Fionn Mac Cumhaill (1)

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  • Teideal (Title): Fionn Mac Cumhaill (1).
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 903901.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): story.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Kenneth Goldstein.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): unavailable.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Department of Folklore and Folklife, University of Pennsylvania, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): day class.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Stories about Fionn Mac Cumhaill

In this segment, Joe tells a number of stories relating to this mythical hero.

The Education of Fionn Mac Cumhaill

Following his father’s death at the hands of Goll Mac Morna, Fionn is sent to be educated with two old women, who teach him all the tricks of battle before sending him back to Tara to assume his birthright.

Fionn and the Salmon of Knowledge

On his way back to Tara, Fionn comes to a river, and at a place called the Yellow Ford (an Feasa Rua) he meets an old man who is fishing for the Blind Salmon of the Yellow Ford, which he has been hunting for fifty-five years. Just then, the old man catches the salmon. Being weary, he asks Fionn to roast the fish for him, and to waken him when it’s cooked. As the salmon roasts on a spit over the fire, however, a bubble rises on the skin of the fish. Fionn puts his thumb on the bubble – and because it burns him he then puts his thumb in his mouth. Then he was told that he has tasted the salmon of knowledge, and he will have the gift of knowledge ever after. When the old man awakens, Fionn tells him what happened, and the old man tells Fionn to eat the salmon, because he was destined to have the knowledge. So whenever Fionn wants to know what’s in store, he must put his thumb in his mouth and chew it to the bone, and then he’ll have the knowledge of what’s coming.

Fionn, Oisín, and Niamh of the Golden Hair

One day when Fionn and his son Oisín were walking by the banks of Loch Léin, they saw a woman riding towards them on a white horse. The woman had a pig’s head. When the woman came alongside, she spoke to them and told Fionn that she was in love with Oisín, and wanted to take him with her to the Land of the Ever Young (Tír na nÓg). The Fianna being known for chivalry, Oisín kissed the woman, pig’s head and all; and with that, the spell was broken and the pig’s head vanished, revealing a lovely young woman – Niamh of the Golden Hair – who had been put under an enchantment by her evil stepmother. Although Fionn was broken-hearted to lose his son, Oisín left with Niamh and they went to the Land of the Ever Young, where the stepmother was killed, and Oisín was made king. After what Oisín thought was a couple of months, he wanted to go back and see his father. She implored him not to go, that there was nobody there anyway, as Oisín had been with her for two hundred years. Eventually she agreed to give him the white horse to go to Ireland; but if he allowed his foot to touch the ground, he would never be able to return to her.

When he reaches Ireland, he learns that the Fianna have all been killed in a battle. The people he meets appear to be weaklings, and while he is helping some men roll a stone up a hill, the girth of his saddle breaks and he falls to the ground, which causes him to become a very old man at that moment.

Oisín and St Patrick

At about the time of Oisín’s return from the Land of the Ever Young, St Patrick is at work in Ireland. Hearing about Oisín, St Patrick goes to see him. They have a conversation about God, and Oisín explains about the gods of the Fianna. Patrick then asks Oisín how the Fianna regulated their lives, in the absence of God. Oisín explains about their honesty, their dignity, their way of life. ‘We had three things,’ Oisín said. Gloineacht ár gcroí – the purity of our hearts; neart ár ngéag – the strength of our arms; and beart de réir ár mbriathar – deed according to word.

Oisín is astonished to hear Patrick say that Fionn and the Fianna are all in hell. ‘There isn’t a devil born,’ he said, ‘who’ll keep that crowd locked up.’ Eventually Patrick proves his point by opening hell to Oisin’s sight. There is Goll Mac Morna, beating off the devils with a flail – but the devils are giving as good as they are getting from him, blow for blow. St Patrick tells Oisín that although he cannot get the Fianna out of hell, he will grant Oisín one wish to make life easier for them. Oisín requests that an acre of green sod be placed under Goll Mac Morna’s left foot, and that his flail should deliver one hundred blows to the devils’ one blow. St Patrick expresses surprise that Oisín should not have wished for them to be in hell forever without pain; but Oisín assures him that this is what the Fianna would want for themselves.

Oisín’s Baptism

Finally, convinced of the rightness of St Patrick’s teachings, Oisín agrees to be baptized. St Patrick duly carries out the ceremony; but in the course of things he plants his crozier through Oisín’s foot. When he notices what he’s done, he asks Oisín why he didn’t say anything to him. Oisín repliesthat he thought it was part of the baptism. That’s how converted he was!


Note that the motif of the Salmon of Knowledge also comes into Joe’s story of how the Boyne River was created. Also, compare the story of how Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh got the gift of knowledge of every craft by tasting the beestings (i.e. the first milk) of the cow he was looking after in the story Joe tells in connection with the song ‘Eileanóir na Rún’.

With regard to the story about Niamh, note that Joe tells other stories involving the enchantment of people into different forms: see The Seal-Woman, The Woman Who Removed a Thorn From a Seal’s Fin, and The Twelve Swans. In The Witch in the Stone Boat, the enchanted character is the witch herself.