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fenian-cycle

Fenian Cycle

The Fenian Cycle or Fiannaidheacht (modern Irish: Fiannaíocht), also known as the Fionn Cycle, Finn Cycle, Fianna Cycle, Finnian Tales, Fian Tales, Féinne Cycle, Feinné Cycle and Ossianic Cycle, is a body of prose and verse centering on the exploits of the mythical hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warriors the Fianna Éireann. It is one of the four major cycles of Irish mythology along with the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, and the Historical Cycle. Put in chronological order, the Fenian cycle is the third cycle, between the Ulster and Historical cycles. The Fenian cycle is often called the Ossianic cycle because Fionn's son, Oisín, was supposed to have written most of the poems in the cycle. The cycle also contains stories about other Fianna members, including Caílte, Diarmuid, Oisín's son Oscar, and Fionn's enemy, Goll mac Morna.

Plot Summary

Cormac mac Art, the High King of Ireland formed the Fianna, a coalition of clans, for the protection of the kingdom. The Fianna was dominated by Clan Bascna, led by Cumhal, and Clan Morna, led by Goll, with Liath Luachra, the treasurer. After the Battle of Knock, Cumhal is killed by the Morna, and Clan Bascna's treasure bag is stolen. Cumhal's wife, Muirne, runs away and has a son, Demna, who is cared for by two warrior women, Liath and the druidess Bodhmall. Muirne marries the king of Kerry.

Fionn's rise

Demna got the name Fionn because of his fair hair, and as soon as he came of age he set off for revenge. He kills Liath Luachra, and retrieves the treasure bag, which he then gives to the survivors of the Battle of Knock. While studying with the poet Finn Eces, Fionn accidentally eats the Salmon of Wisdom, and is admitted to the court of the High King at Tara, after passing three strenuous tests. After he was admitted, Fionn became the leader of Clan Bascna.

Fionn and Aillén

Every Samhain, the goblin Aillén mac Midgna, or Aillén the Burner, would terrorize Tara, playing music on his harp that left every warrior helpless. Using a magic spear that rendered him immune to the music, Fionn killed the goblin. As a reward, Fionn was made the leader of the Fianna, replacing Goll, who had to swear fealty to him.

Fionn and Sadb

Fionn was hunting a fawn, but when he caught it, his hounds Bran and Sceolang wouldn't let him kill it, and that night it turned into a beautiful woman, Sadbh, who had been transformed into a fawn by the druid Fer Doirich. The spell had been broken by the Dun of Allen, Fionn's base, where as long as she remained within she was protected by the spell. They were married. Some while later, Fionn went out to repulse some invaders and Sadbh stayed in the Dun. Fer Doirich impersonated Fionn, tempting Sadbh out of the Dun, whereupon she immediately became a fawn again. Fionn searched for her, but all he found was a boy, who he named Oisín, who had been raised by a fawn. Oisín became famous as a bard, but Sadbh was never seen again.

The Battle of Gabhra

Between the birth of Oisin and the Battle of Gabhra is the rest of the cycle, which is very long and becomes too complicated for a short summary. Eventually the High King Cormac, dies and his son Cairbre Lifechair wants to destroy the Fianna, because he does not like paying the taxes for protection that the Fianna demanded, so he raises an army with other dissatisfied chiefs and provokes the war by killing Fionn's servant. Goll sides with the king against Clan Bascna at the battle. Some stories say five warriors murdered Fionn at the battle, while others say he died in the battle of the Ford of Brea, killed by Aichlech Mac Dubdrenn. In any case, only twenty warriors survive the battle, including Oisín and Caílte.

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References

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