realm
In Irish and Manx popular folklore, Fionn mac Cumhail (known as “Finn McCool” or “Finn MacCooill” respectively) is portrayed as a magical, benevolent giant. Fionn had a magic thumb which allows him to see anything going on anywhere as long as he is sucking it.
The Legend of How Fion Mac Cooill Created the Isle of Man
“Fion Mac Cuil having routed Albanach, a Scotch giant with red hair, was pursuing him eastwards, but the canny Scotch monster was rather more fleet of foot than his Irish rival, and was outrunning him. Fion, fearing that he might reach the sea and swim across to Britain before he could overtake him, stopped, and thrusting his gigantic hands into the earth, tore up the rocks and clay, and heaved them after Albanach. As Fion miscalculated height and distance, the mighty mass which had fitted the whole bed of the present lake of Lough Neagh launched from his hands, flew past the giant at a considerable height above his head, and did not lose its impetus till it came over the mid sea. There dropping, it formed an island afterwards called Man, from its Danaan patron, Mannannan, son of Lir.” manx notebook; Hermes Portal 14
The Legend of Fion Mac Cooill and the buggane – or how the south of Man was formed
One day, while sucking his magic thumb, Fionn sees that a giant buggane is coming to fight him. Knowing he cannot withstand the strength of this buggane, Fionn asks his wife Oona to help him. She dresses her husband as a baby, and hides him in a cradle; then she makes a batch of griddle-cakes, hiding griddle-irons in some. When the buggane arrives, Oona tells him Finn is out but will be back shortly. As the buggane waits, he tries to intimidate Oona with his immense power, breaking rocks with his middle finger. Oona then offers him a griddle-cake, but when he bites into the iron he chips his teeth. Oona scolds him for being weak saying her husband eats such cakes easily, and feeds one without iron to Fionn, who eats it without trouble.
The buggane’s terror at the mere strength of Finn MacCooill’s child causes him to run away in fear. But Finn decided to chase him, and they battle at Kirk Christ in Rushen. Fionn’s feet carve out the channels and islet (known as Kitterland) between the Calf of Man and the Isle of Man while the buggane’s feet created the Niarbyl Bay and the bay of Port Erin. The buggane injures Fionn, who flees over the sea (where the buggane cannot follow), but the buggane tears out one of his own teeth and strikes Fionn as he runs away. The tooth falls into the sea, becoming the Chicken Rock, and Fionn curses the tooth, explaining why it is a hazard to sailors even to these days.
Other Geographical Locations related to the Giant Fionn
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; 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 Northern Ireland