Fionn MacCumhaill (sometimes also known as Finn McCool) was the greatest leader of the Fianna, the ancient warrior band of old Ireland.
The name Fionn is taken from the
Gaelic word that translates as 'fair' possibly
referring to lightly colored hair. Fionn was
the son of Cumhaill who was a leader of the ancient
Fianna, a band of mercenary warriors who lived
apart from the rest of Gaelic society.
The Fianna never owned lands and were famous for their
generosity. They travelled every road of Ireland,
visiting every place and knew the entrances to the Otherworld.
Fionn's mother was Muirne, who was daughter to
Tadg Mac Nuadat, a druid. Cumhaill had kidnapped
Muirne when her father refused him permission
to wed. Outlawed by the High King of the time,
Conn of the Hundred Battles, the subsequent
battle of Cnucha resulted in the demise of
Cumhaill by Goll MacMorna, who assumed
leadership of the Fianna.
The now pregnant Muirne was exiled and was
placed under the care of Fiacal MacConchinn,
Cumhaills brother-in-law. After bearing her
child Muirne left him in the care of his new
family and a warrior woman named Liath Luachra,
who was responsible for teaching him the ways of
war and the Fianna.
He was also tutored by Finnegas, the druid poet who had spent years
searching for the 'salmon of knowledge', a
mythical creature that could endow all of the
knowledge of the world.
Eventually he caught the
fish and instructed the young Fionn to cook it
for him. While cooking the fish over the fire
he scalded his thumb on the hot flesh and
instinctively put the thumb to his mouth,
instantly gaining the wisdom long sought after
As an adult Fionn traveled to Tara, seat of the
High Kings of Ireland. For 23 years the fairy
Aillen razed the site to the ground every Samhain
having first lulled its guards into slumber with
her music. Fionn managed to defeat Aileen however,
by keeping himself awake by piercing his own skin
with the point of his spear, and lay awake all night by leaning on it thus.
His nobility was
recognized and Goll MacMorna, who was still leader
of the Fianna, stepped aside to allow Fionn assume
his rightful place. Goll even gave Fionn his home
at the Hill of Almu as recompense for the death of
His most famous wife was Sadbh who had been turned
into a deer by the druid Fer Doirich. While out
hunting, the hounds of Fionn, Bran and Sceolang,
recognized the deer as a once-human form, since
they too had once been human.
Fionn did not kill
the deer who was then immediately transformed into his
beautiful wife. She bore him a son, Oisin, who
later became one of the greatest of all of the
Fianna. The druid Fer Doirich returned however and
re-cast Sadbh as a deer who then vanished into the
Later in his life the reigning High King, Cormac
Mac Airt, promised Fionn the hand of his daughter
Grainne. It was not to be however as Grainne and
Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, another of the Fianna, eloped
with Fionn in pursuit.
The matter was resolved when
Fionn allowed the lovers to be together, only for
him to take revenge in later life by not using his
powers to heal Diarmuid and prevent his death,
after he had been gored by a boar.
Fionn is credited with creating the Giants
Causeway as stepping stones from the North of
Ireland to Scotland. Another legend tells how he
threw a large piece of the land into the sea at an
enemy, that piece of land becoming the Isle of
Man. The hole left behind by the clump of land
he threw became Lough Neagh.
The death of Fionn MacCumhaill is shrouded in
mystery. One legend suggests that he is not dead
but merely sleeping in a cave under Dublin, ready
to strike back against Ireland's enemies.
The legends and stories of Fionn MacCumhaill have
never been forgotten and he remains one of the most powerful figures in Irish mythology.