It is always useful to approach a country by its myths. Ireland is teeming with its own legends, which are very interesting,. Here are some of them, judge for yourself..
Several stories focus on the same character, called FIONN.
Once upon a very, very long time, the Great King of Ireland had formed an elite army to protect him and his country, THE FIANNA. Fianna leader Cumhall was a highly respected figure. Out of jealousy, he was murdered by members of his army, ( the elite is not free from vice as you can see). Afraid that her baby- son suffers the same fate, Cumhall’s wife entrusted him with a broken heart to two women living in a cave, one warrior and the other druid (feminists before the time these Irish). The two sages raised Fionn teaching him everything they knew, the art of war, but also magic and healing. As a teenager and after passing on all their knowledge to him, they sent him to serve the poet Finneigas to perfect his education. One day a salmon was caught in the river, Fionn did not know it but it was the salmon of knowledge. His master the wise then enjoins him to cook the salmon but forbids him strictly to eat the cooked flesh. Fionn obeys but by cooking the fish, he injures his finger by touching the burning skin, so he instinctively put his thumb to his mouth to relieve the pain. Seeing this, his master is furious, because the one who eats or even simply tastes the salmon of knowledge first, acquires it at the same time. And this only applies to one person. Therefore, for the rest of his life, Fionn simply had to suck his thumb as soon as he had a question. Convenient, right?
Once an adult, Fionn mac Cumhaill joined the famous Fianna (see article Are the Irish Celts?), and after defeating the dragon of Tara he took the direction of Fianna, in order to protect the land of Ireland. As he is a little hyperactive (well, that’s my interpretation anyway), he enjoys in his spare time building a road between Ireland and Scotland, so his fame comes that far and especially to the ears of a real giant, a very very nasty, and very very jealous one. He challenges Fionn and announces his visit for a fight. The issue is that Fionn is a super warrior, but not a giant . The giant arrives on the scheduled day and rings at Fionn’s. His wife opens the door and brings him in telling him that Fionn will be home soon. As a good hostess, she offers him coffee and cake and says that she must take care of the baby. The giant is curious and follows her to see a swaddled baby asleep, except that he has an adult size! And Fionn’s wife proudly details his diet, while regretting that he is the smallest in the family, so she says. At the size of the baby the giant is in the grip of anxiety, and imagining what such a human being would become once adult, the giant does not feel big and claiming an urgent matter goes back to Scotland as quick as he can, taking care to destroy the road between Ireland and Scotland in his flight in order to be sure that Fionn never comes to look for him : the stones thrown by the Scottish create then the world famous giant causeway… As you surely already guessed it, the « baby » was none other than Fionn himself.
Morality: when you don’t have the strength, you need trickery.
The years pass and Fionn’s wife comes to die. The aging hero does not want to stay alone and negociate the hand of the very beautiful Grainne, the king’s daughter. This one, as you can imagine is very little motivated to the idea of marrying this old man. But a promise is a promise and the engagement is being celebrated with much pomp. On the evening of the engagement, Grainne’s eye is attracted to one of Fionn’s warriors, the young and handsome Diarmuid. The two young people, caught between passion and remorse, run away the same night after Grainne has poured a powerful sleeping pill into the festive meal and made Diarmuid swallow a love potion. Brief digression: it is quite similar to the story of Tristan and Iseult, the beautiful Iseult was promised to King Mark, whom she marries but then goes hiding regularly in Tristan’s arms in the woods. Anyway.. Finn wounded in his old male pride goes in search of the forbidden lovers throughout Ireland, but between wood and ruins, Grainne and Diarmuid manage to escape him. After years of research, Fionn officially decides to let the couple live in peace. But after some time, during a hunt, Diarmuid is seriously injured by a bear. The only one who can cure him is precisely Fionn who has the necessary antidote (reminder: the druidesse!), but he is still furious that Diarmuid stole him his bride and refuses to give him the potion. . Diarmuid dies then in the arms of Grainne, who dies herself of grief shortly afterwards.
Morality: well, there I do not know if it would have been better for Grainne to marry Fionn and be prosperous but unhappy all her life or if she was right to live her wandering passion, even if she pays for it dearly in the end. It’s up to you to judge.
Fionn had a son named Oisin. One day while on his way with Fionn and the Fianna, he meets Niamh, a beautiful young princess from another kingdom. Love at first sight and hop Oisin climbs on niamh’s white horse to go to her kingdom, a kingdom of youth that knows neither heartache nor pain; Fionn lets him go with a heavy heart. Oisin marries Niamh and after a few years of unfailing happiness, he expresses then the wish to return to Ireland to see his father as promised. Niamh reluctantly agrees but put a condition: Oisin has to leave on the white horse and is not allowed to put a single foot on Irish soil. Once at his destination, Oisin finds the country profoundly changed, the population looks weaker than before his departure and no trace of Fionn and the Fianna warriors (NB: could it be a parable of the British occupation??) At the sight of a group of people trying to move a big rock, his helpful spirit takes over and he offers to help them. The thing is, as soon as he touches the ground, he instantly becomes a very very old man, because time has no hold in the kingdom of Niamh but in Ireland more than 300 years had passed (always, always stick to the list ..)! After being able to tell his story to the crowd that had come to surround him, he dies shortly afterwards on his beloved land of Ireland, but without ever having been able to see his beloved Niamh again.
Conclusion: in Ireland, clearly, between the love of the country and the loved ones, one must choose..
Next week: Magic Ireland Part II- magic on every corner