Why's Fionn mac Cumhaill so important to Irish mythology?

Why's Fionn mac Cumhaill so important to Irish mythology?

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Posted Thu 14 Jan 2021 4:35 PM
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So you’ve heard of our hunter/warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill? Well, Fionn is one of Ireland’s most famous mythical characters and was leader of the Fianna, a group of equally fierce warriors who roamed the land.


You’ll hear stories about Fionn wherever you go on the island of Ireland, but the best known legend involves the famous Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim. Scientists say this remarkable rock formation was caused by lava flows that cooled when they touched the sea 50 or 60 million years ago. But Irish mythology has a different story. It’s said that the giant Fionn formed the Causeway as a path between Northern Ireland and Scotland in order to battle a Scottish giant called Benandonner. However, Fionn soon realised that his enemy was far bigger than he anticipated so he fled back to Ireland. Benandonner chased him down, but Fionn’s wife cunningly disguised Fionn as a baby; when Benandonner saw the huge infant, he became terrified of what size the father must be, and quickly ran back to Scotland, destroying the path in the process. It was this confrontation that created the geological wonder along County Antrim’s coastline.

Of course, to understand how Fionn became such a superhero, you need to go back to the story of the “Salmon of Knowledge”. This magical fish lived in the beautiful River Boyne in Leinster and was said to give the gift of wisdom to whoever ate it. A local poet called Finegas was eager to catch the salmon and claim this knowledge for himself. He asked Fionn, who was then working as his servant, to cook it. But while preparing the fish, young Fionn burned his thumb on it and when he put his thumb in his mouth to soothe it, he gained the salmon’s gift of knowledge.

Fionn’s vast knowledge came in handy when he had to find a way to save the Hill of Tara and its people from the fire-breathing goblin, Aillén Mac Midgna. Each year, Aillén would put everyone into a deep sleep by playing a musical spell on his harp as he set fire to the great halls of Tara in County Meath. No one was safe from this trance, not even Fionn. Another Irish warrior, Fiacha, possessed a magical spear but didn’t know how to use it. However, Fionn understood that if he inhaled the spear’s magical fumes, he would be immune to the goblin’s spell. Thus, he was able to kill the goblin and save everyone from his terror.


Our celebrity warrior showed his face again in County Wicklow where you’ll find his Hurling Stone, weighing 150 tons. This massive Motte Stone is found on top of Croneblane Ridge, and was thrown by Fionn from Lugnaquilla Mountain to now overlook the Avoca Valley. It’s extraordinary size makes it perfect to climb and watch over Wicklow and the surrounding counties. And don’t worry, a ladder has been installed to make this climb easier, although we’re almost certain Fionn mac Cumhaill didn’t create this nifty tool!

Tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s heroic battles and extraordinary creations only scratches the surface of the fascinating folklore that brings the island of Ireland to live. Have our community members got any favourite myths of Ireland that they’d like to share?


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