Fionn MacCumhaill: The Mighty Warrior of the Fianna

Ireland Newsletter
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  • News from Ireland
  • Fionn MacCumhaill - Warrior of the Fianna
  • Edmund Burke - Political Thinker - by Joseph E. Gannon
  • Home to Roost - a story by JDP MacConnamara
  • Irish Newspapers Revisited: The Floods of 1763
  • Gaelic Phrases of the Month
  • Monthly Free Competition Result
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Hi again from Ireland where this month we have the legendary feats of Fionn MacCumhaill, an article about Edmund Burke the famous political thinker, and a new story about shenanigans in rural Ireland of old from JDP MacConnamara.

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The power-struggle within Fine Gael is over and the last man standing is Leo Varadkar.
Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar has Crawled to the Top of Fine Gael
The meteoric rise of the man from Castleknock in Dublin looks set to be completed when current Taoiseach Enda Kenny formally steps down, with the new blood of Fine Gael finally set to see off the old guard.

Fine Gael are currently in power only because opposition Party Fianna Fail have agreed to prop up the administration on condition that their own political values are respected. Now that the reign of Enda Kenny is at an end it will be necessary for Varadkar to sit down with Michael Martin, the Fianna Fail leader, to re-confirm the current arrangement.

Is there a possibility that Fianna Fail will pull the plug now?

Probably not. For the amount of free publicity and goodwill that Leo Varadkar has generated would be a great boon to his immediate General Election hopes. It may be better tactically for Fianna Fail for the new Fine Gael Taoiseach to have some mud stick to him over the next year or so before going to the polling stations once again.


There have been further developments in the scandal surrounding the establishment of the new National Maternity Hospital for Ireland.

The announcement by the Order of the Sisters of Charity that they will relinquish control of the new Maternity Hospital at St. Vincent's in South Dublin has been broadly welcomed. The public outcry threatened to scupper the entire project but the backing off by the Nuns seems to have cooled the controversy greatly.

The scandal has highlighted the issue of Religious Order ownership of hospitals in Ireland. Almost all are fully State-funded yet are 'owned' to various legal degrees by the Religious Orders. Similarly the influence exerted by the Catholic Church within the hundreds of national schools in Ireland is now being put under the microscope.



Fionn MacCumhaill (sometimes also known as Finn McCool) was the greatest leader of the Fianna, the ancient warrior band of old Ireland.
Fionn MacCumhaill

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 by Finnegas.

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 father.

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 forest forever.

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.

Fantastic Father's Day Gifts from Ireland
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by Joseph E. Gannon

Edmund Burke was one of the most famous political thinkers of the 18th century. Through his speeches and writings, he raised the level of political debate in England, attempting to make moral principles a part of English politics.

Edmund Burke

A champion of Catholic emancipation, Burke wielded his influence to weaken the heinous Penal Laws. He was born on January 12th, 1729, at Arran Quay, Dublin.

Burke was the son of a mixed marriage, his mother Catholic and his father Protestant. He would later marry an Irish Catholic woman. Perhaps it was these two factors which led him to advocate a compassionate policy toward Ireland for most of his life. Burke graduated from Trinity College in 1748 and studied law at Middle Temple in London. He failed, however, to secure a call to the bar and instead began a literary career.

In 1756, Burke published his first book, 'A Vindication of Natural Society' and an essay titled 'A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful'. In 1757, he married June Nugent, the daughter of a Catholic physician, and in 1759 he became editor of the Annual Register.

By 1761, Burke had begun to involve himself with politics. That year, after living in England, he returned to Dublin as secretary to W.G. Hamilton, chief secretary for Ireland. He left that post two years later to become secretary to the new prime minister, Lord Rockingham.

In 1765, Earl Verney brought him into the House of Commons as a member for Wendover. His first speeches in the early months of 1766 impressed the members of Parliament. In the space of a few short weeks, Burke rose from obscurity to being recognized as one of the leading figures in the House of Commons. He now began to make his own mark in politics through his writing and public speaking.

Burke had come to Parliament just as the controversy over the Stamp Act was beginning. He urged repeal of the act and consistently supported a policy of reconciliation with the American colonies. Burke wrote four well-known pamphlets on the America question from 1770 to 1777: 'Thoughts on the Present Discontents' (1770), 'American Taxation' (1774), 'Conciliation with the Colonies' (1775), and 'A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol' (1777).

Burke's colleagues in Parliament never took his advice on the American colonies, but many since have recognized the wisdom of the policy he advanced. In commenting on Burke's writings on the American question, John Morley, the Liberal politician and writer, said that 'taken together they compose the most perfect manual in our literature, or in any literature, for one who approaches the study of public affairs, whether for knowledge or practice'. After Yorktown, it was Burke and the Whigs who would eventually force King George III to recognize the futility of continuing the war in America.

Burke was the leading Parliamentary proponent of civil rights for Catholics in Ireland. Since the late 17th century, Catholics in Ireland had been barred from full citizenship and the vast majority forced into abject poverty by the Penal Laws. During the last part of the 18th century, the threat of French intervention in Ireland and Burke's efforts together forced the passage of several reductions of the severe restrictions of the Penal Laws.

The championing of that cause would cost Burke his MP seat in 1780, but he returned to Parliament as the member from Malton and became Paymaster of Forces when a Whig, Lord Rockingham, became prime minister again. When Lord Rockingham died in July 1786, Burke resigned and never held public office again, but he continued his involvement with British politics and writing for the rest of his life.

Burke was a constant critic of British colonial policies, and, in the 1780s, his investigation into The East India Company led to the impeachment of Warren Hastings, governor general of India. Although Hastings would eventually be acquitted of all charges, the entire affair led to reforms in England's administration in India and helped bring the inequities of England's colonial system before the public. Burke believed this was the most important political contribution of his career.

Burke is often remembered for his vehement opposition to the French Revolution, which he expounded in 1790 in what is, perhaps, his best known work: 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'. The work was widely published and read all over Europe, and his articulation of what he viewed as the dangers of the Revolution caused a sensation in England. It caused him to break with many of his longtime friends and colleagues in the Whig party and invoked replies from many English writers, the most famous one being Thomas Paine's 'Rights of Man'.

In what might seem a contradiction, given his support of the civil rights of Irish Catholics, Burke was opposed to the Volunteer movement in Ireland and to the establishing of Henry Grattan's Irish Parliament. Burke's opposition to these movements may well have been his fear that Grattan's Parliament would not be a government of all the Irish people but merely one that continued, and perhaps even strengthened, the long tradition of Irish Protestant rule and Irish Catholic subservience. Burke was never an advocate of any form of Irish independence, though he supported the emancipation of Irish Catholics within the British Empire.

Burke's writings on the Irish question are less known than those of his on the American and the French Revolutions, but he left behind several that would have served the British well, had they ever been heeded. In his 'Speech at the Guildhall' (1780), 'To a Peer of Ireland on the Penal Laws' (1782), and 'To Sir Hercules Langrishe' (1792), he sends them a clear message: Your foolish colonial policies have lost America and your foolish policies will lose Ireland. His counsel was ignored but the correctness of his theme has been proved by history.

Burke died in London on July 9, 1797, one year before Ireland erupted in revolution. That revolt might have been avoided if some of Burke's ideas on Catholic emancipation and other legislative reforms had been more fully implemented by the English government. Then, as ever, the country's rulers seemed to suffer from a complete inability to make the compromises that could avoid repeated disasters on that long-suffering island. As Burke once said, in words that should echo down to those debating Ireland's future today: 'All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter'.

Burke is not a hero of Irish nationalists, nor should he be, for he never was a proponent of Irish republicanism. But he did help put the corruption of England's colonial system before the English people. Most of all, he started the process that would eventually bring the despised malignancy known as the Penal Laws to an end.

For this, he should be well remembered in the land of his birth.

Joseph E. Gannon

Fantastic Father's Day Gifts from Ireland
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by JDP MacConnamara

Frank, your dinners ready!'

Sadie, Frank's sister shouted from the back door of the farmhouse to the small dairy where her brother was connecting a cooler to the milk tank.

'I'll be with you in a minute,' he replied.

'I know your minute,' she called. 'Your dinner is out and if you want it cold it's your own fault.'

Frank sighed turned the cooling water on and walked slowly across the cobbled yard to the farm kitchen.

Frank, much to his sister's annoyance, did everything rather slowly. It was, at least in the eyes of others, part of his charm.

His dinner was on the table,

Frank pored himself a glass of milk from a white enamelled jug, drew up his chair to the scrubbed wooden table and sat down opposite his sister.

'Don't you think you should think about it?' she asked.

'What do we want one for he replied; surely we have been alright for all these years without one.'

'We could never afford one when Mother was alive.' She replied with an exasperated sigh. 'We are not getting any younger, for God's sake Frank, It's what we need.'

'I'll think about it.' Frank said, as he had every day for the last few weeks.

'Jesus Mary and Joseph.' Sadie said. 'What is stopping you? We can afford it. Mother left a lot more than we could have ever have dreamed of.'

At our expense, Frank thought.

'She never gave me more than a pound to go to the pub with for over twenty years' he grumbled.

'I didn't even get that much!' Sadie replied. She was now feeling angry.

'You are an idiot!' she said pushing her chair back from the table, angrily wiping her hands on her flowery pinafore leaving her food untouched.

'Are you not eating?' Frank enquired?

'I am so cross with you I am making myself a cup of tea - do you want one?', she added out of habit.

No one could be cross with Frank for long not even his little sister. Frank and Sadie had been together all their lives. Sadie had seen out fifty winters and Frank sixty-five.

Mother had been dead these five years and it was only now that the deadly slow solicitor had obtained probate on their mother's will that they knew how much money they had both inherited.

They shared the farm half each but the money was a surprise! They didn't know how their mother had managed to secrete what was a small fortune; she had always pleaded poverty and adhered to a frugal lifestyle.

Mother kept the farms accounts, sent the milk cheques to the bank by post. Statements she collected in person. Her children never saw the statements nor did they ever ask to. Mother paid the feed bills the electricity bills and the fuel bills. She gave Sadie a little cash for routine housekeeping but paid the grocers bill monthly when he called to deliver the items which Sadie could not manage to carry in the basket of her push bike.

When money was wanted for the farm Mother would take cash from a strong box which she kept in her wardrobe. Her pension money was collected from the village post office by either Frank or Sadie on a weekly basis. It was on this that they lived, all be it not well but simply.

Mother remained in charge up to the time of her death precipitated by a broken hip at the age of eighty-seven

When the bank statements were eventually seen by the two they considered that they were rich. However, the frugality had left them with neither the need nor desire to spend money except in respect of the item near to Sadie's heart.

Sadie, it must be said was long suffering. Loyalty made her leave her beloved home in Erris with its soft mists and the homely reek of turf smoke to reside with her Mother and brother in the lush farmland of County Meath.

Frank, was easy going and unattached and didn't care much where he lived. He had had women admirers and was as a young man. He was generally acknowledged to be handsome but he was always too shy to progress friendship into romance. The girls while still fond of him would always give up.

After the war the Irish government decided that poor farmers from the West should be given the opportunity to acquire land in the fertile counties of the East.

Mother by then a widow decided on County Meath and made the necessary arrangements.

On arriving at the new farm, it had to be admitted that the house was not a patch on her old home in the west but it did have a big Rayburn cooker, hot water and an indoor toilet.

In County Meath, they thrived; they had neighbours from the West and got on well with the locals even if they were, as Frank would say, Queer folk.

Frank soon made friends became well acquainted with the local pub and was content as long as his animals were content and his mother and Sadie only nagged him slightly.

Sadie would cycle the eight miles to shop and attended the odd dance. She did have admirers but mother, not willing to lose her unpaid helper, exercised a little moral blackmail on Sadie, and sadly the admirers drifted away.

When Mother died at last, it was too late for Sadie to change her ways and loyalty to her brother prevented her trying.

It could not be said that Sadie often complained that she had been ill used. Sometimes however, when particularly frustrated by Frank's slowness and even temper she shouted at him that she was fed up looking after him.

She had some local lady friends in whom she confided her frustrations about Frank. She also told the Yank.

The Yank was the Irish American parish priest who, having retired from a busy New York Parish had been granted the local church as a sinecure.

The priest was a regular visitor. He liked Sadie; she would always sit him in front of the fire in the best chair and offer him tea or a glass of whisky. In return the Yank would give Sadie a lift to mass in his old Mercedes.
One afternoon, the priest called in.

He was he said, due to pick up a new car in Dublin the following morning. 'Would Sadie like to join him for the ride and perhaps she would like to do a little shopping.'

'Will you be selling the old car to the garage?' Sadie asked.

'I will,' the Yank said, 'but they offer a very poor price for it.'

'How much would that be?' Sadie hesitantly asked? Amazing herself with her own boldness.

The Yank named a price which made Sadie's heart miss a beat.

'Do you have to sell it to the garage?' she asked.

'No, but it saved me advertising and having a bunch of tinkers trying to buy it off me for nothing.'

'Could you give me just a second Father?' she asked, 'I have to have a quick word with Frank. Make yourself comfortable Father and help yourself to another whisky.'

'Frank!' she called, struggling to keep excitement out of her voice.

'Frank the Yank is here.'

'I know, I saw his car.'

'Frank, the priest wants to sell it.'

'What's that got to do with us?'

'Frank, it's just what we need and it's cheap.'

'Nothings cheap if you don't need it.' Frank said.

He knew from the tone in his sister's voice and the look on her face that he had gone too far.

Sadie stood hands on her hips with a very stubborn look.

'That's it!' she said, 'you can do your own cooking and washing. You can look after the chickens and the turkeys and the milking. I have had enough. I have never asked for a thing in my life. We have the money and if I could drive I would buy the blessed car myself.'

'You really want it.' Frank said, defeated. At least it would stop the nagging and constant disputes which had disturbed his days and evenings when all he wanted was to snooze quietly in front of the television.

'Will you stop nagging if I buy it?' he asked.

Sadie threw her arms round her brother. 'Get off with you,' he said, unable to sustain his scowl. 'Go and tell the yank that we will buy his car.'

Sadie placed a kiss on Frank's stubbly cheek and almost ran back to the house.

The Yank did the deal. Frank renewed his long-expired driving license reluctantly paying the ten-shilling fee to the post office.

'Will I get my money's worth?' he asked.

'Sure, Frank it's the best thing you've done. You and Sadie will get years of pleasure out of that old yoke of a car. Hasn't it done the yank proud for years?' the post mistress said.

Frank wasn't so sure. He hadn't yet driven the car and already Sadie had given it a good spring clean and issued him with instructions on its use.

'You can't get into the car dressed as you are, you must change when you use it. I won't have my car made all dirty by your old clothes and those Wellington boots.'

It's already 'Her car' Frank though as he received instructions.

The first trip was not a success. Frank had never driven an automatic before and he had almost put Sadie through the windscreen when he hit what he instinctively thought was the clutch but hit the brake.

Once he was familiar with the car he drove in the middle of the road at a snail's pace accompanied by the constant instructions of his sister.

'Frank, you are going too slowly. Frank, you are going too fast. Frank for the sake of all that's holy will you keep to the left. Frank watch out for that tractor.'

It gave him little pleasure to drive with Sadie. His other passengers, on the occasions he was let out on his own, didn't seem to mind his driving but constantly commented on the luxury of the car.

To the frequent requests for a lift, Frank usually said 'Yes.' He so hated to let down his neighbours and friends.

Every Sunday, wearing his best suit, Frank took Sadie to mass in the village.

Every market day he took Sadie to town. Sadie usually returned to the car exhausted by her discussions with shopkeepers. Discussions which invariably contained references to the Mercedes car she owned.

All these things Frank tolerated but what he could not stand were the times when Sadie demanded his chauffeuring skill to take her and those Frank referred to as 'the witches' out for the day. This usually left him exhausted.

He was however, pleased to collect his relations from the Dublin road and tell them of his exploits with the witches who did not like his driving.

'I frightened those old biddies a time or two,' he would say with a smile taking his eyes off the road to look at his passengers. They were usually deep in prayer to Saint Christopher.

A couple of years after the acquisition of the car a nephew of Frank and Sadie's telephoned to ask for a lift from the Dublin road.

'I am sorry,' said Frank, 'but the car is off the road, I'll get a lad from the pub to collect you.'

The nephew stayed the night and at breakfast asked, 'what's was wrong with the car?'

'Not much. In fact, it's never been more useful,' Frank said, with a twinkle in his eye. Sadie gave him a stony look but said nothing.

'I will show you the car after breakfast.'

Frank took his nephew outside to a sad sight. The once proud machine stood upon breeze blocks. The radiator engine and gearbox were gone and the windows were open to chickens which roosted on its once immaculate upholstery.

'What happened?' asked the nephew incredulously?

'It was like this,' Frank said. 'The whole countryside thought I was a free taxi. I never had the heart to turn them down if they wanted a lift and not one of them even put a teaspoon of petrol into the tank.

It was costing a fortune. But the worst thing was, your aunt Sadie made me change into a suit every time I used the thing. It was more than I could stand.

One day a tinker came into my yard and said, 'that's a grand car.' I said, 'would you buy it?' 'No,' he said, 'but I'll buy the wheels and tyres.'

'I sold them.'

A couple of weeks later another fellow from the tinker's tribe came by and asked me 'will you sell me the engine and gearbox?'

'I sold it.'

'For God sake Frank,' the nephew said, 'you could have sold the car for a lot more than you were paid for the parts.'

'My dear boy,' Frank said, 'I saved a fortune on fuel and tax and insurance and the wear and tear on my suit!

Sure, didn't I promise Sadie I would never get rid of the car and I couldn't let her down could I, not my own dear sister.'


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The Freeman's Journal

The Freeman's Journal, October 15, 1763

The Damages occasioned by the late heavy Rains on Sunday the second Instant, are perhaps greater than ever was known in this Kingdom; particularly in the County of Kilkenny, where many Bridges have been carried away, much Corn lost and Cattle perished.- Between 3 and 400 Webs of Linen Cloth were swept away from the Bleach-Yard of John Greene, Esq; The Damages he sustained, are computed at above a thousand Pounds.

Ireland Floods

The Munster Mail which should have come in on Wednesday last, did not arrive at the Post-office till six o'Clock yesterday morning, detained by the late great floods. Letters by said mail give melancholy accounts of the damages done by them, particularly that on Sunday night, at Thomas-town, the bridge was entirely carried away, together with the post-office and several other houses, and many of the inhabitants drowned; those who escaped are in a dismal situation, being deprived of their cloaths and other effects.; the Right Hon. the Earl of Carrick, hearing of their distress, humanely went about himself and distributed relief to the unhappy sufferers.

Extract from a private Letter from Feathard, dated Oct. 7
'We have dismal Accounts from several Parts of the great Damage done by last Sunday's Inundation: The bridge at Ballyneclohy, betwixt this Town and Callan, is tumbled down; the Bridge at Callan is broke down, together with several Houses, a Brewery and Tan-yard. From Birr we have an Account of 29 Person drowned there. We have several other melancholy Accounts, too tedious to trouble you with.'

'I forgot mentioning above, an extraordinary Event which happed at Callan: A Child who lay in a Cradel, was carried away by the Waters and left on an Island at some Distance from the Town, and found there next Morning, fast asleep, having received no Hurt."


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PHRASE: An mor ata air?
PRONOUNCED: on moor ah-taw err
MEANING: How much does this cost?
PHRASE: An dtogann tu caratai credit?
PRONOUNCED: on duggan two car-tee credit
MEANING: Do you take credit cards?
PHRASE: Ceannoid me
PRONOUNCED: kyan-oh-idd a (a as the letter A)
MEANING: I'll buy it!

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