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Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge

The Salmon of Knowledge and Fionn Mac Cumhaill

The Salmon of Knowledge is a mythical creature that appears throughout Irish mythology. Legends state that whoever may taste the flesh of this fish is imparted with the knowledge of the universe.

One young apprentice, known as Fionn Mac Cumhail, would be the first to acquire knowledge from the mythical creature. This gave Fionn the wisdom and courage to become the leader of the band of warriors known as the Fianna, who are famous in Irish legend.

An Bradán Feasa – The Salmon Of Knowledge

Throughout Irish legends, early scholars and poets make reference to an ancient story that speaks of the world’s creation. The legend was passed down orally for thousands of years and states that the first thing that ever came into existence in the world was a hazel tree, and contained within its branches was knowledge of the entire universe.

The Hazel tree once thrived over the Well Of Wisdom, known as Tobar Segais in Irish, and within this well lived a lone speckled salmon. The hazelnuts from the tree branches would occasionally fall off into the water, and the fish fed on them from time to time. Over a long period of time, this salmon eventually acquires all of the wisdom of the universe thanks to the enchanted nuts.

The Salmon of knowledge

The legend goes on to state that any who could find this magical fish and eat its flesh would no doubt be imparted with infinite knowledge and wisdom of the universe. All one had to do was first to catch this beautiful speckled fish that lived in the River Boyne, not far from one of Ireland’s ancient capitals, Tara.

The Young Fionn And His Desire For Knowledge

There were many who spent their entire life searching for this magical creature, hoping that if they could catch it on the end of their pole, they might just inherit its vast amount of knowledge. One such person was a wise poet named Fineagas, who had lived for decades by himself in a small cottage close to the River Boyne.

Fineagas was not used to much company, preferring to spend his mornings studying and his afternoons fishing in hopes of catching the mythical salmon. However, one day he was approached by a young man named Deimne, who hoped he would be taken on as an apprentice to the wise Fineagas. After some consideration, Fineagas agreed to take on Deimne as a pupil.

In the beginning, Deimne was unsure why Fineagas had decided to live alone in a small cottage close to the Boyne River. But, one stormy afternoon, the pair were stuck inside the confines of the tiny home. So, Fineagas proceeded to tell Deimne the story of the mystical Salmon of Knowledge that supposedly swam in the nearby river. Fineagas goes on to tell the young man that thousands have tried to catch the fish, and all have failed, and that he has spent every day at the River Boyne for over seven years in an attempt to catch the salmon and acquire its vast amount of knowledge and wisdom. Fineagas also revealed that the one who could catch and taste the flesh of this salmon would receive the gift of clairvoyance and could even look into the past. This would undoubtedly make them the wisest person in all of Ireland.

The master and pupil would spend many months by the river. Fineagas would teach Deimne in the arts of poetry, and in return, Demine would fish while the master rested on the banks. One day as Fineagas was giving his young pupil a lesson by the banks of the river, when, all of a sudden, he saw an unusual stirring in the water. Upon closer inspection, Fineagas couldn’t believe his eyes, for there it was; a beautiful speckled salmon shining like gold and swimming right towards them.

The salmon of knowledge

Immediately Fineagas shouted for Deimne with a hint of despair in his voice; run and fetch the net; it’s here, it’s here, he called. Demine quickly returned to his master’s side, and the pair began trying to catch the fish. As they tried to trap the salmon in the net, Fineagas warned Deimne to avoid looking into the eyes of the creature, as this would force him to fall into a deep sleep. Fineagas struggled to catch the salmon without looking directly at it, and before he knew it, the salmon had put him to sleep.

Deimne saw all of this happen and rushed over to wake his master up. This took Deimne some time, but once awake, Fineagas told the young pupil to wrap a piece of cloth over his eyes so that he wouldn’t make the same mistake again, and following this, Fineagas and the hefty salmon quarreled for hours until the fish finally gave up. Fineagas had just caught the Salmon of Knowledge; with it, he knew he could become the wisest man in Ireland.

Once the fish had been safely secured, Fineagas instructed his young apprentice to take it back to their home and prepare it. But under no circumstance was he to eat any of the fish. Fineagas, exhausted from battling with the salmon, could barely keep his eyes open and decided he needed to lie down for a nap. As Deimne prepared the meal, he burned his thumb on the flesh of the salmon. Instinctively, he immediately put his thumb into his mouth to try and reduce the pain and swelling, and instantly Deimne was imparted with all of the salmon’s knowledge.

Following this, Deimne finished up the preparation of the meal and took it to Finnegas. His master instantly noticed a change in Deimnes’ character and even an unusual sparkle in his eyes which had not been there before. When questioned, Demine assured the poet he had not eaten any of the salmon. However, as Fineagas continued to pressure the young apprentice, Deimne finally admitted that he had accidentally tasted the salmon. When Deimne finally admitted to tasting the flesh of the salmon, Fineagas wasn’t angry. Despite his great loss, he was happy for Deimne as he understood that the young apprentice would become the wisest sage in all of Ireland.

While Finnegas knew the young Deimne relatively well by this point, what he didn’t realise was that the young apprentice had another name given to him by his mother; Fionn. Following his newfound acquisition of knowledge, Deimne felt like he had been born again, and thus, he decided to change his name to Fionn. From this day on, he would be known as Fionn, son of Cumhaill.

The Leader Of The Fianna

Fionn would leave his master and begin to wander around the island of Ireland. In subsequent events in his new life, Fionn was able to suck on the thumb, which the salmon had burned, and this gave him wisdom in a time of need. After some time, Fionn found himself at Tara, one of the ancient capitals of Ireland. He had heard that every year during Halloween, the warriors of the king would fall asleep, and once they did, the main hall of the fort would be set ablaze by an evil goblin known as Aillen Mac Midgna. Fionn decided to try and use his wisdom to outsmart the evil goblin and save the people of Tara’s fort from burning down.

In the middle of the night, Fionn began to hear a sweet melody in the distance. It was Aillen Mac Midgna playing his harp, forcing all of those who heard it to fall into a deep sleep. All of Taras warriors began to fall asleep one by one as they listened to the peaceful music. However, Fionn was able to stay awake as he was given a magical spear by a warrior known as Fiacha. While Fiacha had no idea how to use the poisoned spear, Fionn took one suck of his thumb and immediately knew what to do. As the other warriors fell into a deep sleep as the sound of Aileen’s harp ran through the fort, Fionn ensured he did not fall asleep by standing with his head pressed against the tip of his spear. This kept him awake as the poisoned spear released fumes, making him immune to Aillens harp.

Aillen assumed that the warriors of Tara would be fast asleep, and so the beast arose from his fairy fort. However, as Fionn was still awake, he could see the fairy fort appear from a cloud of mist on a nearby hill. The fort began to open, and from within came the goblin Aileen Mac Midgna. Immediately, Fionn could tell that this was the Aillen, the beast who had burned down the fort years before, as from a distance, he could see the goblin’s fiery breath.

Fionn raced out of the Taras fort and ran towards the hill to face the beast. The knowledge imparted on him by the salmon ensured that he knew how to kill the creature. So after a quick suck on his thumb, Fionn approached Aillen. As he came into contact with the creature, Aillen tried to use its fiery breath to attack Fionn. However, Fionn was prepared for the attack and immediately threw his cloak over the beast’s head, thus confusing it for a split second, and as he did, the beast began to run back towards the fairy fort. But, before it could return to its hillside fort, Fionn threw the spear, and it took the head of the goblin, killing Aillen instantly.

The people of Tara soon awoke from their sleep, and they began rejoicing, knowing that their fort would not burn this year. As Fionn had killed the Goblin Aillen, the King of Tara gave him great praise, and he was awarded the leadership of the band of warriors known as the Fianna. Its leader before the events of this night was Goll Mac Morna, who stood down as chief and then swore his loyalty to Fionn Mac Cumhaill.



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