For all the legend lovers out there, look nowhere further than the history and legends of Ireland. It is the perfect place around the world that evoked worlds of mystical creatures; a world that is full of thought-provoking mythical tales. Among the popular legend of Ireland lies the story of Finn MacCool.
He was the invincible warrior of the Irish myths and legends. On the other hand, there are more than a few stories that fall in the same category as Finn MacCool. Furthermore, there is much more about that character that is quite interesting to know. Irish mythology is an endless ocean where entertaining stories exist.
You will definitely find a thing or two about them that piques your interest. So, have a seat and get ready for a quick ride around the parallel world of Ireland; it is a world that you won’t regret roaming around
THE IRISH MYTHOLOGY
Ireland had been one of the countries that were most popular of their legends and myths. Most of its legendary story existed way before Christianity has entered the lands of Ireland. Thus, there are lots of stories that hold religious references and mythical gods. The Irish mythology consisted of “Celtic Cycles.”
More precisely, they were four cycles; each cycle evoked a particular world that involved a specific category of characters. Besides, these cycles kind of indicate the time in which the legend had been trending. They work as indicators for the settings, atmosphere, and the nature of the worlds and characters they induce.
The cycles actually divide the fictional history of Ireland into different periods and eras. Before classifying what each of them refers to, we will introduce each cycle first. These cycles are the Mythological cycle, Ulster Cycle, Fenian Cycle, and the Kings’ Cycle. The Mythological cycle refers to the early Celtic people who settled in Ireland.
It also involves the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians; the dominant races in mythology at that time. Definitely, the legend of the warrior, Finn MacCool belongs to one of them as well. We will dig deeper into the function of each cycle, shortly.
The Truth behind the Cycles
In point of fact, the cycles did not exist during the early times of Ireland. The early Irish people never intended to divide their myths into those cycles. However, that was a technique that modern scholar used, so they can easily interpret the history of each legend.
Above and beyond, this division was just a method to specify the era of each Irish myth and legends.
THE CYCLES OF THE IRISH MYTHOLOGY
Before digging deeper into the legend of Finn MacCool, it is always better to learn more about Irish mythology and how it works. In each cycle falls a collection of stories and characters. Sometimes, a cycle can embrace one story, but the protagonist can belong to another.
Cycles can be a bit confusing, but things will get clearer once you learn about each of them.
The Mythological Cycle
This cycle actually includes stories that have to do with beliefs about gods. It also states a lot about the origin of the Irish people and the existence of races during ancient times. This cycle consists of lots of popular stories, including the tragedy of the Children of Lir, and Oidheadh Clainne Lir.
The Ulster Cycle
This cycle is one that involves the legends of heroes. There are documents that date back to the Medieval period and others- earlier ones- date back to the period where Christianity had just arrived at the borders of Ireland.
There are lots of stories that belong to the Ulster Cycle. One of the most important stories was the Cattle Raid of Cooley. However, there was another popular story of that cycle; Deirdre of the Sorrows. It was a story about the most beautiful women in Ireland, stating a story of beauty, lust, as well as death.
The Fenian Cycle
Here comes the most important cycle; the Fenian Cycle. You can call it the Fenian Cycle, the Finn Cycle, or Finnian Tales. The importance of this cycle lies in its embracement to the Irisih mythical hero, Finn MacCool.
The Cycle’s name even shares a similarity with the hero’s name. The cycle also holds the warriors of Finn MacCool, Fianna Éireann; they were warriors who resided in the forests as bandits of hunters.
Interestingly, some people refer to this cycle as the Ossianic Cycle, for Finn MacCool’s son’s name was Oisín. Supposedly, he was also the one who wrote most of the poems of this era.
The Historical Cycle
People refer to the fourth cycle as either the Historical Cycle or the Kings’ Cycle. It actually refers to that period where the Irish poets of the medieval period recorded the history of the king they used to serve.
They also recorded the history of the whole family, sometimes. The stories that this cycle holds include The Frenzy of Sweeney. It also included High Kinds like Brian Boru and Labraid Loingsech.
THE LEGEND OF FINN MCCOOL
Finn MacCool was the legendary warrior of the Irish mythology; in fact, he was also the warrior in other mythologies, including Scotland and the Isle of Man. Finn MacCool was actually the name that the character became popular with during the Middle Irish periods; he was either Finn of Find.
On the other hand, in the Old Irish, he is name was commonly used as Fionn mac Cumhaill. As we previously stated, the stories in which Finn MacCool appeared belonged to the Fenian Cycle, for it was the period in which warriors and heroes were the dominant themes of the stories.
The etymology of the Word
The name Finn originates from a mixture of several cultures; it means all of the following: Blond, Fair, Bright, or White. The character itself was originally a God, according to the Celtics. However, the Scottish form of his name was Fingal.
The name actually appeared after the poet James Macpherson told the legend in an epic form. There was even a cult that existed among the European countries; they most probably believed in Finn MacCool as their God.
FINN MCCOOL AND THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
According to the Irish legends, Finn MacCool was a giant warrior. His height reached almost 54 foot tall, making him an enormous creature. Generations after generations had been telling his story of the Giant’s Causeway.
Not only was Finn MacCool the builder of the Giant Causeway, but also was he the leader of the Fianna; a group of warriors. The story of the Causeway takes place on the Antrim Coast.
It was the place where Finn lived with his wife, Oonagh, happily. However, his happiness started slowly fading away as soon as he learnt about Benandonner, his Scottish rival. Benandonner used to always tease and insult Finn MacCool.
On one fine day, Finn got truly upset from Benandonner’s constant insult. In consequence, he took out a scope of mud and chucked it across the other side of the sea at Benandonner. However, he missed and that caused Finn to grow even angrier.
On the other hand, the huge scope of dust and mud that he threw landed in the middle of the Irish Sea. The clod was too huge, thus, it formed Lough Neagh after the water has filled it up.
Building the Giant Causeway
Upon his anger, Finn MacCool decided to challenge Benandonner; he decided to confront him with a proper fight where there would be victory or loss for each party. For that reason, Finn decided to build the giant causeway by enormous stones.
The causeway was a connection between Ireland and Scotland where only the sea was the obstacle, but the causeway overcame it. The idea of building the causeway came to Finn MacCool, so he can get to Benandonner without getting wet.
The Causeway was ready for Finn MacCool to cross; but then, he realised how huge Benandonner was upon approaching the other side. He was so much bigger in size than Finn was. As a consequence, he got a shiver down his spine that caused him to flee away back to his home.
During his flee, Finn lost one of his enormous boots. Some people claim that the boot still exists, sitting on the same place where it basically fell off, which is the Port Noffer.
A Ridiculous Disguise
While hurling back to his hometown, Finn thought about the perfect way to defeat Benandonner. Finally, he came up with the idea of hiding, but he was not sure where he should hide and never get caught. Subsequently, he asked his wife for help; he asked her to hide him somewhere secretive.
Instead, his wife came up with the idea of disguise instead of hiding. So, brilliant Oonagh helped Finn disguised as a baby. She put him in a very huge cradle and kept pushing him back and forth. She thought that this way would lead Benandonner to think that he was a child and would keep looking for Finn.
However, the story took a funny twist. On one fine day, Benandonner caught sight of the size of the huge cradle. The size of the sleeping baby took him by surprise. Benandonner thought that a baby with such a huge size must definitely have an incredibly enormous father. Benandonner decided to flee back to his home; he was extremely terrified. He also feared that Finn may follow him, so he destroyed the Causeway on his way home.
FINN MCCOOL’S FAMILY
The original name of Finn, according to the old Irish, was Fionn Mac Cumhall. In the earlier periods of Ireland, people had become familiar with pronouncing Cumhall as Coo-al or Cool. For that reason, Finn’s name became commonly used as Finn MacCool, instead. Cumhall was the leader of the Fianna long before his son was.
Finn MacCool was also the father of Oisin; his name is pronounced as Osheen. According to Ireland, he was the greatest poet that Ireland had ever witnessed. Like his father, he belonged to the Fenian cycle and he was an invincible warrior. Sometimes, people refer to his name by Osian or Ossian.
Because of the latter, some historians even referred to the Fenian cycle as the Ossianic cycle as well. Most of the poets of that cycle belonged to Oisin, so that is why his name took over the cycle’s name.
Cumhall or MacCool
The story of Cumhall started off as a fairytale, but, unfortunately, ended up with war. Cumhall was in love with Muirne; she was the daughter of the druid Tadg mac Nuadat. He decided to propose and ask for her hand; however, he could not get her father’s approval. Consequently, Cumhall and Muirne planned to run away.
Something about Tadg piqued the interest of the High King, Conn of the Hundred Battles. As a result, he decided to co-operate with Tadg and start a war against Cumhall. The Middle Irish Tale narrated that Cumhall did not die during his wife’s war against him.
Cumhall died in the Battle of Cnucha. Goll mac Morna was the one who started this battle, for he wanted to take over the leadership of the Fianna. Even after the death of Cumhall, Goll mac Morna did not take over as Muirne was already pregnant with their little son, Finn MacCool.
Some sources claim that Cumhall’s body exists under the grounds of a secondary school for boys in Dublin. Precisely, his body was buried under a hill that now a water tower replaces. Upn the death of Cumhall, Muirne gave birth to Finn MacCool. He became the leader of the Fianna and earned his uncle, Crimmal, as an ally.
Different Names for Cumhall
A lot of sources and texts referred to Cumhall aw either MacCool or McCool. However, there are also some sources, rare ones though, that referred to the warrior, Finn MacCool, as Fionn mac Umaill, instead. Those references created an indication that the original name of Finn’s father was Umall rather than Cumhall or MacCool.
Oisin was born to Finn MacCool and Sadhbh, the daughter of Bodb Dearg and the narrator of most of the tales of the cycles. The literal meaning of Oisin name is Young Deer. Some tales narrate that the reason behind his name was the fact that his mother, Sadhbh, transformed into a deer because of a druid, Fear Doirche.
That little secret takes us back to when Finn MacCool and Sadbh met. The love story began when Finn was hunting on a fine day and he caught her like a deer. She returned to her original form as a human and Finn quite hunting for good; he wanted to settle down with her. After a short while, Sadhbh became pregnant, but before giving birth Fear Doirche turned her to a deer once again.
The First Meeting between Father and Son
Finn MacCool never saw his kid when he was first born, for Fear Doirche sent his wife to the wild as a deer. There were two versions of how Finn first met his son. One version states that Finn found his son naked on Benbulbin when he was only seven years old.
The other version claims that they met when Oisin was already an adult. The tale narrates that Finn MacCool and his son were furiously competing against each other over a roasting pig, but soon they recognised one another and quit fighting.
TALES ABOUT FINN MCCOOL’S SON, OISIN
Oisin was not only the son of one of the Irish tales’ prominent characters, Finn MacCool. He also had famous adventure tales himself as well. His most famous tale was Tir na nOg. In this tale, Oisin received a visit from Niamh Chinn Oir, a fairy woman. She was one of the many daughters of the god of the sea, Manannan mac Lir and she had golden hair.
Once she appeared to Oisin, she expressed her love for him. And, immediately, they together leave to Tir na nOg, which literally means the land of the young. There they had two children, Oscar and Plor na mBan; the girl’s name meant the Flower of Women.
After some time, Oisin decided to go back to his hometown Ireland. He thought that he had been in the Land of the Young for three years, but they were actually three hundred ones. He was not aware of the fact that centuries had passed already.
Niamh gave Oisin Embarr, her white horse. She guided Oisin that he should not get down off the horse. For if he did so, as soon as his feet come in contact with the ground, he would turn into a 300-year-old waned man. Although Oisin’s ignorance of the years that had passed, he reached his hometown to realise that his father’s house was abandoned and in ruins.
The Ending of Oisin’s Famous Echtra
Just like most of the tales in Irish mythology, the endings usually have more than one version. In the tale of Tir na nOg, Oisin was assisting some men in building a road in Gleann na Smol. He was helping them while mounting the horse.
However, while picking up one stone, he accidentally fell off of the horse’s back and touched the ground. Consequently, he rapidly turned into a weak old man just as his wife had warned him and the horse flew back to the land of the young.
The ending included in another version had a different perspective regarding the end of Oisin. The other ending narrates that Saint Patrick visited Oisin right before his death. Oisin told St. Patrick al about what happened to him through his life before he passed away.
The Burial Site of Oisin
There is no agreement over the exact site of Oisin. Some sources claim that the burial site of Oisin lies in Glenalmond in Perth, Scotland. On the other hand, other people claim that the grave lies at the Nine Glens of Antrim. In that area, there is a specific site that people refer to as Oisin’s Grave. It has been known as so until this day.
THE STORY OF THE LOUGH NEAGH
Going back to the story of Finn MacCool, we have already mentioned that he had a Scottish rival. Again, on one day of Benandonner constant insult, Finn raged and he took a handful of mud and threw it at the other side.
However, the piece landed in the middle of the water, forming the Lough Neagh. We have already started this part in the story, but we have talked about what the Lough Neagh is.
Lough Neagh is a fairly large lake made up of freshwater. It exists in Northern Ireland. The name derives from an old Irish name, Loch Neachach. The literal meaning of this word is the lake of Eachaidh. Earl of Shaftesbury is the owner of the lake.
Some people claim that it is the largest lake around all of the Isles existing in Great Britain. This lake is one of the main sources of water in Northern Ireland; it supplies about 40% of the country’s water.
The lake is quite large that it reaches 32 kilometres in length and 14 kilometres in width. For that reason, the lake features the list of the largest lake of Europe. On the other hand, Belfast sits only around 30 kilometres away from the Lough Neagh.
Lough Neagh in the Irish Folklore
The lake of Lough Neagh has made an appearance in more than a few tales of the Irish mythology. Being one of the twelve chief lakes that exist in Ireland, it is easy to find the Lough Neagh highlighted in many of the folklore tales.
One of the tales that mentions that lake was Finn MacCool. It was the tale that even narrates how the lake came into being in the first place by the Giant Finn. In spite of being the tale where the Lough Neagh first appears, there are other tales about the formation of this lake.
The Battle of Moytura
Lough Neagh is famous for being the lake that Finn MacCool Accidently brought to life. Another tale that features the Lough Neagh was the Battle of Moytura; an Irish mythical tale.
According to this tale, the name of the lake was in honour of the king of Munster, Echaid. He fell head over heels for the young woman, Ebliu, who was actually his stepmother. The two of them attempt to elope together, but they face many obstacles in which someone killed their horses. Some versions even indicate that Ebliu’s husband was probably the murderer of the horses.
Anyhow, their attempts all fail until they encounter Oengus who helps them by providing a gigantic horse. His help may seem as bless at first; however, he warned them that if the horse rested, a curse would strike them for good.
Though, the horse stopped and excreted at one spot in Ulster where a spring started forming. That incident escorted Echaid to picks up that place where he could build a house, but he wanted to put the spring to rest. Thus, he placed a capstone over it, so it wouldn’t keep on flowing.
Echaid’s plan turned out to be not as brilliant as it seemed to be. On a fine night, the spring managed to move the capstone and freely flow. The latter caused the house and everyone inside, including Echaid, to drown. As a consequence, the overflow that Echaid tried to preclude creating the Loch nEachach.
Echaid and Divinity
According to Irish mythology, the character of Echaid actually referred to one of the gods of ancient Ireland, Daghda. People referred to him also as Eoch.
You can call it Dagda or Daghda. He was the spearhead of all the divine deities of ancient Ireland. According to the Irish myth, God was the foundation of all the other gods as well as the male humans. The latter was so, for he happened to present the idyllic traits and features of Ireland.
Most of the gods of the Celtic people lacked the specification of certain origins. However, most of the ancient Irish people mocked the Daghda despite his dominance. Besides, some tales narrate that God himself was capable of tolerating the jokes cracked about him constantly.
On the other side, regardless of the mockery, the Daghda was still a figure of power and authority according to Irish mythology. Even most of the Irish tales and legends presented him as powerful and prevailing.
The modern times produced a tale during the era of the English Civil War. The tale was about the gigantic guy Cerne Abbas Giant. Some sources anticipate that the giant man is actually a representation of the divine figure, the Daghda. Surprisingly and interestingly, some sources declared that they have a whole different approach.
These sources claim that the giant figure probably presents Hercules, Heracles in other cultures. The reason that led them to believe so was that the depiction of that figure included a huge material that hangs off the arm of the figure. Besides, the depiction also represents the skin of a murdered lion over the arm of the strong figure.
THE SPLENDOR OF IRELAND’S LEGENDS
Irish mythology is actually an endless ocean of secrets and interesting facts about the past. Finn MacCool is one of the most prominent tales of ancient Ireland that reveals a lot about the beliefs of people, the culture, and Ireland’s most significant landmarks as well.