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Irish Myths & Legends

Irish story telling is an ancient art that is still practiced to this day. For many years stories were not written down, instead they were passed down through the generations by word of mouth. A huge wealth of knowledge was actually passed this way. Below are two of our favourite old Irish fables: Fionn Mac Cumhaill & The Giants Causeway and Oisin of Tir na N’Og.

Fionn Mac Cumhaill & The Giants Causeway

Story goes that the giant Fionn MacCunhaill who lived on the North Antrim coast had a quarrel with another giant. His adversary was the Scottish giant Benandonner, who lived just across the water in Scotland. Fionn decided he wanted to take the fight to Benandonner. As there was no boat big enough to carry him across the straight he decided to build a crossing. So for 6 days without rest he laid stones across the water to Scotland. The work was exhausting and eventually he fell asleep on the Causeway.

He was awoken suddenly by the loud footsteps of Benandonner approaching. To his horror he realized that Bendonner was actually twice his size. In his fear Fionn fled home to his wife Oonagh. In order to fool Benandonner, his wife wrapped him up in blankets as if he was a baby and lay him in a giant cradle. Shortly Benandonner arrived and Oonagh welcomed him in. She informed him that Fionn was out hunting and he could wait for he by the fireside if he didn’t wake the baby. When he saw the size of the baby he could only conclude Fionn must be huge! In fear he fled and ran back across the Causeway, tearing it up to prevent Fionn from following him. What is left today is the remains of that torn Causeway to Scotland.

 

Oisin of Tir na N’og- (Oisin in the Land of the Young)

Oisin who was a warrior with the Fianna (a band of ancient Irish warriors) was out hunting one day. He came to the shore of Lough Leane in Killarney, Co. Kerry. Suddenly a beautiful blonde woman appeared from the lake mist. Her name was Niamh Cinn Lir (Niamh of the Golden Hair). She invited Oisin to return home with her. Her home was under the waters of the lake, and was called Tir na N’og (the land of the young). In Tir na N’og she told him “nobody grew old or got sick and it was eternally spring time”. Oisin fell in love with Niamh, and agreed to follow her to Tir na N’og. When they got there everything was as she promised, and they both lived happily together.

After three years Oisin feeling home-sick, wished to return home to the “land of mortals”. Niamh was reluctant to let him go, as 300 years had actually passed in Oisin’s homeland, and Oisin would be unable to survive there. However seeing how much he wished to return she agreed. “Take my magical horse, but never get off the horse, or you will never be able to return to Tir na Nog” she warned. Bidding his love farewell, he mounted the horse and headed back to the land he came from.

Landing on the shore of Lough Leane, he quickly realized a lot had changed in 300 years. St Patrick had come to Ireland and had spread Christianity, and many churches dotted the landscape. To his great sorrow, the mighty Fianna were no more. While travelling the lands he once knew, he came across some old men trying to move a rock. Oisin who was know for his great strength agreed to help. He leant down from his horse when suddenly his stirrup broke. Falling to the ground he immediately became on old frail man. Oisin died soon after, but not before recalling the stories of the great warriors the Fianna and of the magical lands of Tir na N’og. To this day these stories live on.

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