Intro to Fionn Mac Cumhal
Fionn Mac Cumhal (often anglicized as Finn MacCool) is one of the major heroes of Irish myth and legend- a body of tales, collectively known as the Fenian cycle, rose up around his folk memory. This is the latest of the Irish myth cycles- and so its Christian influences are more apparent, and the Tuatha De Danann don’t appear much in it. It even ends with a story in which Fionn and his friend Cailte (or in another story Fionn’s son Oisin) encounter St. Patrick and much interfaith debate ensues.
I became intrigued by Fionn particularly after reading an article by John Machate years ago that speculated that he may have been Ireland’s long-lost stag or hunting god. I thought he made a lot of interesting connections and later sought to learn more by reading Wisdom of the Outlaw by John Falach Nagy. (It’s out of print and horribly expensive, but fortunately I took a whole bunch of notes when I read it!)
Fionn is poet-seer, a filidh as well as a fian, an outsider-warrior.
A filidh is parallel in many ways to the role of a shaman- it is believed that he or she gets their poetic abilities from a connection to the Otherworld. A Fian is a person who has been socially displaced or dishonored in some way, or perhaps a young person who has not yet found their social place. Fianna (also called Fenians) is a group of fian- and followers of Fionn in particular, though there are said to be other fianna bands who are more destructive and anti-social.