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Finn Mac Cool

FINN MAC COOL (in Irish Find Mac Cumaill), the central figure of the later heroic cycle of Ireland, commonly called Ossianic or Fenian. In Scotland Find usually goes by the name of Fingal. This appears to be due to a misunderstanding of the title assumed by the Lord of the Isles, Rí Fionnghall, i.e. king of the Norse. Find's father, Cumall mac Trénmóir, was uncle to Conn Cétchathach, High King of Ireland, who died in A.D. 157. Cumall carried off Murna Munchaem, the daughter of a Druid named Tadg mac Nuadat, and this led to the battle of Cnucha, in which Cumall was slain by Goll mac Morna (A.D. 174). Find was born after his father's death and was at first called Demni. He is leader of the fiann or féinne (English "Fenians"), a kind of militia or standing army which was drawn from all quarters of Ireland. His father had held the same office before him, but after his death it passed to his enemy Goll mac Morna, who retained it until Find came to man's estate. Find usually resided at Almu (Allen) in Co. Kildare, where he was surrounded by some of the contingents of the fiann, the rest being scattered throughout Ireland to ward off enemies, particularly those coming from over the sea. In times of invasion Find collected his forces, overcame the foe, and pursued him to Scotland or Lochlann (Scandinavia) as the case might be. When not engaged in war the fiann gave themselves up to the chase or love-adventures. We are informed in great detail as to the conditions of admission to this privileged band, which were at once singular and exacting. The foremost heroes in Find's train were his son Ossian, his grandson Oscar, Cailte mac Ronain, and Diarmait O'Duibne, whose elopement with Find's destined bride Grainne, daughter of the High-King Cormac mac Airt (A.D. 227-266), forms the subject of a celebrated story. These, like Find, were all of the Ua Baisgne branch, with which was allied the Ua Morna, with whom they were generally at variance. The latter hailed from Connaught, chief among them being Goll and Conan. By the annalists Find is represented as having met with death by treachery either in 252 or 283. Under Coirpre Lifeochair, successor to Cormac mac Airt, the power of the fiann became intolerable. The monarch accordingly took up arms against them and utterly crushed them at the battle of Gabra (A.D. 283). Very few survived the defeat, but the story makes Ossian and Cailte live on until after the arrival of St Patrick in 432.

It is incredible that such a band as the fiann should have existed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. A number of sagas older in date than the Ossianic stories have been preserved, which deal with events happening in the reigns of Art son of Conn (166-196), Lugaid mac Con (196-227), and Cormac mac Airt (227-266), but none of these in their oldest shape contain any allusion whatsoever to Find and his warriors. In the history of the Boroma, contained in the book of Leinster, Find is merely a Leinster chieftain who assists Bressal the king of Leinster against Coirpre Lifeochair. It can be shown that Find was originally a figure in Leinster-Munster tradition previous to the Viking age, but we have no documentary evidence concerning him at this time. He seems primarily to have been regarded as a poet and magician. Later he appears to have been transformed into a petty chief, and Zimmer even tried to show that his personality was developed in Leinster and Munster local tradition out of stories clustering round the figure of the Viking leader Ketill Hviti (Caittil Find), who was slain in 857. By the year 1000 Find was certainly connected in the minds of the people with the reign of Cormac mac Airt, but the process is obscure. Recently John MacNeill has pointed out that in the oldest genealogies Find is always connected with the Ui Tairrsigh of Failge (Offaley, a district comprising the present county of Kildare and parts of King's and Queen's counties). The Ui Tairrsigh were undoubtedly of Firbolg origin, and MacNeill would account in this manner for the slow acceptance of the stories by the conquering Milesians. Whilst the Ulster epic was fashionable at court, the subject races clung to the Fenian cycle. For the last 800 years Find has been the national hero of the Gaelic-speaking populations of Ireland, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Man. See also Celt (subsection Irish Literature).

AUTHORITIES - A. Nutt, Ossian and the Ossianic Literature (London, 1899); H. Zimmer, "Keltische Beiträge iii.," Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum (1891), vol. xxxv. pp. 1-172; L.C. Stern, "Die Ossianischen Heldenlieder," Zeitschrift für vergleichende Litteraturgeschichte (1895; trans, by J.L. Robertson in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, 1897-1898, vol. xxii. pp. 257-325); J. MacNeill, Duanaire Finn (London, 1908).

(E. C. Q.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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