Previously I wrote two blog posts about the history of the Fianna (here and here), the semi-mythical group of Irish warriors who inspired one of the villains in my contemporary romantic suspense Deadly Force series and introduced in my debut novel EVERY DEEP DESIRE.
Since it's March (and almost St. Patrick's Day), I thought I'd give you a brief background on the mythic Gaelic warrior who led the Fianna long, long ago. Before Rome even invaded Britain. This warrior's name is Fionn MacCumhaill.
Fionn was the son of Cumhaill, the leader of the Fianna. The Fianna, a rogue group of young mercenary noblemen didn't own lands and lived on the edges of Irish civilization. They were nomadic warriors who traveled the country, often giving generously to those who had less than they did. Historians also suggest the Fianna knew the entrances to the Otherworld where the Faeries lived.
Fionn was born into violence. His father Cumhaill wanted to marry his mother Muirne who was a Druid. When her father refused, Cumhaill kidnapped Muirne. The High King of the time (Conn of the Hundred Battles) raised a huge army to save Muirne from the Fianna army. After many battles, a warrior named Goll MacMorna killed Cumhaill and took control of the Fianna.
Muirne, who'd given birth to Fionn, left her son in the care of the Fianna warrior Liath Luachra. She instructed Liath to care for Fionn and instruct him in the ways of the Fianna and warfare. She expected Fionn to grow up and take over control of the Fianna. After kissing her son goodbye, Muirne disappeared and was never heard from again.
As Fionn grew, he had a tutor named Finnegas. Finnegas was a Druid poet who'd searched the world for wisdom that he believed could only be found in the "Salmon of Knowledge." One day, while teaching Fionn to fish, Finnegas caught the magical salmon. But as Fionn cooked it, Fionn touched his fingers to his lips and was imbued with the knowledge Finnegas had spent his life searching for. Finnegas was not happy and curses followed.
Now armed with the wisdom of the world, Fionn was ready to fight Goll MacMorna and take over command of the Fianna. But first the Faeries who ruled the Gaelic Otherworld had to put Fionn through many tests. So Fionn traveled to Tara, the High Seat of the Kings of Ireland. There, he met a fierce female faery named Aillen. For 23 years, on every Samhain, Aillen scorched the earth and killed all of Tara's guards. Aillen lured the guards with drink and her singing voice until they slept. Then she'd destroy everything around her.
One of Fionn's tasks was to stop Aillen. Instead of listening to her voice, he pricked his hand with his sword, using the pain to keep himself awake and alert. When the guards fell asleep, and Aillen began to burn things, Fionn attacked and defeated her.
After this huge victory, Fionn returned to the Fianna and challenged Goll MacMorna. Goll knew that only a true noble--the true son of Cumhaill--could defeat Aillen and he stepped aside. Goll even returned Cumhaill's castle (the Hill of Almu) to Fionn.
Fionn and his Fianna army had many adventures, most of which included saving Ireland from invaders such as the Romans, the Picts, and the Vikings. They returned tax monies to the poor, and also demanded protection monies from the nobles. The Fianna army was loved, feared, and hated.
But (not surprisingly) most of the recorded stories are about Fionn's love life. His first love, Sadbh, argued with a Druid priest who turned her into a deer. Years later, while Fianna and his hounds were hunting, the dogs recognized the deer. In return for not killing the deer, she transformed back into his wife Sadbh and bore him a son named Oisin.
(After Fionn's death, Oisin would become an even more famous Fianna warrior.)
Unfortunately, the Druid priest learned that his spell had been broken and returned. He turned Sadbh back into a deer and she disappeared forever.
Fionn had little luck with women. Years later he was supposed to marry the daughter of a High King except she eloped with one of Fionn's Fianna warriors. Fionn found the lovers and allowed them to live. Yet, when the warrior was wounded by a boar, Fionn refused to use his healing powers and let the warrior die. Fionn had forgiven but not forgotten the insult.
The lives of Fionn and his son Oison were originally told in the Fenian Cycle of Irish Poetry (the third cycle of Irish Mythology) most of which is narrated from Oisin's POV. One of my favorite translations is Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry/Cuchulain of Muirthemne by William Butler Yeats. (Yes, that Yeats!)
Fionn's death is still unexplained and many poets believe that he was buried near Dublin and is waiting to rise again to save Ireland from any enemies who may invade.
Regardless of whether or not one believes Fionn MacCumhaill was real, his tales are fun to read. Especially in March when one's thoughts might turn to leprechauns and faeries!
Sharon Wray is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes about the men in her romantic suspense series where ex-Green Berets meet their match in smart, sexy heroines who teach these alpha males that always defeats .