Fionn Mac Cumhaill (4)

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  • Teideal (Title): Fionn Mac Cumhaill (4).
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 840106.
  • 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): unavailable.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 11/10/1983.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Pennsylvania, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): evening class.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

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

Fionn Mac Cumhaill defends Tara and becomes chieftain of the Fianna

Years after his father’s death at the hands of Goll Mac Morna, Fionn returns to Tara to assume his birthright as leader of Fianna Éireann. Before he can do so, however, he must overcome the depradations of a fearsome magician who terrorizes all of Tara once a year.

Oisín and Niamh of the Golden Hair

One day when Fionn and his son Oisín are walking by the banks of Loch Léin, they see a woman riding towards them on a beautiful white horse. The woman has beautiful long blond hair, but she has a pig’s face. When the woman comes alongside, she speaks to them and tells Fionn that she is in love with Oisín, and wants to take him with her to the Land of the Ever Young (Tír na nÓg). The Fianna being known for chivalry, Oisín kisses the woman, pig’s head and all; and with that, the spell is broken and the pig’s head vanishes, revealing a lovely young woman – Niamh of the Golden Hair – who has been put under an enchantment by her evil stepmother. Although Fionn is broken-hearted to lose his son, Oisín leaves with Niamh and they go to the Land of the Ever Young, where the stepmother is killed, and Oisín is made king. After what Oisín thinks is a couple of months, he wants to go back and see his father. She implores him not to go, that there would be nobody there anyway, as Oisín has been with her for two hundred years. Eventually she agrees to give him the white horse to go to Ireland; but if he allows his foot to touch the ground, he will 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 dwarves, and while he is helping some men roll a stone down a hill, the girth of his saddle breaks and he falls to the ground, and in that moment he becomes a very old man.

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 from the hill of Tara be placed under Goll Mac Morna’s right foot, sand from the strand at Howth round about him, 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.


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.