Most Famous Tales, Part 1
In all mythologies, there’s a few tales that everyone knows from the time they’re children. For Greek mythology it might be the story of Persephone and Demeter or Midas and his golden touch (or so many more—that’s what we tend to know best in the Western world.) For the Norse it might be Thor’s hammer, Ragnarök, or the nine realms. And for Anglo-Saxon myths it might be St. George and the dragon or Beowulf…but what about Irish mythology? While we’ve talked about many of the creatures and folklore that imbue Irish tales on the blog, we’ve not told you many stories. Here are a few of the most famous ones!
The Salmon of Knowledge
According to legend, in the River Boyne there once lived a fish called the Salmon of Knowledge. A learned poet named Finegas has been trying for seven long years to catch the fish, as it was said the first person to eat the fish would be wiser than all other men. When a young warrior named Fionn came to live with Finegas to learn from him, Fionn asked why Finegas fished all day, but the poet wouldn’t reveal his motivations. Then, finally, Finegas caught a fish and knew it was the Salmon of Knowledge! He commanded Fionn to cook the fish right away, but to not eat a single bite. Fionn listened to his master, but while turning the fish on the spit, Fionn burned his thumb and placed it in his mouth to soothe himself—and received all the knowledge Finegas had wanted for himself! And so Fionn left Finegas’s tutelage, as Finegas had no more to teach him, and Fionn went on to become a wise and great poet, warrior, and leader of the Fianna—the greatest group of warriors Ireland has ever known.
The Children of Lir
Long in the past, there was a King named Lir who lived happily with his wife and four children: Fionnula, Aodh, Conn, and Fiachra. When Lir’s wife died, the family was nearly crushed by their grief, so Lir went out to find a new mother for his children. High King Dearg sent his daughter Aoife to marry Lir, but Aoife was not kind-hearted, instead cruel and jealous of Lir’s love of his children. One day when the children were playing and swimming in Lough Derravaragh, Aoife used Druidic magic to cast a spell on all four of them, turning them into swans for the next 900 years! Lir banished Aoife from his kingdom, but there was no way to reverse the spell—only a sound of a Christian church bell would be able to bring the children back. So the siblings spent 900 long years as swans—until they were released from their torment by a monk named Caomhog who rang the bell and watched in amazement as the swans turned into elderly people. The children died in each other’s arms and were buried in one grave, but the monk dreamed of their happy fate: they were reunited with Lir and their mother in the afterlife.
The Formation of the Giant’s Causeway
Located on the Antrim coast, the Giant’s Causeway is a popular tourist attraction today, but it is said to have been formed long ago by a giant named Finn McCool (aka Fionn Mac Cumhaill.) One day, Finn McCool stood along the coast, looking out across the Irish sea to Scotland, when a less-intelligent Scottish giant named Benandonner began to shout insults and threats at him! Finn took great chunks from the surrounding cliffs and threw them into the sea, creating a causeway made of great columns of sheared off stone so he could reach the other giant. However, as he got closer Finn realized that Benandonner was much bigger than him. Not wanting to take his chances, Finn and his wife Oonagh came up with a plan to trick Benandonner instead. They dressed Finn up as a baby and when the Scottish giant came knocking at their door, he ran away in fear--if that’s how big Finn’s baby was, Finn must be enormous! In his haste and to prevent being followed, Benandonner ripped up the causeway, leaving only the bit on Ireland’s coast that still exists today!
The Harp of Dagda
Long long ago there was a warrior of much-renown named Dagda Mór who became king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Known as the many-skilled, lord of knowledge, the maker, and man of the peak, Dagda had many wonderous possessions, but none so wonderful as his harp. Dagda’s beautiful harp warranted its own name: Uaithne. This harp had many talents—it kept the seasons in order, prepared warriors for battle, and its music was so beautiful it conquered all sorrows. When the Tuatha Dé Danann were battling against the Fomorians, the Fomors coveted Dagda’s harp and stole it! Though the Fomors were defeated in battle, their forces were still many, but
Tune back in next week for another crop of Ireland’s most famous mythic stories!
This post is part of a series. Read our mythology post, all about how the Star Wars hero, Luke Skywalker, is based on Irish myth, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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