The Fianna were a powerful fighting force who lived off the land, as hunters and trackers in the Summer months and as storytellers and entertainers in the Winter. They feasted and made merry. They had no land or belongings and yet were unfailingly generous wherever they went. They were given a hearty welcome.
There were two main groups within the Fianna: Clan Baiscne and Clan Morna led by Cumhail and Goll MacMorna respectively. Cumhail had with him one of the great treasures of the Fianna – an oxter bag. All he had to do was reach into this bag for anything he needed.
Cumhail fell in love with the beautiful Muirne, daughter of the Druid Tadgh, who refused the marriage. Cumhail abducted Muirne. Furious, Tadgh went to King Conn Cead Cathach to ask for his support. Goll was with the King and the Fianna found themselves at war with each other.
Goll kills Cumhail in this Battle of Cnoca and takes on leadership of the Fianna. During the battle the oxter bag is stolen. But Muirne is now pregnant and Tadgh threatens to kill mother and child. His sister, Bodhmall steps in and brings mother and child to Sliveve Blooms for protection. Muirne is a deer woman, hence her child’s name being Demne, Little Stag. He could run very fast. Bod. Was a warrior trainer and teaches the young boy martial arts.
Aged 6, Demne heads off to Kill Goll MacMorna, in disguise with a group of travelling poets. Because of his golden hair he is now called Fionn, son of Cumhail. He meets a woman whose son hasd been been killed by a great warrior. He vows to kill the warrior who he finds and challenges to a single combat. He finds he has the oxter bag so the young boy has recovered one of the Fianna’s great treasures.
He then goes to study with an old Druid, Finneagas who has been trying to catch the Salmon of Knowledge. The Druid is skin and bone because of how he has been obsessed with his task. At long last Finneagas is successful and they cook the salmon. Fionn is told not to taste the salmon as the Druid heads off. But it blisters, he puts his thumb there and then into his mouth. Hence he acquires the ability to access knowledge, just by putting his thumb in this mouth.
The Connections and insights from Participants
Here are some of the most significant connections and insight from participants and collected by the Bard team:
Connection 1 – Triple Fosterage – 3 mothersThe remarkable mothering of the young boy, Demne, could be seen as triple mothers: Muirne, Bodhmall and Liath Luachra was a great start for any child. It was also a reminder of the Triple Goddess, so important in the Mythological Cycle. This start, it was felt, would build a wise, courageous, soulful and nature loving child.
Connection 2 – The Natural World – Animal SymbolismThere was considerable imagery taken from the natural world and this was clearly a ‘source of wisdom’. Salmon of Knowledge, deer and speed of foot and mind, crane/oxter bag as a source of needs met and insight. What also seemed to be evident was nature as a source of abundance. And the naming of the young man as deer (Demne) is a clear natural world direct association.
Connection 3 – The Context of FearIt felt as if the atmosphere of brutality was evident following the Battle of Cnoca – the first Civil War. A climate of fear, revenge and slaughter was evident and was the world into which Demne/Fionn was born. His early life was absolutely one of great danger.
Connection 4 – The Importance of GenerosityThe recurring theme of generosity was evident in Fionn’s natural and immediate response to the woman who has lost her own son. This provided a cyclical linkage to his father, Cumhail and the battle at which the oxter/crane bag was lost. It also enabled Fionn to recover the ‘bag’ – a reward which was connected to the generosity, but was not his motivation. He didn’t know. Also Finneagas’s generosity to Fionn when he has clearly lost what he most desired – the salmon’s great knowledge
Connection 5 – The Consequence of ReflexFinn’s tasting of the salmon had life altering consequences. But it was a reflex reaction and indeed had to be for it wouldn’t have worked if he had tasted the salmon deliberately. It was also a reflex reaction to help the mother of the murdered child. Echoes here of Parsifal who asks the question of the Grail King in an innocent reflexive way
Connection 6 – Wisdom and Thumb suckingThe access to the wisdom of the world is through Fionn ‘sucking his thumb’. This seems to represent the natural wisdom of the child that is suppressed and lost in adulthood. Is this why parents admonish it? Fearing their children will become wiser than them? This is the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ story
Connection 7 – The Values of the FiannaThe three core values of the Fianna were strength of limb, purity of heart and actions to match their words. The focus on body and heart (emotion) as well as consistency between ‘say’ and ‘do’. Not evident among so many leaders.
Connection 8 – The Fionn Heritage
The link with Fintan MacBochra with Fionn was clear. This makes the centrality and consistency of ‘wisdom’ within this tradition. It also comes across from one cycle (Mythological) to another (Fenian).
Connection 9 – A Lesbian connectionWhat exactly is the nature of the relationship between Bodhmall and Liath Luachra – two warrior women who live together. Just a (modern) reflection.