THE SALMON OF KNOWLEDGE

Fionn was a member of na Fianna – which was founded by Cormac Mac Art. Fionn’s original name was Demna, but because of the fair colour of his hair, he was always called Fionn – which, in Irish, means ‘fair’. In order to understand the story properly, the background must be explained in brief. Before Fionn grew to be an adult, his father, Cumhall, was the leader of the Fianna, (who was the son of Cormac). He was killed in the battle of Knock (Co. Mayo, in the west of Ireland) and his Mother ran away after the battle while still pregnant with Fionn. When Fionn came of age, he had an urge to gain revenge on the Clan Morna – which were the group or tribe who killed him.

But when Fionn was just a very young boy, his mother, fearing for his life, sent him to a druid, Finnegas, for education in many subjects and also to train to become a warrior. It is said that Fionn needed to gain all the knowledge and wisdom he could to better serve his people for when he would become leader of na Fianna.

According to Irish mythology, there was only one creature which was wiser than man, and that was the Salmon of Knowledge. It is said that a druid had foretold of this salmon, who once had been a normal salmon, but had eaten nine hazelnuts from nine of the hazlenut trees that had fallen into the well of wisdom and had gained all the knowledge in the world, and that the first person to taste this salmon would inherit its wisdom and foresight. Finnegas, although very learned and wise already, had dedicated his own life to catching this salmon, which, was said to have swam in the river Boyne, which runs through Co. Kildare, Co. Meath and Co. Louth, all in the province of Leinster. He lived on the banks of the Boyne, and after seven years trying to catch the salmon, one day he managed to snatch it up into a net. He was absolutely overjoyed but a wave of exhaustion came over him after all the time and energy he had put into catching it. He was also quite happy and proud for his apprentice, Fionn, to have witnessed such a feat.

He began to cook the salmon over a small fire and asked Fionn to keep an eye on it and to keep it turned while he took a small rest. He also warned Fionn not to dare eat the salmon, for he feared the consequences of someone else tasting the salmon first. So, Fionn, obediently kept watch over the salmon while Finnegas took his nap. As we all know, the skin on salmon becomes quite blistery when exposed to heat. If you can imagine a salmon hanging over a small fire cooking slowly, and being turned, a blister began to form on the fish, which Fionn noticed, and reached out with his thumb to burst it. The heat of the blister immediately caused Fionn to put his thumb in his mouth to ease the pain.

He thought nothing more of this and continued to cook the salmon. He decided to prepare the entire meal for Finnegas for when he would wake up he would have no preparation to do. When Finnegas awoke from his nap, he approached Fionn. He noticed a fire in Fionn’s eyes immediately and demanded to know if Fionn had tasted the salmon. Fionn denied it and promised the druid that he had not betrayed his trust. It was at that moment that Finnegas noticed a small burn on Fionn’s thumb. He asked what happened and Fionn told him honestly that he had burst a blister on the salmon’s skin. Finnegas was outraged and shouted ‘you now hold all the knowledge!!!’, to which Fionn replied in fear ‘no I don’t, my finger was a little sore that’s all, I promise I didn’t’. It was at that moment that Finnegas realised Fionn hadn’t intentionally tasted the fish. He told Fionn to place his thumb into his mouth once more, and when Fionn did this, all the knowledge in the world began to swim into his young mind. He realised within a matter of seconds that any question he had ever wondered about, he now knew the answer to.

Finnegas was heartbroken, but also knew that his work as a druid was now finished with the young man of na Fianna. It was only from that moment that he called the boy Fionn. He had always used the boy’s original name, Demna, but now that he was enlightened, he thought Fionn was more fitting to the boy’s newfound wisdom. He sent Fionn on his way, as there was no more he could teach him and Fionn grew to be a renowned poet, warrior, and leader of Na Fianna. He was also said to have been a gifted harper, fancy that! That is just one of the many stories about Fionn’s boyhood adventures.