The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn
The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn (Irish: Macgnímartha Finn) is a medieval Irish narrative belonging to the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. As its title implies, it recounts the boyhood exploits of Fionn mac Cumhaill, the cycle's central figure. The most important manuscript is Laud 610: folio 118Rb-121Va, which is missing the ending; Kuno Meyer assigned the text to the 12th century.
Origin and development
The Laud 610 manuscript was first edited by Kuno Meyer in 1881 for the French journal Revue Celtique. The text breaks off while Fionn investigates a sídhe or fairy mound, before his trip to Tara. Scholars have pointed out similarities between earlier versions of The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn and tales of the youth of the Ulster Cycle hero Cúchulainn. For instance, The Boyhood Deeds of Cúchulainn and The Wooing of Emer, both found within the epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, recount Cúchulainn's earning of a nickname through his feats, his training by a warrior woman (Scáthach) and his earning of a deadly spear (the Gáe Bulg).
The story begins with the death of Fionn's father Cumhal, leader of the Fianna, at the hands of Goll mac Morna. Cumhal's wife Muirne was pregnant at the time and eventually gave birth to their son, called Demne in his youth. Fearing for his safety, she sends the boy to be raised by Cumhal's sister, the druidess Bodhmall, and her companion Liath Luachra. The two warrior women raise him and accompany him on several adventures, including one in which he receives his nickname, Fionn (the fair; the pale). As he grows, his exploits attract increasing attention, and finally his foster mothers send him away for fear that Goll's men will find him. Subsequent episodes depict his service to the king of Bantry, his recovery of Cumhal's treasures by slaying Liath Luachra (a different character than his caretaker), and his meeting with the aged and dispossessed Fianna who had fought with his father.
Another famous episode recounts how Fionn inadvertently eats the Salmon of Wisdom, which would grant universal knowledge to whoever consumed it. He had been studying under the poet Finn Eces, who had sought the fish for seven years. Finally he catches it, and has Fionn cook it for him. Fionn burns his thumb on the fish and puts it in his mouth, thereby receiving its gift of wisdom.
Fionn travels to the capital of Tara, which is set aflame each Samhain by Aillén the Burner, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Goll and the Fianna are powerless to stop it, since Aillén puts everyone to sleep with a magical tune. Fionn inhales poison from his own spear to prevent sleep, and dispatches Aillén. He reveals his identity to the court, and the king grants Fionn his rightful position as leader of the Fianna. Goll steps down, and engages in a truce with his enemy.
- Meyer, "Macgnimartha Find."
- Mackillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, p. 318.