"All Eire does tremble to the beat of the steads, the wild, fearless ghosts charging forth as they heed, the spectral call of the ancients, and then, "Ride to victory!" cry out Fionn's warrior men."
-Morina Carol O'Reilly-
Fionn MacCumhal is a both a legend and a god of Ireland. This fact is strange, only because he has Scottish origins as well. As a god and warrior, the legends of Fionn are vast, almost as great as King Arthur. One of the more famous tales, is that of Fionn acquiring vast knowledge and wisdom. This he did, after burning himself on the Salmon of Knowledge. Having acquired such knowledge in his childhood, Fionn seemed destined for great things early on. He was the child of the Fianna leader, son of Murna of the White neck and Cumhal. One day, he would take over the leadership of the Fianna. As a leader of this group of warriors, the tales of Fionn MacCumhal are too numerous to count.
One legend of Fionn is shortly after he acquires his vast knowledge. He acquires a bit of foresight, and is able to tell how to defeat a coming giant. This giant's size is not startling to Fionn in the least. In some legends, Fionn is a giant himself. In this tale, his nature is a bit unknown, but one thing is for certain, he defeats the giant. Hiding and disguised as his own child, Fionn's teeth fascinate the giant. When the giant tests the strength of such teeth, Fionn bites off the giant's finger. This shrinks the giant to that of human size, and sends him running off into the surrounding lands. As with many stories of Celtic legend, Fionn's victory is not out of sheer brute force. The victory is won by an intelligence, which can only expected from one who has acquired Fionn's knowledge.
Perhaps the most famous legend of all however, is Fionn's driving away of snakes. It is Fionn, not St. Patrick, that is said to have driven the snakes from Ireland. This creates a bit of astonishment, because snakes represent the Druidic power. Legend says though, that he destroyed the snakes only when they rose up and threatened to eat the island's food supply. Such a legend seems strange to us now, especially after hearing that of St. Patrick. Snakes however, also represent a feminine power. This legend could very well be the first that captures the dismantling of feminine power within Ireland. Either way, whether it is St. Patrick or Fionn MacCumhal, you've no doubt heard the legend before. Perhaps this is only another example of growing legends, both new and old.
In my practice today, Fionn remains ever present. He is a sleeping god, like that of King Arthur. Legend has it, that he lived over two hundred years. His vast knowledge acquired in childhood, was advanced with over two hundred years of life. For many following an Irish based tradition, it is only right to honor Fionn's memory at Yule. He represents wisdom, creation, and of course protection. His nature is more than that though, as Fionn continues to be a warrior. As a warrior, Fionn can help conquer enemies, no matter their nature. Because of this, he can become a source of strength and pride. Fionn is a vision of what makes a leader great, both the acquirement of knowledge and strength. For some, Fionn can also help with arts of divination, a fine god to have in any practice.
This last week was St. Patrick's Day weekend, and partying soon ensued. For many, it was a time to drink and be merry. There is nothing wrong with this, as the day has come to be a celebration of Irish heritage here in the United States. I understand this well, as that includes my own family. For me though, there were no drinks to be had. Instead, there were bagpipes to listen to, tales to be told, and knowledge to be gained. There's something haunting about hearing the songs long passed on. Some of these songs, even hint at the vastness of Celtic myths. For me, St. Patrick's day could have passed unnoticed, save for the sea of green colored shirts. This was exciting, for the moment at least, people wanted to share in the traditions. People wanted to be part of the Celtic world, if only for an hour or a day.
While Fionn MacCumhal may not be as infamous as St. Patrick, I cannot help but think of the two together. In my mind, buried deep within, is the realization that the two remain linked. Perhaps both legends have a bit of truth to their origins. Long ago people thought the snakes driven from Ireland, but today, that is not the case. However, the snakes had to go somewhere, and many, like my family, traveled to the United States. The Druidic culture and legends followed them here, though probably unknowingly so. Today, I still hear the same tales as no doubt my ancestors told. The tale has changed a bit, but I have come to know the name of Fionn MacCumhal. Many no doubt have, but some still have not. Perhaps one day, maybe even St. Patrick's Day, they'll come to hear the stories of his famous adventures and knowledge.