Fianna - An Elite Band of Ancient Warriors



   The idea of an elite band of warriors was already well established in Celtic Mythology long before the medieval tales of Arthur began to be adorned with the stories of Round Table Knights. The tales of Arthur and his knights have many parallels with Finn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna.

   The Fenians were founded around 300 CE by the High King 'Fiachadh' and survived through the centuries under the reign of another eight High Kings. The Fianna reached their pinnacle under the leadership of Finn Mac Cumhaill during the reign of Cormac Mac Airt (Airt is a common title for Irish Kings). Finn Mac Cumhaill was the son of Cumhaill and became known as the greatest Fianna warrior of the Fenian cycle. When he saved Tara, Cormac Mac Airt awarded him the sole leadership of the Fianna.

   Finn Mac Cumhaill was engaged to Gráinne, the daughter of Cormac Mac Airt. However, she was in love with Finn's younger companion, Díarmait, and eloped with him. Finn pursued the young couple until Cormac forced him to make peace with them. However, Finn never forgave his former comrade and when Díarmait was mortally wounded by a boar, Finn refused to save him. He let the healing water slip from his fingers and Díarmait died from his wounds.

      Finn's grandson Oscar, the son of Oisín, was the strongest and fiercest fighter of the Fianna. At the time of his first battle, Oscar was in love with Níam, the daughter of Áed Donn, the king of Ulster. But Níam was betrothed to Áed, the son of King Fidach of Connacht. Although Áed received aid from Ulster and Leinster in a war against the Fianna, Oscar beheaded Áed, and killed both Áed Donn and Baetán, the king of Leinster and won Níam for himself.     

   During the 2nd century AD the High King 'Conn Cead Crtchsthach' established the Fianna Éireann. The Fianna maintained its power from 176 AD to around 280 AD. However, around the end of that time, the son of Cormac Mac Airt, Cairbre, became the High King of Ireland and he wanted to break the power of the Fianna.  Cairbre  provoked a war with the Fianna by killing Ferdia, the servant of Finn Mac Cumhaill. Although Oscar then killed Cairbre in single combat during the Battle of Gabhra (Garristown) he too, was mortally wounded. This defeat ended the era of the Fenians. 

   Caoilte Mac Ronan and Oisín were the only two surviving heroes. Oisín met a beautiful Danann woman, named 'Niam of the Golden Hair.' She lured Oisín to the Otherworld and they became lovers. But much later, when he decided to return to the surface, Niam warned him not to set foot on the ground but to remain mounted on a magical horse. He broke this geis and was transformed into an old man. Only then, did Oisin discover that all his companions had been dead for three hundred years.

   It is said that Finn, Oscar, Oisín and Caoilte are asleep in an enchanted cave and will awake someday to right the wrongs brought to the land.

 

 


Contact Details

Paul E Withers BSc, DipEd, MA.
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Phone : 0413 245 125
Email : [email protected]