"MYTHS & LEGENDS"
Irish legends from St Peter's School Derry
Ireland, like every other country, has its own treasury of myths and legends.
Although there are many, many tales of fantastic deeds and heroes, with
wondrous strength and magical powers, there are two in particular who have most
written about them and who are the two heroes of ancient Ireland. They are the
giant, Finn McCool and Cuchulainn (pronounced Coo-hullin). Cuchulainn is also
known as the Hound of Ulster and there are lots of wonderful tales about him as
a young boy and as a warrior. But the main man, the 'biz' (business), is
really Finn McCool.
Finn McCool was a giant, but a good giant. He had his own army of fabulous
warriors who protected Ireland against attack, and these men spent most of
their time practising their skills and hunting deer and other wild animals. It
was Finn McCool who fought against another giant from Scotland.
In order to chase him away, Finn reached down and pulled a sod from the ground and threw it at the Scottish giant. If you look at a map of Ireland, you will see the hole which was left when he pulled out this sod of earth. It later
filled with water and is now known as Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ireland.
The place where the sod landed is in the middle of the Irish Sea, just between Ireland and England, and is now called the Isle of Man. Finn McCool is
probably best known for the monument he left us here in Northern Ireland, the
Giant's Causeway. Look it up in any encyclopedia or on the tourist information link from our home page. It is a fantastic feat of engineering for one man.
Some misguided experts say that the causeway is really columns of basalt which have crystalised and which were formed by the sudden cooling of lava in the sea.
But we know better! Every year thousands of visitors from near and far come to see this 9th wonder of the world.
The stories we have chosen to tell you are also about Finn. (By the way his
name is from the Irish word Fionn - also pronounced Finn - which means fair
haired or blonde). Although Finn was himself a giant, there were times when he had to face up to even bigger giants than himself. At times like this he
needed to use his wits, so he sucked his thumb! The reason for this went back
to his boyhood days.....
|The Salmon of Knowledge
At that time in Ireland skills of hunting, sports and combat were seen as very
important. Even as a young boy, Finn was the greatest and most skilful warrior
ever known. The only skills he had yet to learn were the art of composing and
reciting poetry and the gift of wisdom.
One day Finn was sent to a wise old man who lived at the banks of the River
Boyne. For seven years he had been trying to catch the sacred Salmon of
Knowledge, because it had been foretold that the first to taste this salmon
would possess all the wisdom of the world.
That day Finn caught the salmon but
the old man warned Finn that he was not allowed to taste the salmon but should
give the first piece to the old man. Finn agreed and began cooking the salmon
over an open fire. When Finn went to turn the salmon over to cook it on the
other side, he burnt his thumb on its hot scales and immediately stuck his
thumb into his mouth to cool it. Of course, when he did this he tasted the
salmon and so possessed all the knowledge in the world. Ever after that
whenever Finn wished to solve any problem, all he had to do was to suck his
|How Cuchulainn Got His Name
Long ago in ancient Ireland young children learned many things including the
game of hurling. This game is played with a stick and a leather ball. The
best boy at the game of hurling was Setanta. He could beat a whole team by
himself! It was said that he was able to hit a ball with his hurley stick and
run and catch it before it hit the ground.
One day a man called Culann was watching Setanta playing against other boys.
He was so good that Culann asked him to call round to his castle later on that
evening to have a meal with his other guests. Setanta accepted his invitation.
That evening at Culann's castle all the guests had arrived and a fierce hound
was then released to guard the castle. But they had forgotten about Setanta.
He was so busy playing hurling by himself on the way to the castle that he
forgot about the time and arrived late.
The hound saw Setanta and ran towards him with his great big jaws wide open to kill him. The guests on the castle walls saw this and shouted a warning to Setanta. Just in time Setanta struck the leather ball at the hound and drove it down its throat and killed it.
Culann was glad that the boy was safe, but sad that his hound was dead. So
Setanta said that HE would guard Culann's castle until Culann got another
hound. Setanta said that he would be Culann's hound for a while. The Irish
for a hound is Cu (Coo), so Setanta became known as CuChulainn (The Hound of
Culann) from that day onwards.