Fenian Cycle – Often called Ossian Cycle (or Ossianic Cycle)

Fenian Cycle

Fenian Cycle was often called Ossian Cycle (or Ossianic Cycle). The Fenian Cycle was a collection of stories about the warriors within a military order called the Fianna Éireann, during the reign of Conn Cetchathach and Cormac Mac Airt. The main hero was Finn Mac Cumhaill. The Fenian Cycle contained many stories of Finn and his companions.

The Fenian Cycle was less violent and turbulent than previous period of the Ulaid Cycle. However, the Fenian Cycle are still filled with battles and otherworldly adventures. Apart from Finn being the principal hero in this cycle, there are tales of other heroes such as those of his son Oisín, his loyal friends Caílte and Díarmait, and even his arch-rival for the leadership of the Fianna – Goll.

Challenge of the Clans
From Demna to Finn
Sadb and the Birth of Oisín
Battle of Ventry
Hostel of the Quicken Trees
The Pursuit of Díarmait and Gráinne
Battle of Gabhra
Colloquy of the Ancients



Challenge of the Clans

The story began during the reign of the high king (Ard-Rí) of Ireland, named Conn Cétchathach – “Conn of the Hundred Battles”. Conn had earned the nickname from the number of battles he had won during his reign. His most powerful enemy was Eógan Mór, the king of Munster, whom Conn defeated twice in battle.

Some time during Conn’s reign, he established a military order of elite warriors, known as the Fianna Éireann (Fianna of Ireland). The Fianna comprised of mainly two dominant clans – the Baiscne and the Morna. Though there were other clans in the Fianna, only these two clans were powerful enough to gain support of the captaincy of the Fianna. Each clan had a chieftain, but only one of chieftains could be captain of the Fianna.

At the time of Conn’s reign, Cumhaill, son of Trenmor, was the Fian captain and chieftain of Clan Baiscne. While Goll Mac Morna was chieftain of Clan Morna.

One of Conn’s advisers was the Danann druid and sorcerer, Tadg, son of Nuada of the Silver Hand. Tadg had a daughter named Muirenn or Muirne of the White Neck. Since Muirenn was frequently at the court of Conn in Tara, Cumhaill and Muirenn fell in love with one another. Tadg did not want his daughter to marry a mortal and insisted that she return to their world (Otherworld). Despite her father’s protests, Muirenn married Cumhaill. Different version, say that Cumhaill had abducted Muirenn. Even since that day, Tadg bore a seething hatred for the young Fianna captain. The druid decided to destroy Cumhaill.

Through his machination Tadg caused the king to resent Cumhaill. Together they plotted to remove him as captain, and enlisted Goll to challenge Cumhaill for the leadership of the Fianna.

Muirenn was several months pregnant, when Cumhaill heard that Goll Mac Morna challenged him for the captaincy of the Fianna. Cumhaill gathered Clan Baiscne to meet the challenge. Muirenn who was Danann, was uneasy about the crisis, and had foreboding that she will never see her husband again.

The two rival clans met at Cnucha (Knock), where a battle took place. Clan Baiscne was the larger and stronger of the two, but Tadg used his magic to confuse and stir fears among the warriors of Clan Baiscne.

Cumhaill faced Goll and took out one of his enemy’s eyes in the fighting, but Cumhaill was suddenly overcome with fear and weakness from Tadg’s sorcery. Lia, lord of Luachar, saved Goll, and killed Cumhaill.

The battle turned against Clan Baiscne at Cumhaill’s death. Those who remained were killed; few survivors including Cumhaill’s brother, Crimmal, escaped from the massacre and fled to the woods.

Wounded, Goll was appointed captain of the Fianna, because of his victory over Clan Baiscne. Goll appointed Lia as the Treasurer of the Fianna. Lia took the magic crane bag from Cumhaill’s body. The crane bag contained the treasures of Fianna. Goll ordered his warriors to hunt down all the warriors of Clan Baiscne who survived the battle, including their families.

Related Information
Fotha Catha Chnucha (The Cause of the Battle of Cnucha) is found in the Book of the Dun Cow.
Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Ancients).
Related Articles
Conn Cétchathach, Tadg, Cumhaill, Muirenn, Goll Mac Morna, Lia, Finn Mac Cumhaill, Eógan Mór.


From Demna to Finn

Below is the account of Finn’s birth and early adventures, ending with him winning the captaincy of the Fianna.

Birth of Finn
Training of Finn
Rise to Captaincy of the Fianna



Birth of Finn

Although Muirenn lived quite a distance away from the battlefield, she knew that her husband Cumhaill was killed. Her power as Danann allowed her to see the battle in her vision.

She did not waste her time in grief, for she knew that she and her unborn child were in immediate dangers. With two old nurses, Muirenn fled and hid into a large, densely wooded forest around the hills, known as Sliab Bladma (Slieve Bloom).

Here, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Demna. As soon as she recovered from the delivery of her child, Muirenn knew that her son was still in danger from Goll’s warriors. She left Demna in the care of the two nurses, while she tried to lead her enemies away from her son. Muirenn fled to Munster, where she would later married its king.

Demna grew up, learning how to survive in the woods, by his two nurses. One of the nurses was said to be the druidess Bodhmall, the sister of Muirenn. The other nurse was named Liath Luachra or Liathluchra.

Demna was so swift of feet that he could chased down any wild animal. Demna learned how to hunt, and became surprising strong for a young boy. One of his nurses named him Finn, which means “Fair One”, because he had his father’s and mother’s beauty, particularly Muirenn’s hair. Demna would be forever remembered by his nickname.

Muirenn returned to take her son with her to Munster, since she married a king strong enough to protect her and her son from their enemies. However, one of the nurses refused to let Muirenn even sees her own son. This nurse adamantly wanted Finn to take his father’s place as chieftain of Clan Baiscne, and restore their honour, possibly avenging their defeat. Muirenn was left without choice, but to let the nurse have her way. Muirenn returned sadly to Munster without her son.

Training of Finn

One nurse taught Finn, how to run, hunt and courage, while the other nurse taught him, how to treat other people with respect and courteous, especially females. Both nurses also taught him about Clan Baiscne and their history, encouraging Finn to take his father’s place as the leader of the clan.

The nurses knew that they could teach Finn very little in the art of fighting and warrior. So when he was old enough, he was sent out into world to find training. To become a Fian warrior, particularly a chieftain, Finn must undergo several rigorous tests. But not all the test had to do with fighting.

In his journey, Finn killed Lia, lord of Luachar, in combat. Finn took the Treasure Bag of the Fianna from Lia. Finn then met his uncle Crimmal and some other survivors of the clan war. From his uncle Finn learned that he had avenged his father’s death when he killed Lia, and that Lia had taken the Treasure Bag from his father. Crimmal and the others trained the youth in martial arts, and history and rules of the Fianna.

Crimmal then told his nephew, that to become a clan chieftain, Finn must also learn to be a bard and poet. To this end, Finn must seek out and learn from the great druid, Finneces (Finegas).

Finn also learned that the best time to present his case (about being Fian chieftain) to the king and the Fian captain, without being arrested by Goll’s men, was during the Great Fair. Crimmal and others of Clan Baiscne would meet Finn in Tara at the appointed time.

However, Finneces (Finegas) wanted to catch the “Salmon of Knowledge”, called Fintan, and refused to teach anyone. Finneces had a change of attitude towards Finn, when after twenty years, Finneces finally caught the magic salmon on the bank of Boynne River.

The Salmon of Knowledge had eaten some nuts from the Tree of Knowledge. Anyone who caught and ate the salmon would be given wisdom.

Finneces thought that the youth was lucky. Finneces agreed to teach poetry to Finn, in return for the youth cooking the salmon for him. Finneces warned Finn that he must not eat any part of the salmon.

As Finn cooked the salmon, the youth tested to see if the salmon was ready by pressing his thumb to the fish side. The hot juice burned Finn’s finger, which he placed his thumb in his mouth.

When Finn served fish to the druid, Finneces asked if the lad ate any part of the salmon. Finn replied no, but when he burnt his thumb he had placed it in his mouth. Finneces realised he was not destined to eat “Salmon of Knowledge”, and told the young hero to eat the fish. Finneces saw no need to teach Finn and send him off.

So whenever Finn sought knowledge, all he had to do was placed his thumb in mouth, and that knowledge would come to him.

However, there was an older version of how Finn gained his mystical wisdom, found in text of the 8th century. Finn was pursuing Culdub into the sidh at Sliab na mBan, when the door slammed into his thumb.

(There are many similar tales where heroes gains knowledge just by sucking their thumb. In the legend of Taliesin, Gwyon Bach sucked his thumb the three scalding drops from the cauldron of Ceridwen, known as the Cauldron of Inspirations. Gwyon Bach was actually a reincarnation of Taliesin, the legendary bard. In the Icelandic saga, Volsunga Saga, the Norse hero Sigurd also sucked his thumb, when drop of blood from the dragon’s heart landed on his thumb.)


Finn arrived in Tara, during the festival of the Great Fair. The Great Fair, held every three year, was established during the reign of Ollav Fola, an early Milesian high king. Here, the Great Fair, no man could not be arrested, and anyone can present their cases or disputes, before the Great Assembly. Among those who attend the Assembly was high king, kings of four provinces, chieftains, druids and bards.

Finn stood before the Great Assembly, he introduced himself to the king, and told them he wished to become Fian warrior, leading his father’s clan as chieftain. The king agreed.

To become chieftain of Clan Baiscne, Finn had to undergo a series of tests arranged by Goll Mac Morna, the Fian captain. The first test was that he would be buried up to his hips. With a stout stick and a shield, he would have to avoid the slightest wound from the spears of nine spearmen. Each spearman would stand fifty paces from him, and could hurl the spear at any time. Nine spears were hurled at him and Finn successfully deflected the spears, without receiving a nick.

The second test, Finn had to avoid been capture by Fian warriors while traversing the forest outside of Tara. Finn must avoid any injury in this test. Finn, who spent all his life in the woods of Slieve Bloom, was very swift and agile. Finn easily outran Fian warriors.

Finally, Finn had to demonstrate his ability with poetry in the last test. Finn, who had the gift of knowledge and poetry from the magic salmon, had no problem with this task.

Having succeeded all his tests, Finn Mac Cumhaill swore his fealty to the high king, taking up services to Ireland and its ruler. Clan Baiscne was restored to Fianna and Finn became the chieftain of his clan.

Rise to Captaincy of the Fianna

Few months later, Finn learned that every eve of Samhain, a goblin or demon would come to Tara, causing destruction in part of the city, with his magic. No one had been able to kill the goblin, because the haunting music the creature play on his harp would cause any defender to fall into a helpless trance.

Finn asked for the captaincy of the Fianna from the high king, if he could killed the goblin, called Aillén Mac Midgna, better known as Aillén the Burner. The king agreed.

One of his warriors, named Fiacha had a magic spear, but this warrior did not know how to use it. Because Finn had eaten the “Salmon of Knowledge”, the hero learned how to use the spear. By holding the blade of the spear against his head, he would become immune to the goblin’s music from magic harp.

On the night of Samhain’s Eve, Finn confronted the Aillén, dispelling the magic from the music and killed the goblin.

All of Tara rejoiced, when a hero had killed the goblin. The high king awarded Finn Mac Cumhaill as the Captain of the Fianna. Goll had no choice but to step down from the captaincy. Goll was the first to swear loyalty to Finn.

Related Information
Demna, Demne (name at birth).
Demne Máel.
Finn (nickname, meaning “The Fair”); Fionn.
Macgnímartha Finn (The Boyhood Deeds of Finn).
The Boyhood Deeds of Finn from Duanaire Finn.
Acallam na Senórach (“Colloquy of the Ancients”).
Birth of Finn
Training of Finn
Rise to Captaincy of the Fianna
Related Articles
Finn Mac Cumhaill, Goll Mac Morna, Lia, Cumhaill, Muirenn, Bodhmall, Finneces (Finegas).

Finn Mac Cumhaill

Finn Mac Cumhaill
(Before his encounter with
Aillén the Burner)
Stephen Reid
Illustration, 1910


Sadb and the Birth of Oisín

Finn and his companions were hunting in the forest near his dun, when they spotted a beautiful fawn. They chased the fawn with their hounds. Finn had two of the swiftest hounds in all of Ireland, named Bran and Sceolang. These hounds were supposedly his cousins, because they were children of Muirenn’s sister Tyren.

Finally, Finn’s hounds caught up with the fawn. Instead of attacking the fawn, the hounds began to play with her. Having never seen this strange occurrence before, Finn decided that no harm should come to the fawn. The fawn followed Finn back to the dun.

Finn woken that night, when the most beautiful woman he had ever seen approached him. The woman introduced herself as Sadb (Saba). Sadb or Blái (Blai) was the daughter of an otherworld king, named Derg Díanscothach of Síd Ochta Cleitigh (some say that her father was Bodb Derg, the son of Dagda).

An evil druid known as Fer Doirich (Dark Druid) had transformed Sadb into a fawn, when she would not love the druid. For three years she had lived her life as a fawn, until she came to Finn’s dun. It was the Dun of Allen that broke druid’s spell on her.

Finn promised to protect her, and not long after that the hero and Sadb were married. For months, Finn became less interested in hunting and fighting, spending every day with his beautiful wife. However, when Finn heard news of invaders from the Northmen, the hero knew that it was time to resume his duties as the Fian captain.

After seven days, the Northmen were driven out of Ireland. Sadb, who stood on the rampart everyday, waited for her husband’s return. Sadb thought she saw her husband. When she came out of dun to greet Finn, Sadb was again transformed into the fawn. The man who stood before her was not Finn, but the Dark Druid, who assumed her husband’s shape.

Finn was stricken that the evil druid had abducted his wife. Finn organised a search for Sadb, and for seven years, he could not find any sign of her. One day, Finn’s faithful hounds discovered a boy. From the boy’s story, he was taken care by a hind (Sadb) in the woods, until recently, when the Dark Druid compelled the hind-woman with his magic, to leave the boy behind and followed him. The druid and hind were never seen again.

Finn realised that he had found his own son. Finn took the boy home with him and called him Oisín (Oisin), meaning “Little Fawn”. Oisín became an exceptional Fian warrior and an even greater bard.

In some tales, Oisin’s mother was named Blai, the daughter of Derg Díanscothach (Derg of the Quick Speech).

Related Information
Sadb, Saba.
Blái (in other texts).
Oisín – “Little Fawn”.
Related Articles
Finn Mac Cumhaill, Oisín, Dark Druid, Bodb Derg. Bran and Sceolang.


Arthur Rackham
Illustration, 1910


Battle of Ventry

The daughter of Bolcán (Bolcan), the king of France, ran off to Ireland, because she fell in love with Finn Mac Cumhaill. However, she was the wife of Dáiri Donn (Dairi Donn), the self-titled “King of the World”. Dáiri Donn gathered an incredible army from all over Continental Europe to retrieve his wife. A great battle took place in Ventry.

Oisín (Oisin) fought in single combat with Bolcán. However, during the fighting, Bolcán went stark raving mad, leaping about all over the battlefield, with no concern for his own safety.

The Fianna was on the verge of being defeated, when the young son of king of Ulster, arrived in Ventry with a troop of hundred boys. Although the invaders killed every single boy, they arrived in time to save the Fianna from annihilation.

The Fianna were heavily outnumbered at the beginning of the war against Dáiri Donn. When the Tuatha Dé Danann arrived to aid the Fianna, the tide of the battle began to turn. The Dananns fought for a day, while the Fian warriors were healed and fed from the magic cauldron of Tuatha Dé Danann.

On the seventeenth day, the Fianna mustered their forces against the invaders. Finn, first, killed Ógarmach (Ogarmach), a Greek Amazon warrior.

Many Fian warriors were slain by their enemies. Among the fallen, was a young Fianna warrior, named Cáel (Cael), who had fallen in love with a beautiful Danann woman, named Créd (Cred, Créde, Créidhe or Creidhe). Cáel had won Créd’s love through his poetry.

It was not after they were married, when they news of invasion. Cáel joined his comrades to confront the invaders. Créd followed her husband to Ventry, where she helped with the sick and wounded Fian warriors. She brought a large number of cattle with her, so that the Fian warriors always had milk to drink. Cáel distinguished himself every single day during the battle. It was on the final day in battle, when Cáel drowned while pursuing his enemy into the sea.

Then in a single combat with Dáiri Donn, Finn defeated and slew the King Dáiri Donn. Demoralised from the loss of their king and other leaders, the Fianna defeated the invaders and drove them out of Ireland.

Finn and his companions found Cáel’s body on the beach. They sadly brought Cael’s body back to his wife for burial. Créd was so distraught when they saw the warriors bringing back her husband on their shoulders. When they set about put Cáel in the grave, Créd lay beside her husband and died from sorrow. Instead of celebrating a great victory, the surviving Fian warriors were saddened by the tragedy as they buried Cáel and Créd in a single grave.

In Acallam na Senórach, Caílte Mac Ronan recounted only the involvement of Cáel and Créd in the tale of the Battle of Ventry. When Caílte and St Patrick visited this hill, the hero told the saint that it was Finn who gave the name Ventry because it was a “fair hill”.

Related Information
Cath Finntrágha (Battle of Ventry).
Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Ancients).
Related Articles
Finn Mac Cumhaill, Oisín, Caílte Mac Ronan, St Patrick.


Hostel of the Quicken Trees

Bruidhean Chaorthainn (“Fairy Palace of the Quicken Trees” or “Hostel of the Rowan Trees”) was a common tale in Irish myth, where the hero is trap in a fairy palace or hostel, and another hero has to free them through various adventures.

Enchantment at the Hostel
Defence at the Ford
Victory at the Ford

Enchantment at the Hostel

In the land of the Lochlainn, said to be located in Scandinavia, there ruled King Colgán. Some identified the Lochlainn with the Viking raiders, whereas others say that they were descendants of the Fomorians.

Colgán decided to invade Erin (Ireland), during the reign of Cormac Mac Airt (Cormac son of Art). When Finn Mac Cumhaill heard of the foreign invaders, he call upon all the warriors of the Fianna to meet him at Allen, a dun or hill-fort of his home. A great battle was fought where many of the Fian warriors fell in combat.

Oscar, the son of Oisín and grandson of Finn, grieved for his companions who had fallen to the invaders. Oscar fought his way to the king, where the two fought incredibly ferious combat. In the end, Oscar prevailed. With the death of Colgán, the tide of battle was turned in favour of the Fianna. The Lochlainn fled back to the sea, and all their leaders were killed, except Colgán’s youngest son, Midac.

Finn spared Midac, because he was still very young. As a prince, Finn brought him up in his household, treating the youth with great respect. Midac had even received training as a warrior of the Fianna.

When Midac had grown to manhood, Conan Maél, the brother of Goll Mac Morna, feared that Midac would use his training as a Fian, against them. Conan suggested that Finn should send him away. Finn agreed. Finn told Midac that since he was now a young man, he could leave his household, and live anywhere he wished in Erin (Ireland). Finn would provide him with land and servants as befitting for a prince. Midac decided to live in the cantred (district) of Kanri on the Shannon, and on some of the islands, north of the mouth of the Shannon.

So Midac moved to Kanri, where he had his home built and became very rich. For 14 years, he lived here, plotting to take revenge upon the Fianna, for the death of his father and brothers. Midac was setting this place as a base for the Lochlainn, so that they could once again invade Ireland.

Opportunity arose when Finn and his companions went on a hunting excursion near Midac’s home. Finn was resting with some of his companions on the hill of Knockfierna, while others were still out hunting in the woods, when Midac arrived. Finn didn’t recognise Midac. Midac invited Finn and his companions to his home. Finn could not refuse Midac, since Midac had placed a geis on him.

Finn went with Midac with only some of his companions, including Goll Mac Morna. While Oisín wait for the return of the other hunters, including Díarmait and Caílte Mac Ronan.

Though Finn became suspicious when he found no attendants in the hall, but they found the hall filled with luxury they had never seen before. They sat down on the couches in the hall.

When neither their host appeared, nor Midac’s servants prepared them a banquet as he promised, Finn decided to send Conan to find their host. Conan found that he could leave his seat. They realised that they were trapped, when none of them could get up from their couch, nor could they move their feet from the floor.

Finn found that even his thumb of knowledge could not aid them in their predicament. Finn found out that Midac has an army of the Lochlainn hidden in Midac’s islands, and that Midac was supported by the powerful allies: Sinsar of the Battles, the King of the World, from Greece, and the king’s son, Borb the Haughty. There were also the three kings from the Island of Torrent. Sinsar would be sending his warriors to kill them as they are helplessly rooted to their seats, while they remained fixed to the ground. The only way they could escape, if the blood of three kings of the Isle of Torrent were sprinkled on the floor.

The only thing that they could do was to sing the war cry, called Dord-Fiann, hoping that Oisín and the other Fian would he hear the call.

Defence at the Ford

Back at Knockfierna, Oisín became concern when he received no messenger from his father. Oisín send his half-brother, Fiancha, and his foster-brother, Innsa, to find Midac’s palace.

As the two near the palace, they heard Dord-Finn. Finn could hear his son and foster-son conversing outside the hall. Finn warned them not to enter the palace; the enchantment had ensnared them. Finn told them everything and told them to leave, since their enemies were coming to slaughter them. The two young warriors refused to leave. Finn told them that at least one warrior could defend the narrow ford.

Fiancha decided to find where their enemies are located on Midac’s Palace of the Island, while Innsa guarded the ford.

On the Palace of Island, Midac informed the King of the World that Finn and the Fianna were ensnared in the enchantment and helpless. An Irla (or earl) of thew King of the World decided to kill Finn in the Palace of the Quicken Trees, taking with him some of his followers.

The Irla found that a youth was guarding a ford. Innsa refused to leave his position despite being outnumbered. Irla ordered his warriors to attack the lone warrior. Innsa killed all of Irla’s followers, but was exhausted from fighting one warrior after another.

Since he was fresh, Irla attacked the tired youth, killing the youth, taking Innsa’ head as trophy of his victory. Since all his warriors were killed at the ford, he decided to get fresh troops back at the Palace of the Island.

As he journey back to the island, he encountered Fiancha who had scouted the island, and was heading back to the ford. Recognising the severed head of his foster-brother, Fiancha killed the Irla. Taking Innsa’s head back to the ford, Fiancha informed his father that Innsa was killed.

Fiancha could not get help from the Fian warriors on Knockfierna, since there was no else to defend the ford.

Meanwhile, back at Knockfierna, Díarmait was concern when neither Finn nor Finn’s son and foster-son returned from the Midac’ hostel, so he decided to go there with his companion, Fatha Conan.

On the Palace of the Island, Midac took a company of warriors to his palace, to kill Finn and those other he had trapped in enchantment. Midac found Fiancha defending the dangerous ford. Midac ordered his warriors to kill Finn’s son. Fiancha bravely guarded the ford, killing all those who dared to cross the ford, but also became tired after lengthly fighting.

Seeing Fiancha was seriously weakened, Midac attacked the son of Finn with great vigour. Both warriors were wounded from the fierce fighting. It was Fiancha who succumbed first from exhaustion.

By this time, Díarmait and Fatha Conan arrived and found Midac about to dispatch Fiancha. Díarmait immediately reacted, hurled his spear and mortally wounded Midac. This did not prevent Midac from beheading Fiancha. Díarmait avenged Fiancha by beheading Midac. Some of the survivors fled back to the island, with the news of Midac’s death.

Finn and his companions could hear the fight outside of the palace. Díarmait told him about his son’s death. Finn told them the only way to free them was sprinkled on the floor, blood of the three kings of the Island of Torrent.

Conan Maél complained that he was hungry, and asked Díarmait to fetch food from the Palace of the Island. Reluctantly, Díarmait went to fetch food right in the heart of the enemy’s territory, while Fatha guarded the ford. Upon his return, Díarmait found Fatha had fallen asleep while he was supposed to guard the ford. Díarmait threw food at Conan through the window and pour wine into his mouth, by breaking a hole in a roof. Then Díarmait stood guard at the ford.

Having heard the news of Midac’s death, the three kings of the Island of Torrent decided to kill the defenders of the ford and those who are trap. The kings found Díarmait guarding the ford.

Fatha woke from din of combat, and was angry that Díarmait didn’t wake him. Together they fought those who tried to cross the ford. While Fatha drove back the warriors, Díarmait kill all three kings.

Remembering Finn’s instruction on how to dispel the enchantment, Díarmait beheaded the three kings. From the heads, Díarmait sprinkled blood on the floor of the palace. The enchantment was lifted, freeing Finn and his companions.

Despite freedom from the trap, they had been seriously weakened. Finn told Díarmait and Fatha that they must still defend the ford, until the other Fian warriors regain their strength. The spell that had weakened them would last until dawn, which was only a few hours away. By that time, Finn and the others should be strong enough to help.

Victory at the Ford

Borb the Haughty having heard of the fall of the three kings, gathered his warriors and headed for the Palace of the Quicken Trees. Díarmait and Fatha fought the enemy warriors, holding them at bay.

By dawn, Finn and the others had recovered their strength. Finn sent a messenger to his son Oisín at Knockfierna, about the invasion. Fierce fighting was fought at the ford. Goll, leader of the Clan Morna, killed Borb in single combat, and another head was lost.

Oisín gathered every warrior he could find and immediately marched towards the ford. On the Palace of the Island, Sinsar had also moved his army towards the ford, having heard of his son’s death.

The two armies arrived at the ford at the same time. The Fianna deployed their warriors into four battalions: Clan Baiscne, Clan Morna, the Mican-Smoil and Clan O’Navnan. A bloody battle ensued. The foreigners still outnumbered the Fianna, causing the Fian warriors to slowly retreat.

Oscar, the grandson of Finn, became angry that so many of his companions had fallen. Oscar fought his way to the king’s banner. Sinsar, the King of the World, seeing the young Fian champion, decided to meet Oscar in single combat, hoping to avenge his son’s death with that of Finn’s grandson.

Both warriors fought with great savagery, where both of them received multiple wounds from one another. Oscar then swept off the head of the King of the World. The invaders were disheartened, when they saw there king died at the hands of the young Fian champion.

The tide had once again favoured the Fianna. The Fian warriors began to pursue and slaughter their enemies. Those who had managed to escape in the rout, left Erin in their ships.

Related Information
Bruidhean Chaorthainn (“Fairy Palace of the Quicken Trees” or “Hostel of the Rowan Trees”).
Enchantment at the Hostel
Defence at the Ford
Victory at the Ford
Related Articles
Finn Mac Cumhaill, Oisín, Oscar, Díarmait, Goll Mac Morna, Conan Maél.


The Pursuit of Díarmait and Gráinne

Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne or the usual English title – “The Pursuit of Díarmait and Gráinne” was a very popular Irish romance of a love triangle that had most likely influenced the medieval romance of Tristan and Isolde of the 12th century.

Though, there has been reference to this tale in the late 12th century manuscript known as the Book of Leinster, suggesting the original tale was composed around 1100, the surviving text we have of The Pursuit of Díarmait and Gráinne was no early than the 17th century.

Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne has often been compared with earlier love triangle between Deirdre, Noísi and King Conchobar of Ulster, titled Longes mac nUislenn (The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu), which was part of the Ulster Cycle. The work on Diarmait and Grainne was considered inferior to that of the tragedy of Deirdre.


Elopement of Grainne
The Long Chase
Searbhan and the Berry Tree
Death of Diarmait
Finn and Grainne



Elopement of Grainne

At Allen (Almu), Finn Mac Cumhaill was a much older man than he was in his previous adventures, and over the years he several wives. When his last wife died, his son Oisín and his companions had one day asked Finn when he would remarry again. They thought that their Fian captain should not be wifeless.

Diorruing, one of the wisest men among Finn’s companions suggested that the most women for their leader would be Gráinne, the beautiful young daughter of Cormac Mac Airt, who was the high king of Ireland. So Finn send Oisín and Diorruing to King Cormac’s court, at Tara, to ask for the hand of the king’s daughter in marriage.

Instead of deciding for her daughter, Cormac Mac Airt asked Grainne if she wished to marry Finn. Grainne thought that she would be marrying Finn’s son Oisín or grandson Oscar, not the aging captain himself, so she agreed to the match.

Grainne was terribly disappointed when she realised her mistake when Finn arrived with his companions for a great feast in Tara. She thought that Finn was old enough to be her grandfather or great grandfather. Grainne was determined not to marry the aging Fian hero.

Grainne asked for the name of each her guest. She saw that Oisín and Díarmait ua Duibne were single, handsome and a lot younger than Finn. Grainne decided to run away with either Fian champion.

That night she administered drug into the wine of the guests, making sure that Finn and her own father would fall into drugged slumber. Only Oisín, Oscar, Diarmait, Caílte Mac Ronan and Diorruing were not drugged.

First, Grainne approached Oisín, but found that as son of Finn, he was too loyal to run away with princess that Finn was set to marry. So Grainne approached Diarmait.

Diarmait had also objected to her advance, too, because Finn was a friend and his leader. Though, he was attracted to her, he was loyal to Finn. Grainne would not relent, and she imposed the geis upon the reluctant hero that he must follow and runaway with her. Grainne would not love any other man than him so he must elope with her. Grainne left the court, and immediately wait outside in Finn’s own chariot.

Troubled by this event, Diarmait asked counsels from each of his four friends. Each companion told the confused hero that Diarmait should do as Grainne asked not only because each man thought she was beautiful, but because he was under a geis. Diorruing was even saddened by this, since he knew that Diarmait would die because the hero had come between Finn and Grainne. However, Diorruing also counselled that he should marry the princess.

So Diarmait left the court, knowing that despite that he was a friend and follower of Finn, he knew that his leader would hunt him down for the betrayal. Diarmait and Grainne fled from Tara, in Finn’s own chariot and fine horses.

They crossed the ford known as Ath Luain, leaving the chariot and horses behind, and pair fled and hid in the Wood of two Tents.



The Long Chase

When Finn and the other woke from their slumber, and realised that Diarmait had spirited off with Grainne, he was overcome with rage and jealousy. Finn immediately sent the Clan O’Navnan (Navin) to track the fleeing couple down. When they had come to the ford called Ath Luain of the river Shannon, they lost the trail when the fleeing pair left behind the chariot.

When Finn heard of this, in an unusual outburst of rage, Finn threatened to hang every member of the Clan O’Navnan (Navin). This show a darker aspect of Finn’s personality, which is different to the earlier tales of the great Fian captain, where Finn was a kind and fair hero. Jealousy was never part of Finn’s personality in his earlier adventures.

Oisín, Oscar, Caílte and Diorruing, companions to both Finn and Diarmait, were troubled by Finn’s outburst and behaviour. Despite Finn being their leader and friend, they were also determined to secretly help Diarmait whenever they can. Oisín had send his father’s own dog, Bran to warn to Diarmait to flee from the Wood of two Tents.

The trackers of Clan O’Navnan (Navin) managed to find the trail of Diarmait where they reached the Wood of two Tents. However, in this wood, Diarmait had erected a fence around him, where there were seven doorways that lead to different directions of the Woods. No one could climb over this fence, so the doorways were the only way through.

Finn arrived with the Fianna, and set seven groups to block Diarmait’s exits to prevent their escape. Finn told his followers to capture Diarmait for him. Finn also rebuked his son (Oisín) for sending warning to Diarmait.

Angus Og hearing that his foster son’s plight and trap, went to his aid. Angus could have spirited them both out of the trap without Finn or anyone realising what had happened. Diarmait insisted that he would leave on his own. So with his magic, Angus took Gráinne away to the Wood of two Sallows.

Then Diamait asked who was on the other side of each door. At five doors, Diarmait had friends on the other side, who would have assisted him to escape, but he refused their help, because he didn’t Finn’s wrath on them. However the Clan O’Navnan (Navin), who has no love for Diarmait, guarded the sixth door, and Finn guarded the seventh door.

So Diarmait escaped by pole-vaulting over the fence, which Finn guarded, and managed to escape into the wood, before anyone could stop him. Then Diarmait ran until he reached th hut in the Wood of two Sallows, where Angus and Grainne waited for him.

Angus left the pair, giving his foster son wise counsel to avoid capture.


* * *


Diarmait and Grainne travelled west until they met a friendly giant named Muadhan (Modan) at Bogach-Fhinnléithe (the Grey Moor of Finnlia). Muadhan told Diarmait that he would serve him for payment, which the hero agreed. Muadhan would protect and guard them while they slept. So the three travelled together. Whether there was a river to cross, Muadhan would carry them on his shoulders while he waded through the stream.

They were staying in the cave at the hill of Curra-Kenn-Ammid, when Diarmait encountered a host of the three sea-champions from the Iccia Sea (English Channel?). Finn had brought them here, because he couldn’t trust his own people (Fianna) to capture Diarmait. They didn’t recognise Diarmait was their quarry.

The hero informed that he knew of Diarmait, and that he was dangerous. To prove to them how dangerous Diarmait was, the hero challenged the three sea-champions what Diarmait had taught him.

On that day, he showed them his ability he had learned from Diarmait. In an empty tun (barrel) of wine, Diarmait managed to stay on the tun as it rolled down a steep cliff. Fifty men who had tried were dashed on the sharp rocks below the cliff. Then Diarmait returned to the cave where he spends the night with Grainne and Muadhan.

The next day, the hero displayed another amazing feat of Diarmait to the host of the three sea-champtions. Diarmait then vertically planted his spear Gáe Buide on the earth. Then he would leap lightly on top of the spearhead, before he leaped off it. Diarmait didn’t even receive a scratch from the sharp point. Another fifty men attempted this feat, and each of them died when the spear split them in two. The three sea-champions asked them had they seen Diarmait, and he replied that another man had seen the hero. Diarmait returned to the cave a share a meal with Grainne and Muadhan.

On the third day, the hero dared the host to try another feat. Diarmait fixed two forked poles on the ground, and placed his sword Nórralltach on them, with the edge up. Then Diarmait would leap on the sword and walk backward and forward (3 times) on the sharp blade, without receiving any cut to his feet. Fifty foolish men tried this new feat and cut themselves that day on Diarmait’s sword. Again, the three sea-champions asked them if they had seen Diarmait, and the hero replied that he has and that he will bring him tomorrow.

On the following day, Diarmait fully armed himself with his two swords and two spears. Diarmait told them that he knew of the whereabouts of Diarmait, but that he was under his protection. So the host of the three sea-champions attacked Diarmait. However, such was Diarmait’s awesome strength and speed that he slaughtered most of the host. Only a few had managed to flee back to their ships.

On the fifth day, Diarmait returned to the beach and challenged the three sea-champions, one by one. Rather than kill them, Diarmait bound each champion in iron bonds. Leaving them on the beach. The survivors of the previous day could free the three sea-champions. The three sea-champions ordered them to send for Finn Mac Cumhaill, in the hope that they would gain their freedom, while they send their hound-masters and three venomous hounds after Diarmait and Grainne.

Diarmait had left the cave with Grainne and Muadhan to the mountain of Sliab Luachra (Slieve Lougher). Here, the three venomous hounds caught up with them. The first hound was killed by Muadhan’s small hound-whelp, which crushed the venomous hound throat. Diarmait killed the second hound with his spear Gáe Derg. The last hound pursued them to Duban’s Pillar-stone. The hound leaped over Diarmait’s head to catch Grainne, but the hero caught the hound by its hind legs. Diarmait swung the hound around to dash the hound against rock. Watching this, the hound-masters fled back to their three kings.

Meanwhile, at the beach, Finn and the Fianna arrived and found the three miserable sea-champions bound together. Only Oisín, Oscar, Mac Lugha and Conan Mael could release the three sea-champions from their bonds, which they refused to do so, since they were friends of Diarmait.

At this point the three panic stricken hound-masters returned with the news that Diarmait killed their three hounds. This news caused the three sea-champions to die from distress. Finn had the three kings buried on that beach.



Searbhan and the Berry Tree

In the centre of forest of Dubros, there were magical berries from the rowan tree that could restore an old person their youth. To prevent anyone from eating the berries, the Tuatha Dé Danann had set a surly giant, named Searbhan (Sharvan) from the Lochlann, to guard the special fruit from all whom seek it. No Fian warriors were allowed to hunt in this forest.

Diarmait and Grainne, who parted company with Muadhan (Modan), entered the forest and asked Searbhan if they could live and hunt games in the forest. Searbhan only agreed, if they do not seek to eat the berries.

So Diarmait and Grainne lived a peaceful life in the forest of Dubros, but they live away from Searbhan’s own home.

One day, Angus and Aedh with fifty followers and members of Clan Morna, whose fathers had fought against Cumhaill, Finn’s father, at the Battle of Cnucha, wanted to make peace with Finn and become member of the Fianna. However, Finn imposed an eric upon them. They were either to bring the berries of the forest of Dubros or the head of Diarmait. Diarmait’s companions tried to dissuade them from such unfair undertaking, but they refused to heed their warning.

Angus and Aedh found Diarmait first. When Diarmait realised their intentions, he tried to persuade them to go home. Failing that, Diarmait easily defeated them and bound them.

Diarmait would have cut off their heads, but it was at this point that Grainne had a strong desire to eat the berries from the quicken tree. Diarmait didn’t want to quarrel with the giant Searbhan, but feared that Grainne may fetch the berries herself, if he didn’t do it.

Angus and Aedh pleaded Diarmait to release them, so they could help him to defeat Searbhan, but Diarmait went to the giant alone.

First, Diarmait tried to persuade the giant to allow his wife to eat some berries that he guarded, but Searbhan replied he would never do so. Then the giant immediately attacked the hero with his massive club.

Despite his prowess, Diarmait had problem harming the giant with his own weapons. When Diarmait saw an opening, he threw his sword and shield aside, and leaped upon Searbhan. Catching the giant off guard, Diarmait used all his might to lift and throw to the ground.

Searbhan was greatly shock of this sudden attack, lost his hold on his oversized club. Seizing this opportunity, Diarmait took the club and bashed it over Searbhan’s head. Since Diarmait could not kill the giant with his sword, he used Searbhan’s own weapon to slay the giant.

Diarmait then took some of the berries to wife. The hero also released his prisoners, giving them some berries to take to Finn Mac Cumhaill, to fulfill their eric.

Angus and Aedh returned to Finn Mac Cumhaill with the rowanberries. Though, Finn conceded that the berries indeed come from the forest of Dubros, the Fian leader also knew that Diarmait was the slayer of the giant Searbhan, not Angus and Aedh, because he could smell the hand of Diarmait on the berries. Finn refused to recognise Angus and Aedh places in the Fianna.

Knowing that Diarmait must be in the Wood of Dubros; Finn gathered the Fianna and travelled to Dubros. They found quicken tree unguarded, so Finn and his followers ate some berries.

Finn knew that Diarmait must be sitting on some branches of this quicken tree, which was true. Diarmait and Grainne were hidden from sight. So Finn had a fidchell board set up, where he played some matches against his son Oisín. Oscar and Cailte assisted Oisín in the game, since no one except Diarmait was a match against Finn, in the game of fidchell (chess).

Diarmait, who watched the game from above, couldn’t resist from aiding Oisín in the game. Diarmait directed Oisín’s moves by tossing berries at the chess-pieces.

After losing three straight matches to his son, Finn declared that Diarmait was indeed in the tree above. Despite being surrounded, Diarmait, who was never a coward, revealed himself to his enemy. Grainne seeing that they were trapped, trembled with fear. Diarmait tried to comfort his wife, by kissing her. Seeing this intimacy, inflamed Finn’s jealousy, ordered men up the trees and kills his young rival.

By this time, Angus Og saw that his foster son was trapped again. He flew to the quicken tree without letting Finn know of his presence. Garbh (Garva) of Slieve Cua, who has love for Diarmait because the hero had killed his father Donn, was the first to climb up the tree. Angus turned Garbh so that he looked like Diarmait, when Diarmait kicked him off the tree. Since Garbh had the shape of Diarmait, Finn’s hirelings butchered Garbh, before they realised they had killed the wrong man.

Another man, named Garbh (Garva), but from Slieve Crot, went up the tree to avenge his own father’s death, whom Diarmait’s father had killed. This time Angus pushed the second Garbh off the tree, but not before using his magic to transforming Garbh to look like his foster son (Diarmait). Through this illusion, Garbh of Slieve Crot was also killed by his own men.

Seven other men with also the names of Garbh went up the tree and each man was killed in the same way as the first two. At this point, Angus Og decided that it was time to take Grainne to safety. So with his magic cloak, he hid Grainne before spiriting her away from the tree.

Diarmait decided to come down from the tree, whether he die or not at Finn’s hand. Oscar, Finn’s grandson, admiring Diarmait’s courage, decided to aid his friend’s escape. Oscar being the strongest Fian warrior alive, he warned that anyone who harm Diarmait would face his wrath.

Diarmait came down and Oscar escorted the hero’s safely away through the forest. No man there was willing to confront Diarmait with Oscar at his side. Finn watched angrily, as well as helplessly as his rival escaped, because he also was unwilling to fight his own grandson.

Diarmait and Oscar found Angus and Grainne in Brugh na Bóinne (Boyne), Angus’ home.


Death of Diarmait

Angry that Diarmait had evaded his vengeance again, Finn sailed to the Land of Promise (Tir Tairngire), to speak with his old nurse. Though her name was not given in this story, the nurse was possibly Bodhmall, his aunt, and the sister of Muirenn. Bodhmall was a Danann druidess, who had raised him, but in this story she was seen as witch-hag. Since they knew that Diarmait’s foster father (Angus) magically aided him, then maybe the hero could be destroyed by magical mean.

One day while Diarmait was hunting in the forest beside the river Boyne; the hag flew through the air on a flying water-lily. As she flew past, she hurled poisoned darts that could penetrate his shield and armour. Diarmait suffered great agony where the darts struck him. With all his might, Diarmait hurled the gáe derg (red spear), which killed the hag. Diarmait returned to Brugh with the hag’s head and related to what had happened in forest to his foster father.

Angus appeared to Finn the next morning, informing him to cease his pursuit of Diarmait and make peace with them, since it was not right when Grainne was in love with Diarmait and they were married. Finn seeing that Diarmait had killed many of his men, as well as his old nurse, he was tired of the quarrel he has with Diarmait, agreed to peace.

So Angus with Cormac Mac Airt, Grainne’s father, made a formal arrangement of peace between Finn and Diarmait in Tara. As father-in-law of Diarmait, Cormac gave the cantred of Ben-Damis in Leinster to the hero. According to this version, Cormac wanted no further quarrel between the two, so he married his other daughter to Finn Mac Cumhaill. Grainne’s sister was unnamed in this version, but she was possibly Ailbe, known as Ailbe Grúadbrecc (Ailbe of the Freckled Cheeks).


So Diarmait and Grainne lived in peace at Ceis Chorainn for several years. They had four sons and a daughter. Their land became fairly prospered in cattle, herd and gold and silver. Diarmait had a fort built, which they called Rath Grainia, after Grainne.

However, they for years without visiting her father and Diarmait’s former comrades. So Grainne persuaded Diarmait to invited them to a feast, including Finn and the Fianna.

That night as the young couple and their guests slept, Diarmait was waken several times by the disturbances of the hunting hounds. Each time, Diarmait wanted to investigate the noise, but Grainne sensing treachery from Finn, managed to persuade not to leave their bed, each time.

However in the morning, Grainne couldn’t prevent her husband from not investigating what had woken him last night. Grainne also failed to persuade him to go with armour on, nor to carry his best weapons: gáe derg (red spear) and his sword nóralltach (“Great Fury”). Ignoring her warning of great danger, he instead took his sword begallta (“Little Fury”), and his yellow spear, gáe buide.

Diarmait met Finn Mac Cumhaill on a hill of Ben Bulben. Finn told Diarmait that his found track of a wild boar and advised him to leave. Diarmait replied that he was not frightened of any boar.

Finn warned him that he was under a geis not to hunt any boar, but the younger warrior wasn’t aware of such geis had been imposed upon him. So Finn told him the truth of when Diarmait was very young under the fosterage of Angus Og in Brugh.

The son of Angus’s steward was also under the foster care of Angus. The steward was named Roc. Roc happened to have slept the wife of Diarmait’s father, so the other foster son of Angus was really Diarmait’s half-brother.

One day while Finn and Diarmait’s father, possibly named Donn, was visiting Angus, Roc’s son ran in between his legs. The boy was playing with Finn’s hound. Donn, who knew that this child of his wife and Roc, was jealous that the people of Angus loved him more than his own son. So Donn broke the boy’s neck with his knees. Since the boy was playing near the hounds, Roc thought that the Finn’s hounds had killed his only child, so he would have placed a terrible eric upon Finn. But Finn told the steward he was innocent, since there were no scratches or bites that marked Roc’s son. So Roc placed a geis to find how his son had died. Left without a choice, Finn was forced to place his magic thumb in his mouth (ie. thumb of wisdom; see Training of Finn about the Salmon of Knowledge), to learn what had taken place. Then Finn reluctantly told the steward that Donn had murdered his son.

When Roc discovered that Donn had murdered his son, the steward foretold that Diarmait would die at his son’s hand. Roc tapped his wand on his dead son, reviving him, but transforming his son into a wild boar. The boar was invulnerable to all spears and swords. This boar would hunt for Diarmait in Ben Bulben.

Finn warned Diarmait that he was certain that this very boar was Roc’s son, so it was best to leave the boar alone. The boar had already killed a number of his men and hounds.

According to the whole story, it hinted that Finn had deliberately driven the boar to where Diarmait would break his geis. Which proved that Finn had never forgiven Diarmait for taking Grainne from him. Since he can’t kill Diarmait then he would force Diarmait to meet his destiny; Diarmait’s unavoidable doom.

Diarmait refused to leave the hill and was determined to meet his fate. Diarmait asked for Finn’s assistance – the use of Finn’s hound to assist his own hound, Mac-an-choill. Finn refused the request.

Finn left Diarmait’s when he saw the boar’s approach. Diarmait’s hound fled in terror, because of its great size.

Diarmait hurled his yellow spear at the boar. Though his aim was accurate, the gáe buide dropped harmlessly on the ground after it struck the boar in the forehead. The mighty spear didn’t even scratch the wild boar. Diarmait realised that he should have heeded his wife’s warning. Diarmait drew begallta (his sword) from his sheath, as he waited for the boar relentless charge.

Diarmait struck a mighty blow upon the boar’s neck, but the hero was left holding the hilt as the blade shattered. The boar crashed into unarmed warrior, slashing deep wounds into Diarmait’s sides with his bloody tusks. Dying, Diarmait flung his bladeless hilt at the head of wild boar. The hilt broke the boar’s skull and penetrated the brain, thereby killing Roc’s son (boar) – Diarmait’s own half-brother.

Finn came to his fallen rival and gloated that no woman would ever admire his beauty. Diarmait had asked Finn to heal him, because he had rescued Finn and the Fianna on a number of occasions in the past. Oisín and Oscar also pleaded with Finn to save him. Diarmait knew very well that Finn could heal him by allowing him to drink water from Finn’s hands.

Finn reluctantly fetches the water for his rival from a stream that was only nine paces from where Diarmait lay mortally wounded. But as Finn returned to Diarmait with water in his cupped hands, he recalled his rival running away with Grainne. His memory inflamed his jealousy, so he allowed the water to slip through his fingers.

Diarmait saw Finn’s action with great anguished. Diarmait and his companions pleaded with Finn to save him. Diarmait told the Fian captain that he had no choice but to elope with her, since she had imposed a geis upon him. But Finn spilled the water when his jealousy overcame him again, before Diarmait could drink from his hands.

Oscar seeing that Finn was deliberately allowing his friend to die, threatened his own grandfather that he will not allow him to leave the heal alive, if Finn doesn’t save Diarmait.

The aging Fian captain feared his grandson’s wrath fetch the water a third time, but this time he was too late. Diarmait died from his fatal wounds. Of all Diarmait’s companions, only Finn didn’t mourn for Diarmait.

Angus Og knew that his favourite foster son had died as his steward had proclaimed in his geis. Angus Og came upon the hill, overcome with grief. Rather than allowed the Fianna to bury him, he took the Diarmait’s body back to Brugh with him, to preserve the body, so that he occasionally instill a soul into the body, which will allow him to talk to Diarmait.

News arrived to Grainne of her husband’s death. Though she was overcome with grief over the loss of her husband, she was pleased to hear that Angus had taken Diarmait’s body.



Finn and Grainne

The version here, the tale ended with Diarmait’s death and Angus retrieving the body. There are however other versions that continued the tale with Grainne and Finn. The problem with these other versions is that the endings were cynical and mocking, or sentimental to the point of being coy.

According to one of these other versions, Grainne had four sons and a daughter by her husband. Grainne was determined to gain revenge, by using her sons. While in another version, she died not long after from broken heart.

Here, in yet another version, Finn was not married to Grainne’s sister. Finn continued to woo now that his rival and former companion was dead. At first, Grainne scornfully rebuked the leader of the Fianna.

Finally, Grainne relented from Finn’s persistent sweet words. As Finn drove his chariot to his hill-fort at Allen with Grainne at his side, the men of Fianna mockingly laughed at Finn’s new bride.

Grainne felt embarrassment and shame. She finally forgave Finn, and they were married at last. It seemed that Grainne was Finn’s last wife before he died.

Related Information
Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmait and Gráinne), c. 17th century
Elopement of Grainne
The Long Chase
Searbhan and the Berry Tree
Uneasy Reconciliation
Death of Diarmait
Finn and Grainne
Related Articles
Díarmait, Gráinne, Finn Mac Cumhaill, Oisín, Oscar, Caílte Mac Ronan, Diorruing, Cormac Mac Airt.


Battle of Gabhra

When Cairbre, son of Cormac Mac Airt, became high king of Ireland, he wanted to break the power of the Fianna. Cairbre believed that the Fianna had become too powerful and arrogant.

Cairbre had accepted the marriage between Sgeimhsholas, his daughter, and Maolsheachlainn O’Faolain, a prince. Finn demanded from the high king that he must allow him to sleep with Cairbre’s daughter before the marriage take place, or pay a large tribute to the Fianna.

Cairbre conspired with provincial kings from Ulster and Leinster, to destroy or disband the Fianna. He raised a huge army to face the Fianna. Munster was the only province to support the Fianna.

It was Cairbre who provoked the war with the Fianna by killing Ferdia, the servant of Finn Mac Cumhaill.

There was also split among the Fianna. Once again, Goll Mac Morna opposed the Clan Baiscne, siding with the high king.

The battle took place at Gabhra, in Leinster. Fierce fighting erupted, with the Fianna; the Fianna were heavily outnumbered. Cairbre and Oscar, the son of Oisín, fought in a single combat, where Oscar killed the king. Oscar was also dying, when his father found him covered with countless wounds. Weeping, Oisín and Caílte bore Oscar’s body away.

According to this tale (Cath Gabhra or “The Battle of Gabhair”), five warriors murdered Finn at Garristown (Gabhra). While in the Aided Finn (The Violent Death of Finn), Aichlech Mac Dubdrenn killed Finn in battle at Ath Brea (Ford of Brea).

Casualties were extremely high on both sides, however, only twenty Fian warriors survived the battle. The Fianna was defeated and the power of the Fianna was broken in Ireland.

Caílte Mac Ronan and Oisín were the only two surviving heroes of the Fianna.

Related Information
Cath Gabhra (The Battle of Gabhair / Gowra).
Aided Finn (The Violent Death of Finn).
Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Ancients).
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Oisín, Oscar, Caílte Mac Ronan, Goll Mac Morna, Cairbre.


Colloquy of the Ancients

Also known as The Interrogation of the Old Men (Acallam na Senórach), the story told how the heroes Caílte Mac Ronan and Oisín, the son of Finn, met St Patrick. Though it was probably first composed in 1200, Acallam na Senórach survived only in the 16th century manuscript, known as the Book of Dean Lismore.

Caílte and Oisín were only two heroes who survived the Battle of Gabhra. They emerged from the woods of the Fews Mountains; each hero accompanied by nine old warriors. They decided to part company after visiting Finn’s nurse, Cáma. Oisín set out to visit his mother Blai, daughter of Derg Díanscothach (Quick of Speech), at the Sid of the Breast of Cleitech, in Co. Meath.

In his journey, Caílte decided to stop by Finn’s burial mound. There the hero encountered St Patrick and his followers. The priests were frightened by the strange appearance of these warriors with huge hounds. Patrick sprinkled holy water on these warriors, exorcising the demons from them.

Patrick was seeking pure water to baptise the people. Caílte decided to accompany Patrick in his missionary throughout Ireland. At each dun, road, woods, and river they pass by, Caílte told of the brave deeds of his former comrades that took place in each place. Some of the adventures involved battle, the great hunt and feast. There are even a few adventures involving journey to the Otherworld. At first Patrick, cringed at Caílte’s pagan history; but two angels appeared one night, telling him to have them recorded. St Patrick had two of his priest to act as scribes, faithfully recording the pagan adventure of the Fianna.

Finally, they arrived in Tara and met Oisín. Diarmait Mac Cerbaill was high king at the time, where he was holding a feast known at the Great Fair of Tara (Feis Temrach). Both heroes told Patrick more adventures of Finn and their former Fian comrades.


The numbers of adventures are too many to list here, so I decided to leave them out.

Unfortunately, the narrative was incomplete.

Related Information
Acallam na Senórach – “Colloquy of the Ancients”.
Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Ancients) composed in c. 1200, is found in the Book of the Dean Lismore (16th century).
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Caílte Mac Ronan, Oisín, St Patrick.

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