Conn Céchathach was the high king, who established the Fianna. A member of the Fianna was a select and elite warrior and could, in theory, come from any clan in Ireland. However only two clans truly ruled the Fianna; most leaders of the Fianna were chosen from these two clans - Clan Baisce of Leinster and Clan Morna of Connacht. The Fianna was under the leadership of the Fianna captain, known as the rígfhéinnid. Sometimes the Fian captain was called a king.
Apart from Baisce and Morna three other clans can be found in legends: the Mican-Smoil, Clan O'Navnan and Clan Ronain.
Eventually the high king Cairbe became jealous and destroyed the Fianna at the Battle of Gabhra.
To join the Fianna a prospective member had to perform a series of tests to prove his worth. One of the tests was to run through a forest without breaking a single twig or leaving a footprint. Another was to be buried up to your waist in a hole and then have to fight off, with a blackthorn stick, six Fianna warriors. As you can see it was difficult to get in, and probably more difficult to stay alive.
Members of The Fianna
Here are some of the more famous members of the Fianna.
One-time captain of the Fianna and chieftain of Clan Baisce. Cumhaill (Cumhall or Cool) was the son of Trenmor and a direct descendant of Baisce himself; he was also the brother of Crimmal.
He married Muirenn, and with her had his famous son Finn (or Fionn).
He was eventually killed by Goll, Liah and his father-in-law Tadhg, at the Clan Battle at Knock. Tadhg used magic to confuse him and Goll attacked him. He, however, fought off Goll taking one of his eyes before being killed by Lia lord of Luachar.
The brother of Cumhaill, Crimmal was one of the survivors when Clan Morna defeated Clan Baisce at Knock. He also became a steadfast supporter of Finn, his nephew, when he wanted to become the leader of the Clan Baisce.
Finn Mac Cumhaill
The greatest Fianna warrior ever. He was the son of Cumhaill but was born after he died and after his clan was defeated at Knock. His mother, along with two nurses, fled to a forest called Slieve Bloom. Muiren named him Demna, but one nurse called him Finn, meaning 'the Fair One'. He grew up in the care of the nurses.
His life of relative peace came to an end when he accidentally ate the Salmon of Knowledge. He was helping an old poet who had been hunting the fish his whole life. He was frying it while the old man slept, a blister appeared on the skin of the fish and Finn, wanting it to be perfect for the old man, burst it with his thumb, but he burned his thumb and automatically sucked it. In that instant he gained all the knowledge in the world and was able to see a limited view of the future. Whenever he needed his wisdom he would suck his thumb and it is said that before his first battle with Clan Morna he had sucked the skin from his hand.
He became the leader of the Fianna when he saved Tara from its annual burning from a goblin.
He had a pair of hounds called Bran and Sceolang; the mother of the hounds was a Danann woman called Uirn, who had been transformed into a she-dog while she was pregnant. She was an aunt to Finn, so his dogs were his cousins. Sometimes Finn has another hound named Lomair or Adnúail.
Finn married a woman named Sadb, a hind-woman, whom a Dark Druid loved. He abducted her and Finn never saw her again,but he did find their son named Oisín
Finn had several wives and lovers and had several sons. One, called Lugach, would be the father of the Fiannan warrior Mac Lugach. Finn blessed his grandson and named him Gaine ('Blessing').
As he grew older he became less of an ideal and romantic hero. He became a recluse and even a bit of a coward. There are several accounts of his death. There is even one where he didn't die and lies asleep under Tara waiting for the day of Ireland's greatest need.
He was the son of Finn and Sadb. He was probably the only warrior who was nearly as wise as Finn and has several great deeds to his name.
In one tale Oisín, while hunting with his father, saw a beautiful deer. He and his father hunted it from one end of Ireland to the other. Eventually they came to the sea and the deer transformed itself into a beautiful woman with a crown of coral. She told him she was the queen of Tír Na nÓg and that he was picked as her king as she had fallen in love with him. Mesmerised by her beauty, he went with her across the ocean, against his father's advice, to the land of Tír Na nÓg. He spent a year there and was extremely happy, but eventually he missed his father and asked if he could return to Ireland for one day so he could give his father a proper goodbye. Three times he was refused, but eventually the queen gave him a horse, warning him not to touch the ground of Ireland.
He came to Ireland and found that the men were different; they were all well short of the nine-feet-high people Oisín remembered. He came upon four of these men who were struggling with a rock which Oisín could lift with one hand. As he leaned over on his horse his saddle broke and he was thrown on the ground. The very instant he touched the ground he aged a great deal. He asked the men to take him to his father Finn, but they laughed and said that Finn had been dead for three hundred years. Eventually, St Patrick would find out about Oisín and record all his tails about the Fianna, then he would baptise the hero before he died.
Oscar was Oisín's son and Finn's grandson. He was the strongest and fiercest fighter in the Fianna. He is mentioned in the battle roll of several battles and is reputed to have cut off the head of Sinsar, the king of the world.
When the Fianna were defeated at the Battle of Gabhra, Oscar killed the high king in single combat, but he was also mortally wounded.
Diarmaid was the son of Donn. He was the warrior and companion of Finn.
As a Fian warrior he received several great weapons from the sea god Manann´n Mac Lír and his stepfather Angus Óg. He used the Gaé Dearg, 'Red Spear' and his sword Nóralltach, 'Great Fury', for adventures which were a matter of life and death. He also had the smaller 'Yellow Spear', Gae Buíde, and a sword named Begallta, 'Little Fury', for lesser adventure.
He is a great tragic hero and his tragic story is told in Diarmaid and Gráinne. Here is a greatly shortened version: Grainne was betrothed to Finn, but she fell in love with Diarmaid, but Diarmaid refused her advances until she placed a geis2 on him. He then had no choice but to elope with her. Finn attempted to hunt them down. They lived in hiding for sixteen years, in which time Diarmaid had several adventures, until Finn was persuaded to make peace with them. However, Finn never truly forgave Diarmaid and always resented him. One day Finn heard that Diarmaid's half brother, who was a boar, had sworn to kill Diarmaid. Finn persuaded Diarmaid to go hunting with him. He was mortally wounded by the boar and Finn, who carried magic healing water, allowed the water to slip through his hands. Gráinne swore revenge and told Finn that one of her sons would kill him; Finn, however, managed to persuade her to marry him and Gráinne felt ashamed when the Fian warriors mocked her. She eventually made her peace with Finn.
Conn of The One Eye
Conn was a cycloptic-type warrior with tremendously powerful eyesight. While standing beside the Irish sea near Dublin, he accidentally saw an army gathering in France to invade Ireland. This led to several other adventures.
Diorruing of The Fore
Diorruing was a warrior gifted with clairvoyance. He was the son of Dobar Ua Baíscne. He was also a very close friend of Finn, becoming his advisor, advising him to marry Gráinne.
The History Behind The Fianna
The stories about the Fianna are myths and didn't take place, but then again, perhaps there may be a grain of truth to them.
In ancient Celtic society war bands were often gathered and high kings would gather the elite of the elite and their trusted advisors around them. Some of the stories often contained traces of historical fact. In several of them we hear of warriors straightening their swords with their teeth after a fight, and this slightly echoes the writings of the Roman Polybius who said:
Celtic swords are only good for a cut a thrust. From the way they are made only the first cut takes effect. After this they are so bent that unless the man rests them on the ground and set them straight with a foot, the second blow is quite useless.
The Celts would also bleach their hair white, even if the majority were blonde already. The fact that Finn was named Finn or 'Fair One' probably means he had white hair. This could mean he was albino and thus revered in Celtic society, and he would have been automatically considered 'touched by the gods'.
We also know that Tara, the seat of the high kings, was burned several times, more than likely not by a Goblin, but perhaps because Finn had defeated an army that had been trying to raise Tara.