Fer (Fer Fi) To Fynnodderee (Celtic mythology and folklore)

Fer (Fer Fi)

Irish hero. Possibly originally a god, this magical harper of munster played so beautifully that no one who heard him could resist responding; if he played a sad song, all wept; a happy song, and all would laugh with joy; a lullaby, and everyone would fall sound asleep.

He unwittingly caused the enmity between the foster brothers lugaidh mac Conn and eogan when they overheard him practicing outdoors and fell to disputing at whose court he should play. That argument led to a bitter feud that ended with Eogan’s death. Fer ^ in the meantime, became the father of two important fairy queens of Munster, aine and her twin sister grain, suggesting that he was a fairy king or diminished god himself.

He was described, in the region around the magically important lough gur in Co. Limerick, as a red-haired dwarf and brother of Aine. He played suantraighe, "sleep music," on his three-stringed harp, which put not only people but the world to sleep, so that the springs that fed Lough Gur froze up and looked like stones beneath the glassy surface. He could also play gentraighe, "laughter music," melodies so light that those who heard them burst into delighted laughter.


Cosmological concept. To people who live close to the land, the question of fertility is the most compelling one they face. Should the land grow sterile, should the herds grow barren, should the rivers not run flush with fish, death from starvation can soon follow. The Irish linked the fertility of the land to the king’s righteousness; they believed that if the king behaved generously and honorably, the goddess of the land’s sovereignty, the king’s spouse, would be happy and bear abundantly. Fertility was thus neither in the domain of the feminine nor of the masculine but existed in the balance struck between them. Among the continental Celts, images of abundance—the cornucopia and the egg—are found with both gods and goddesses.

Fetch (feach)

Scottish and Irish folkloric figure. Each of us was thought to have a kind of detachable aura, like a shell, around us. It looked exactly like us and could wander like a ghost in places distant from our bodies. Encountering one’s fetch had various meanings: If you met yourself in the morning, it meant good luck was coming; but if you ran into your exact image in the evening or near a graveyard, death was on the way. Those with second sight could see the fetches of other people as well as their own. The fetch was apparently distinct from the co-walker, which could be a fairy or ghost rather than an aura.


Irish goddess. This obscure member of the magical race, the tuatha de danann, was a gifted musician.


Welsh heroine or goddess. This obscure figure appears in the Welsh triads as the beloved of the hero caswallawn, who fought with Julius Caesar for her hand. Her name suggests that she may be related to the flower-maiden blodeuwedd; the contention of two rulers points to a connection to the goddess of sovereignty; but Fflur’s legend and its meaning are virtually lost.

Fiacclach mac

Conchinn (Fiacail, Fiachu mac Conga) Irish hero. The vigorous foster father of the Irish hero fionn mac cumhaill, Fiacclach provided Fionn a magical sword that never missed its mark.


Irish hero. Common in Irish mythology, possibly meaning "raven," this name borne mostly by minor heroes. The exceptions are:

• Fiachna of MUNSTER, an incestuous king who fathered a son on his daughter mugain.

• Fiachna mac Baetain, whose wife cantigern bought a victory for him by sleeping with the sea god, manannan mac lir, who so desired her that he arranged for Fiachna to win the battle in return for his wife’s favors. This Fiachna may be a historical king, though his genealogical background— he was thought to have been conceived parthenogenetically by his mother—suggests a divinity or totem ancestor. • Fiachna mac Daire, to whom a worm spoke when he snagged it while fishing in Cuailnge, in the northern province of ulster. The miraculous talking worm made an odd prediction: that war would be waged over a bull from the region. Unlikely as the prediction seemed, the worm had reason to know its truth, because it was the reincarnated soul of a swineherd who would later take the shape of the great Brown Bull, donn cuailnge. This bull would become the object of the cattle raid launched by queen medb in connacht, who had been advised by another worm (the swineherd’s most bitter enemy, who would become the White Bull of Connacht, finnbennach) to marry ailill mac Mata, thus setting the stage for the epic battle between the two bulls.


Irish hero. Several minor mythological characters have this name, most notably one of the doomed children of lir.


Irish goddess. Goddess of the River Feale, which empties into the great Shannon and which bears her name, Fial was a typical Celtic river goddess, associated not only with the water but with the entire watershed, thus being a divinity of fertility and abundance. The name is also given to the daughter of the goddess macha, who died giving birth to Fial and her twin brother Fall.

Fianna (Fenians, Fiana)

Irish heroes. Although the name is used generically to refer to any group of armed warriors wandering the Irish countryside (and thus used of revolutionaries in several eras), the usual mythological reference is to the group that served under the leadership of the great hero fionn mac cumhaill. The stories of the fenian cycle are among the best known of Ireland’s ancient tales.

There may be an historical aspect to the stories, for there were indeed such roving bands who made their skills and weapons available to various kings. They were not exactly mercenaries, although they certainly required payment for their services, sometimes taken in booty from those they defeated, for they were fiercely loyal to their chosen king and did not readily change sides. Texts indicate that such bands found a place in Irish society in the early Middle Ages and may well have existed before then. Not tied to a single tuath or kingdom, these fianna seem to have fought to keep invaders like the Vikings out of Ireland. The rough-hewn social organization seems to have disappeared by the time of the Normans’ arrival in the 12th century.

Standing on the outskirts of society, the fianna were a meritocracy, with membership based upon skill and strength rather than noble blood or wealth. Thus the fianna can be seen as a means of social advancement for those who possessed the requisite abilities. Such raw talent was shaped into warriors through an exhausting boot-camp or initiation. The applicant was, for instance, placed in a deep hole and given a shield; the members of the fianna then threw spears from which a less-than-able applicant could suffer dire wounds—or worse. The applicant would be chased through the woods and, if caught, wounded as well as rejected for membership. On top of all this, the new member was expected to be a poet, able to thrill the fianna with compositions and recitations.

Women were not excluded from the fianna, although more typically the warriors are said to have been men. There are stories of warrior women like Creidne and erc, both members of Fionn’s Fianna, as well as other women who fought solo rather than with a band of warriors. That there is some likely historical referent for such figures can be found in Roman writers who deplored the fact that Celtic women fought alongside their men.

Thus it is possible to see the Fenian Cycle as glamorizing the exploits of an exemplary band of warriors, living in the wildwood, ready to fight for the sake of glory, to avenge an insult or to protect Ireland’s high king. These tales are among the most continually popular of Irish myths and include not only tales of glory but also romances like the story of etain, reborn to rejoin her fated lover midir, as well as poetic philosophies like the story of oisin the bard, stolen away from earth by a fairy queen, who later returns to a world from which paganism had been driven.


Irish game. This ancient game was rather like today’s cribbage, in which pegs (probably of wood, as the name means "wood wisdom") were moved about a board. Fidchell also apparently resembled chess in being a game of strategy whose intention was the taking of the opponent’s pieces. No examples of the game-board have been found, but the game appears frequently in mythology, most memorably in the wager by the fairy king midir against the king of tara, eochaid Airem, with the queen etain as the prize.


Scottish folkloric figure. This Highland siren figure lured handsome young men into lakes and ponds, then drowned them; she is a species of VOUGH.


Irish heroine. One of the wise women who reared the hero fionn mac cumhaill, she plays a minor role in the cycle of stories devoted to him.

Figgy Dowdy (Madge Figgy)

Cornish folkloric figure. In Cornwall old tradition uses this name for the spirit of a holy well at Carn Marth, where dolls were baptized in an unusual ritual. As most such places were originally ruled by goddesses, some find in Figgy Dowdy’s peculiar name a misapprehension of the Cornish words for "the reaper goddess" or "the good goddess of the scythe." She may be related to the legendary witch madgy figgy.

Fili (file; pl., filid, filidh)

Celtic social role. In early Ireland poets, or filid, were highly trained members of a hierarchical profession with seven levels, of which the ollam was the highest. Families of filid, like the O Daillaighs of Co. Clare, organized schools and trained their kin and other apprentices in demanding, rigorous memorization. Hundreds of pieces had to be memorized before a new composition was attempted; in addition, there were techniques of divination to learn as well as other magical rituals. It can be hard to distinguish the fili from the BREHON, or lawyer, and the bard, or singer, as there is some overlap among their fields; similarly, in very early times the druid and fili were interchangeable, for poetry was believed to be a magical art. No more clear a connection between them can be found than the position of satire, whose stinging words were demanded of the poet whenever a king needed to be chastened. The magic of the fili’s words would disfigure the wrongheaded king, thus causing him to lose his right to rule (see blemished king). As Celtic Ireland waned, the power of the poets became more mundane; they attached themselves to powerful chieftains whose praises they sung. Even after the great poetic schools had ceased to function, the status of the poet remained high, as it does in Celtic lands today.


Irish divinity. This word, which means "white," appears in the names of many mythological figures and folkloric heroes. There is some evidence of an early divinity by this name, possibly a god who prefigures the hero fionn mac cumhaill or a goddess related to boand, the white cow goddess whose name is carried by the River Boyne. The geographer Ptolemy, in the second century c.e., spoke of a divinity called Bouvinda, whose name is cognate with the magical cow bo find, who is in turn possibly an aspect of Boand. It is unclear whether this word is a name or a title, and whether it refers to a specific figure or to the radiant nature of divinity itself.

Findchoem (Finnchaem, Fionnchaomh)

Irish heroine or goddess. Like other Irish mythological women, Findchoem chose an unusual way to conceive: When she found a worm in a glass of water from a holy well, she drank the water down, worm and all, in the hopes that she would conceive a hero. She did, bearing the hero conall Cernach; but her foster son cuchu-lainn was even more powerful. Such unnatural conception is found in other lands as well, for example in mythological stories of ancestral mothers of Chinese dynasties, and may reflect a period when lineage was traced through the mother. Evidence of such matriliny is found in much early Irish mythological material, with several kings bearing their mother’s names; ailill mac Mata of connacht, named for his mother, the obscure Mata; and the king of ulster, concobar mac nessa, named for his mother nessa—who was also Findchoem’s mother. Findchoem herself may be a double of her own mother, who conceived in exactly the same fashion. Such duplication is common in Irish and other Celtic mythology.

Findias (Finias, Findrias)

Irish mythological site. A mysterious city of the magical tuatha de danann, it was ruled by a master of wisdom named uscias. The unerring sword of king nuada came from Findias.

Fine (derbfine)

Irish social role. The "kin group," or fine, was a major form of social organization in ancient Ireland. Those who were descendants of the same great-grandfather, called derbfine or "true kin," shared land that could not be sold by any member without the consent of the others; less closely related people constituted the fine. The individual was responsible to the group for his good behavior, since the entire kin group was held responsible for any ERIC or honor price due for the injury or killing of a member of another kin group. Conversely, if a member of the fine was killed or injured, the whole group shared in the honor price, which was usually paid in cows. Heads of kin groups, chosen by election, negotiated for the group and represented them in public gatherings.


Irish hero. Common in Irish narratives, Fmgein is the name of several significant healers and some minor kings.


Irish hero. This name, which like find means "white" or "fair" and refers to wisdom rather than skin tone, was a common name for heroes both male and female; it is a variant of the name given to the greatest of Irish heroes, fionn mac cumhaill. The most prominent Finns were the three identically named triplet brothers who were known as the Three Finns of Emain Macha or Tri Finn Emna, despite their given names of Bres, Nar, and Lothar. Together they impregnated their sister-lover, clothra of connacht, with a son who was born with red stripes dividing the portions of his body inherited from each of his fathers. They then took up arms against their father, king eochaid Fedlech of tara, but were defeated by him, whereupon he died of sorrow at their loss.

Finnabair (Findabar, Fionnuir)

Irish heroine or goddess. The beautiful daughter of medb of connacht may be a double of that goddess-queen, for she has many of the same qualities, including a steely sense of her own worth. She loved the hero fraech and agreed to a tryst with him on an island surrounded by a deep pool. Fraech, swimming naked out to her, had to fight off a fierce sea-monster, which attempted to remove that which would have made their tryst enjoyable. Despite his bravery and his desire for Finnabair, Fraech could not fulfill the dowry demands of Medb and ailill mac Mata, her parents, who coveted the cattle of the other-world that were part of Fraech’s fortune. Many adventures ensued before Finnabair and her lover were united. They were soon parted again when the girl was captured and dragged to a fortress in the Alps, from which Fraech freed her.

During the cattle raid on the northern province of ulster, recorded in detail in the epic TAIN BO CUAILNGE, Medb offered Finnabair to various warriors in return for their willingness to fight against the hero cuchulainn, who was single-handedly holding off the Connacht army. Like other heroes, Fraech took up the challenge; like other heroes, Fraech was killed. Finnabair then died of a broken heart. This heroine is very likely a diminished goddess, as are others who share the name—guinevere in the Arthurian cycle, as well as the Welsh heroine Gwenhwyfar and the Cornish Jennifer.

Finnbennach (Findbennach, Fionn Bhean-nach)

Irish mythological beast. This splendid white-horned bull began his existence as a swineherd named rucht, who served a man called Ochall Ochne and who argued constantly with another swineherd, friuch. Their enmity was so deep-seated that every time they died, they were reborn as enemies. They were ravens, fighting in the air; they were stags, fighting in the woodlands. Finally they were reborn as water-worms in different streams and in distant parts of Ireland. It was difficult for them to wage war upon each other in this lowly form, to say nothing of the miles between them. So they set about preparing to continue their warfare in another incarnation. Rucht whispered to queen medb of connacht that she should wed ailill mac Mata; Friuch similarly whispered to the king of Cuailnge that he should prepare for war that would be waged over a bull. Then the two worms wriggled themselves into position to be drunk up by two cows, thus impregnating them so that they could both be reborn as bulls.

The reborn swineherd became the most magnificent bull in Connacht. Born into Medb’s herd, he felt it beneath him to be owned by a woman and thus joined her husband Ailill’s, making him one bull richer than she was. As this dramatically altered her legal relationship with Ailill, Medb set about finding a bull as superb as Finnbennach, locating the other reborn swineherd in the powerful body of the brown bull donn cuailnge of ulster. Medb’s cattle raid finally brought together the bitter enemies, who immediately set upon each other in a fierce battle in which Finnbennach was killed—but in the process, he gored Donn Cuailnge so that the other bull died as well. This cattle raid was chronicled in the Irish epic tain bo cuailnge.

The shape-shifting and reincarnation that mark this curious story suggest that the two swineherd/water-worm/bulls were originally gods or bards, the two categories of beings most prone to such behavior. If that is so, the explanatory referents are lost, leaving just a vigorous tale of war and battle.

Finnbheara (Finvarra, Fin Varra, Fionvarra, Finbar)

Irish hero. fairyland was more often spoken of as ruled by a queen rather than a king, but Finnbheara is an exception. From his fairy mound at knockma near Tuam in Co. Galway, he ruled all the fairies of the western province of connacht—or, some say, all the fairies of Ireland. Although he had a fairy wife, una, Finnbheara specialized in stealing beautiful women, lulling their suspicions away with the soothing music of fairyland and then snatching them from this world. In the bright beauty of Finnbheara’s palace, these women forgot their earthly lives and danced and sang without sadness or sorrow. Sometimes, as in the story of eithne the Fair, the woman’s body remained behind and she seemed to be in a coma from which she could not be aroused; sometimes she simply vanished. Both Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats collected tales of Finnbheara; he appears in several of Yeats’s plays and many of his poems as a symbol of the beautiful otherworld.


Irish hero. When the great hero fionn mac cumhaill was a small boy, he lived as a student with the druid Finneces. Some say they lived near the mouth of the River Boyne in the east, some say near the falls of assaroe in the west. In either case, they lived near a pool over which magical hazel bushes hung, dropping their nuts into the water and nourishing the salmon that swam there. For seven years Finneces had been waiting for just the right moment to gain the wisdom that the salmon held within itself. When the time was right, the druid caught the fish, who came to his line as though by prearrangement.

Finneces set the fish to cook, leaving the boy Fionn to watch it and warning him not to touch it or taste it. But the salmon sizzled and spattered onto Fionn’s thumb, which he stuck into his mouth to ease the pain. Immediately wisdom flooded him—the very wisdom that the old druid had been hoping to attain. Almost the same story is told of the great Welsh bard tal-iesin, but it is the cauldron of the goddess ceridwen that holds wisdom in that tale; the name of the boy who steals wisdom in that story is gwion, cognate to Fionn. Given the similarity of the names Finneces and Fionn, some have suggested a doubling of one figure; additionally, the salmon is often sometimes called fintan, another similar name.

Finnen (Fennel, Finnine, Fininne)

Irish goddess. One of the fairy queens or goddesses of the significant archaeological region around lough gur in eastern Co. Limerick, Finnen bears a name meaning "white" or "brilliant," parallel to other mythic figures including the great hero fionn mac cumhaill. She forms a pair with another local goddess, aine, "the bright one," suggesting an ancient twin sun goddess.

Finn McCool

Irish and Scottish folkloric figure. Legends and tales of this giant abound in Ireland (especially in the northern province of ulster) as well as in Scotland. Although a degraded form of the great Irish hero fionn mac cumhaill, Finn is also a figure in his own right, a kind of Paul Bunyan, full of reckless energy. The most famous stories told of him are that he created the giant’s causeway, a renowned basalt rock formation, by dropping stones, and that he bested the giant benadon-ner through trickery; other variants say Finn slew the giant who built the causeway.


Irish hero or god. "The white ancient" is the meaning of this name, which is worn by several important mythological figures:

• Fintan the salmon, also known as goll Essa Ruaid ("the one-eyed one of the red waterfall"), who swam in the pool at the source of one of Ireland’s rivers, variously the Boyne and the Erne, nibbling the hazel nuts that dropped from magical bushes that surrounded the water. He was caught by the druid finneces and eaten, accidentally, by the great hero fionn mac cumhaill, who thereby gained immense wisdom.

• Fintan mac Bochra, the most ancient of Irishmen, the only one to survive the flood that brought the seafaring queen cesair and her 50 women to Ireland. The women were accompanied by only three men, two of whom "perished of embraces," according to the BOOK OF INVASIONS, while Fintan, to save himself,fled. He then transformed himself into many shapes, including the one-eyed salmon goll Essa Ruaid as well as an eagle and a hawk. Such shape-shifting is seen also in bards such as amairgin and tuan mac cairill, as well as in the stories of several divinities. • Fintan, son of NIALL Nioganach, who plays a minor role in the tale of the intoxication of the ulstermen.


Irish heroine. This obscure figure is connected with the southwestern province of munster, where the "fair-cheeked one" was bewitched by the powerful woman druid Amerach from ulster, who grew no older despite the passing years. She made Fiongalla vow never to sleep with a man until one brought her magical yew berries, holly boughs, and marigolds. Amerach lost her power over Fiongalla when a hero named Feargal performed the almost impossible task.

Fionnghal nam Fiadh

(Flora of the Deer, Sorch an O-rfhuil, Clara of the Golden Hair, the Crazed One of the Mountains) Scottish heroine. In a story that resembles the Irish tale of the wild woman mis, the beautiful maiden Fionnghal was jilted by her lover, who took his ambitious mother’s advice to marry a richer woman. Fionnghal went mad, running into the mountains naked and screaming. She lived there among the deer, growing hair so that she looked like a member of the herd, who accepted her as one of their own.

Eventually all her kinsmen and other pursuers gave up the chase, save her once-beloved, who kept tracking her despite her madness. At last one day he found her, naked and asleep, in his own campsite. He covered her with his cloak and waited. When she awoke she was sane and thankful but told him that she was dying and, indeed, did so soon thereafter. Her lover brought her body down from the mountains and, as soon as he had delivered it to her kin, died himself. From their adjoining graves, two great weeping willows grew up and entwined themselves.

Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn Mac Cool, Finn Mac Cumhal, Demne Mael)

Irish hero. There are two great heroes in Irish mythology, each the center of a cycle of myths and connected with an era and a province. The great warrior cuchu-lainn of the ulster cycle is the first; he is described as living at the height of Celtic Ireland’s power (presumably the fifth and sixth centuries c.e.) and is associated with the northwestern province. A later hero is fionn mac cumhaill, whose warrior band, the fianna, recalls the unattached bands of protective warriors common in Ireland through the early Middle Ages. Because their center was at the Hill of Allen (see almu) in Co. Kildare, the Fianna and their leader are linked to the southeastern province of leinster.

Fionn bears the name of his father, cumhall, who died when he was young. Legend varies about why he was left fatherless at an early age. In one tale, Cumhall raped the noble murna and was killed in retaliation by the hero conn of the Hundred Battles, leaving the unfortunate Murna pregnant with Fionn. In another, Cumhall was innocent of wrongdoing but fell into conflict with an opposing clan; the conflict between Cumhall and Fionn’s clan baiscne with their antagonists, clan morna, is the basis for much legend in the fenian cycle. Other variants exist as well, all of which emphasize the early demise of Fionn’s father and the importance of feminine energy in his early life, for it was through his mother Murna that Fionn claimed divine descent from her ancestor nuada of the Silver Hand, king of the mythological tuatha de danann. The most significant influence on Fionn’s childhood was his aunt and foster mother, the druid bodhmall, who nursed him and began his education, which was furthered by luaths lurgann, a warrior woman who trained Fionn in the martial arts and whom he accidentally killed.

As is the case with all such heroes, Fionn’s power was evident early; while still a boy, he acquired all the world’s wisdom and revealed his great skill as a fighter. Sent by his aunt to study with the hermit druid finneces, Fionn (then called Demne Mael or "druid’s tonsure") was left to watch a salmon turning on a spit. That salmon was no ordinary fish but the renowned salmon of wisdom, sometimes called fintan, a bard who had lived in many incarnations and thus gained all possible wisdom. Finneces had been watching for seven years—not coinciden-tally, since the time of Fionn’s birth—for the salmon to rise in the waters of the sacred well (see assaroe), and when it did, he captured it neatly and set it to cook, intending to devour it and thus gain all of Fintan’s vast vision. But the salmon splattered onto Fionn’s thumb, and he stuck it in his mouth to salve the pain. Thus did Fionn gain all the salmon’s wisdom; from then on, all he had to do was suck on his thumb and he would enter an altered, visionary state in which he could see past, present, and future. As all the names of the characters in this story are connected, the salmon has been seen as a triplication or intensification of Fionn himself.

Not only wisdom was Fionn’s from childhood but also strength and skill with weapons. His name derives from his first fight to the death, when after winning an athletic competition he was challenged as victor by a rival, whom he killed, whereupon he was dubbed "the fair boy" or Fionn, a name that stuck. To it was added his father’s name, so that the hero went by the full name of Fionn mac Cumhaill, Fionn son of Cumhall.

From that point, as with all such heroes, Fionn was sent to study his craft further and chose the warrior woman buanann, who is parallel to the Scottish amazon scathach who trained Cuchulainn. But he had a male tutor as well, the warrior cethern mac fintain. By the time he entered manhood, Fionn had all the necessary skills for fame and glory: He was the world’s fastest runner, he never missed the mark with his spear, he could swim across any body of water, and he had the added advantage of being able to suck his thumb and know the whereabouts and weaknesses of his enemy.

Like king arthur gathering the knights of the round table, Fionn gathered a band of warriors to defend his province, Leinster. Such fianna seem to have been a real feature of ancient Irish life; rather than maintaining standing armies, kings relied upon such groups and their leaders for protection against invaders, but they also fought among themselves, as the continual disputes between Fionn’s Clan Ba^scne and the opposing Clan Morna show. Among Fionn’s dearest companions in the Fianna were his hunting dogs bran and sceolan. Many Fenian legends describe Fionn’s prowess in battle, as when he becomes the only hero powerful enough to subdue the monstrous aillen trenchenn, who regularly burned the palace at Tara.

Fionn is now generally believed to have originally been divine, a status made clear in legends that he created the countryside as part of his activities. He is said to have cut mountains in half with his sword and left scratches where he clung to rocks as he climbed. More often the Fenian stories tell of adventures in the human realm. A typical story tells of a slovenly man who approached Fionn when he was traveling in Scotland and gained employment as a carrier of the hero’s baggage. The man revealed a superhuman strength that impressed even Fionn. Not only that, but he could hunt, and every morning caught a deer for breakfast; beyond that, the man could cook, always having the deer nicely grilled by the time warriors of the Fianna were awake. One member of the Fianna was envious and bitter; this man, conan, challenged the slovenly servant to a race to the Hill of Howth and back again, with the loser to be decapitated. The man refused to permit Conan to wager his head but accepted the challenge.

They set off, with the slovenly servant stopping to take pebbles from his shoe and to cut his long trailing cloak. He still reached the goal before Conan, however, and he struck Conan such a blow that his head turned around on his neck. Fionn demanded that Conan’s head be set right, and the servant agreed, but only if Fionn would take him to his home. As they arrived, the servant was transformed into a prince, for the curse he had been laboring under could only be lifted if he entered his home with Fionn mac Cumhaill. Such folktales, which probably were drawn into the orbit of the Fenians from their disparate original sources, are typical of those connected to Fionn in the oral tradition.

The Fenian Cycle places an unusual emphasis on courtship and love for such an apparently masculine sequence of tales. Because Fionn has no single wife, he is linked to one woman after another: sadb, who was turned into a deer, so that Fionn’s brilliant son oisin was born with fawn’s fur for brows; aine, by whom he had two sons; the poetess cred; the unnamed daughter of the king of Greece; the married Maer and the unfaithful Maigneis; and many others. As he grew older, Fionn remained desirous of women but became less desirable himself. In his dotage he was betrothed to the beautiful grainne, who preferred the young hero diarmait; the saga of their elopement and pursuit by Fionn does not show the elder hero in the best of lights, especially when he refused to heal his wounded rival, but it is full of realistic drama.

The story of how Grainne became Fionn’s betrothed is told in the place-lore legends of the cairn-crowned hill slievenamon. Desiring a young partner, Fionn volunteered to impregnate the strongest, speediest girl in munster—the winner to be determined by a footrace. Standing on the cairn atop Slievenamon, Fionn gave a signal, at which point all the young women of the province ran toward him. Competitive and strong, the king’s daughter Grainne outran everyone and reached the hilltop first. But she never, the story says, bore the heroes she had been promised, although some variants say that after her lover’s death, Grainne agreed to fulfill her duties as Fionn’s wife and bore him several children.

Just as there are multiple versions of the story of Fionn’s birth, so there are variants of how Fionn died. Most commonly the hero’s antagonists of the Clan Morna are blamed; the head of that clan, the one-eyed goll mac morna, dealt the death blow. Fionn’s death is said to have happened at numerous locations around both Ireland and Scotland. He may have been reborn as the hero mongan. Or perhaps Fionn did not die at all, but rests with the Fianna, sleeping in a cave somewhere in Ireland until his land needs him again, like the once and future king arthur of Britain.

Fionnuala (Finola, Finnguala, Fionnuala, Fionguala, Finnuala, Fionnula)

Irish heroine. One of the most famous Irish myths centers on this girl, child of king lir and his beloved first wife aeb, who was the daughter of the magician bodb derg. Lir and Aeb were happy together and delighted when Fionnuala and her twin brother aed were born. But then Aeb died giving birth to her second set of twin sons, fiachra and conn, and Lir married his wife’s foster sister aife, hoping to make a happy home for his motherless children.

Affe was jealous of her charges, however, and plotted against them. Convincing Lir that she was desperately ill and needed the attentions of her foster father, Affe set off with the children to Bodb Derg’s home in the west. Along the way, she turned on them and transformed them into swans, cursing them to remain so for 900 years.

Even Bodb Derg’s magic was not enough to undo the damage—although he turned his foster daughter into a demon of the air (in some versions, a crane) in retaliation for her action. But the children of lir were left as swans with human emotions and human voices to sing of their woes. They spent 300 years on Lough Derravaragh in the center of Ireland, then 300 years on the frigid Sea of Moyle to the north, and finally on an island in the far west, off Co. Mayo (although local legend in west Co. Cork also claims they lived there). There the enchantment finally wore off, but the years they had lived caught up with them instantly, and they aged, died, and turned to dust, to be buried in the old way, standing upright in the grave.

Fir Bolg (Gailioin, Fir Domnann)

Irish mythological race. The legendary history of Ireland tells of many invasions—indeed, it is called the BOOK OF INVASIONS. Although the magical and sometimes monstrous races described are clearly mythological, the text does reflect the historical truth that Ireland was settled in multiple migratory waves. Some of these were non-Celtic people, including the unknown earliest settlers and the later Picts. Then came the Celts, not all at one time but in several waves. The earliest were people whose dialect was called P-Celtic; later-comers spoke a Q-Celtic language. It has not been established beyond dispute how many migrations took place, or what tribes came, nor from what area they originated. What is clear is that Ireland was not settled all at once by only one people; nor was there always a peaceful reaction to new people arriving in already occupied lands.

Among these early immigrants or invaders were some that have come into legend as the Fir Bolg; earlier scholars derived their name from the presumed connection with the word for "bag" and called them "men of the bags," but the current understanding is that their name is related to the tribal names Builg or Belgae, the same Celtic tribes that gave their name to Belgium. These peoples may have traced their descent from a hypothesized ancestral divinity named Bolg or Bulg, possibly the ruler of thunder; thus their name would mean "sons of the god/dess Bolg" and would be corollary to the later tuatha de danann, "children of the goddess danu."

Legend has it that the Fir Bolg were descended from the children of nemed or Nemedians, another mythological race who had lived in Ireland generations before the Fir Bolg. Cast out by the fierce fomorians, Nemed’s son starn found himself in Greece, where his descendants were enslaved for 230 years, carrying bags of dirt to build up hills. Eventually they turned these bags into boats and escaped, returning to their ancient homeland.

They arrived on the harvest feast of lugh-nasa under the leadership of Dela, who divided the island among his sons: the southwestern province of munster went to Gann and Sengann; slane took the eastern province of leinster, and Rudraige, ulster to the north.

Dynasties were established and kings began to rule. Among the Fir Bolg kings of note were eochaid mac Eirc, who ruled the middle province with his famed wife tailtiu; Rinnal, who invented spear points; and delga, who built the great fort of dun Delgan, now Dundalk in Co. Louth. Other renowned members of the Fir Bolg were the healer Fingein Fisiochda and the hero sreng. Curiously, there is no mention of the monstrous Fomorians who drove out the Fir Bolg ancestors, although they reappear ultimately to combat the Fir Bolg’s own conquerors.

The Fir Bolg ruled for only 37 years before the Tuatha De Danann arrived, the most magical of Ireland’s mythological races. In the great combat called the first battle of mag tuired, the Tuatha De Danann king nuada drove the Fir Bolg from Ireland, although he lost his arm and his right to the throne in the process (see blemished king). Like later (and possibly earlier) conquered peoples in Ireland, the Fir Bolg retreated to the distant reaches of the Celtic world: the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast, where their king Aonghus built the great fort of Dun Aongusa; to islands off the Scottish coast; and to wild Connemara, where their king was said to be named Bola, a possible derivative of their tribal name.

Irish place-names refer to this mythological race: Dun Bolg in Co. Wicklow, Moherbullog in Co. Clare, Moyboulogue in Co. Cavan. If they do represent a Celtic people who were driven to the geographical fringes by later Celtic invaders, it is likely that the inhabitants of those areas descend from the Fir Bolg.

Fir chlis

Scottish folkloric figure. The "nimble man" personified the northern lights or aurora borealis in Scottish folklore.


Symbolic element. The force of fire is different from the other major elements in that it is not constant. Water is available in rain as well as rivers and oceans; the earth is everywhere beneath our feet; air surrounds us continually. But fire is found in only two ways: in the domestic hearth and in the flames of wildfire, which are often set by lightning. More distantly, fire can be imagined as existing in the sun, often pictured as a ball of flame; there is evidence that the Celts connected the earthly and solar fires.

Fire deities are found in Celtic mythology, typically with wildfire divinities being male and those of the hearth fire, female. taranis, the continental Celtic thunder god, was associated with lightning and with the fires that typically followed its strikes. lugh appears to have served the same function in insular mythology. Honoring the hearth fire was a belief shared by the Celts with their Indo-European kin from areas as diverse as Lithuania and India; the ritual was most notable in the cult of the Roman Vesta, served by a college of priestesses. A similar college appears to have served the Irish goddess brigit; interpreters argue that the Christian sisterhood of Kildare replicated the Celtic tradition in which an ashless, ever-burning fire was tended by one sister each night for 19 nights, the 20th being left for Brigit herself. Under Christianity, that flame blazed for more than 10 centuries, to be extinguished by a Protestant bishop; the holy flame was relit in 1994 by members of the Brigidine order, the continuation of that established by St. Brigit.

Given the preponderance of female hearth-fire divinities and the association of that fire with the sun, the likelihood of the sun being perceived as a goddess seems high. However, a longstanding belief that all cultures honored the sun as a masculine force has kept this question from being examined until recently. In the last several decades, evidence has mounted that sun goddesses were more common than previously proposed. Many scholars now offer evidence that the Celts saw the sun as a feminine force, as nurturing as the hearth goddess; others suggest a double rulership of the sun by both god and goddess.

In Ireland fire was connected with a number of festivals. Those of midsummer may be displaced from celebrations of lughnasa, the Celtic summer festival, or may hearken to a pre-Celtic past. St. John’s Eve, celebrated on June 23, just two days after the year’s longest day on the summer solstice, was called Bonfire Night in many regions of Ireland. Celebratory blazes, always circular, were lit near holy wells and at other sacred sites, and dances were held through the night. Neglecting the fires might mean that fish would not come into the rivers nor fields bear grain and potatoes. In Co. Limerick, there was a tradition of striking dancers with a recently cut reed to protect them against illness; the reeds were then tossed into the fire, the potential contagion thus being burned away. The bravest dancers leapt over the fire, whose ashes were used in blessings on crops, stock, and homes.

In Scotland fire was construed as both protective and purifying; fire carried around a house in a sunwise direction protected building and occupants from harm. Into recent times in Scotland, the need-fire was practiced when famine or epidemic threatened; all hearth fires in an area were extinguished, then a group of men created a new fire by rubbing planks of wood together until a flame burst forth. Those attending the ceremony took a flame of the new fire to their home, while the original fire was doused with water and the ashes smeared on cattle for protection.

First footer (qualtagh)

Scottish folkloric figure. In Scotland and on the Isle of Man, the first person (or being of whatever species) met on the road when on the way to a christening or a wedding was traditionally offered bread and cheese, to buy the goodwill of the spirits for the new year. More important was the first person to enter a home on January 1. Called the qualtagh among the Manx and the first footer in Scotland, this person should be a dark-complected man of hearty good health. On the Isle of Man, redheaded people were feared as first footers, for that coloring was thought to be connected to the fairy realm, while in Scotland redheads were acceptable. It was important for the first footer to bear a gift, for an empty-handed caller indicated poor fortune for the year. In return, the first footer was offered something, usually food or drink.


Symbolic animal. The preeminent Christian symbol had significance to the Celts as well. The fish was emblematic of wisdom, especially in the form of the salmon or trout that was believed to swim in holy wells and other water sources. These fish were said to be speckled, with the same number of spots as the hazel nuts they had devoured from the magical bushes that surrounded the well.

Fisher King

British or Arthurian hero. In grail legends, especially in stories concerning the pure knight percival, we find the image of a king who, injured almost unto death, sits in his boat and fishes while the land about him withers and dies. Once a virile and vital young man, he had unwisely attacked a mounted stranger who, before he died, left a portion of his sharp lance in the young king’s groin; on the lance tip were the words, "The Grail." Kept alive, but not well, by a magical stone, the king waited in agony for someone to lift the enchantment.

Although some disclaim any Celtic influence on this figure, others point to the motif of the blemished king, in which the land and its ruler are seen as a married couple, with the earth reliant upon the king’s health to be fruitful. The earth goddess could not be fructified by the Fisher King, who needed the curative power of the Grail to revive himself and the land. In addition to works based upon the Grail legends, this figure appears in T. S. Eliot’s "The Waste Land" and in the film comedy The Fisher King.

In some texts Alain le Gros appears as Percival’s father, called the Fisher King because he reproduced a biblical miracle, feeding a throng of people with only one fish, then building the castle of corbenic as a home for the Grail. Other names for the Fisher King include Anfortas ("infirmity"), Alain, Bron, Pelles, and Rothniam.

Fithel (Fitheal, Fiothal, Fithil)

Irish hero. A wise judge or brehon of Irish tradition, he adjudicated the disputes of the warrior band, the fianna, who served under his brother fionn mac cumhaill; he eventually departed to serve under king cormac mac airt at tara.


Irish heroine. When the beautiful Fithir drew the eye of the king of leinster, the girl’s father Tuathal Techtmar refused her hand to the king, forcing him to wed her older sister dairine instead. But then Dairine mysteriously died, or so the king reported when he returned once again to ask for Fithir’s hand. This time his wish was granted, but when Fithir discovered that her sister was actually imprisoned with her handmaidens in a high tower in a thick dark woodland, she died of shock and shame.


Cosmological number. The most significant numbers to Celtic peoples were three, representing intensification, and five, representing a natural order, as witnessed by the five fingers of each hand and the toes of each foot. Five may have formed the basis of the early Irish counting system, for the number appears in many mythological contexts (the five-pointed spear of the connacht king ailill mac Mata, the five sacred names of the hill of tara, the five warriors who simultaneously killed the hero fionn mac cumhaill). In addition, there was a social context, for the smallest family unit, called the geilfine, comprised five people. Ireland applied the number geographically, dividing the island into five mythological provinces, of which the central one, mide, was a magically situated center around which the other four were located. Thus five can be seen as a magically enhanced version of four, the number of wholeness, as well as a naturally occurring number that has its own innate power.


Irish hero. Several minor figures of Irish mythology bear this name, which means "blood-red." The two most prominent may be versions of the same figure, for both are renowned lovers: Flann mac Dima, lover of mugain, wife of diarmait mac Cerbaill, who burned down Flann’s house and caused him to drown, thus bringing a curse upon himself; and Flann ua Fedach, the fairy king who eloped with the queen of tara, becfhola.

Flidais (Flidas, Fliodhas)

Irish goddess. Many European cultures had a woodland goddess like Flidais, who resembles the Greek artemis, the Roman diana, and the continental Celtic artio. Flidais represented the force of fertility and of abundance. As goddess of wild beasts, whose very name means "doe," she rode in a chariot drawn by deer; as goddess of the domestic herds, she possessed a magical cow that gave enough milk to supply 30 people each night.

Her animal nature was also revealed in her sexual behavior, for she was as voracious as her consort, the randy fergus Mac Roich; if Flidais was not interested, Fergus made do with seven normal women. Flidais was sometimes said to be married to the fairy adammair, about whom nothing else is known. Her daughters had temperaments similar to hers: be chuille, evicted from fairyland for her promiscuity; another wanton woman of whom little legend remains, Be Teite; and finally fand, the wild fairy who stole away the hero cuchu-lainn from his admired wife emer.


Arthurian hero. The great knight gawain had several illegitimate sons, including Florence, who was killed when lancelot, trapped in queen guinevere’s bedroom, fled with sword flying.


Manx folkloric figures. These giants were said to live at sea and to amuse themselves by throwing boulders at passing sailors. They are occasionally thought to be derived from the mythological Irish race, the fomorians.

Fodla (Fodla, Fodhla, Fota)

Irish goddess. Three goddesses of the magical race, the tuatha de danann, met the mortal milesians when they staged the final invasion into Ireland recorded in the mythological BOOK OF INVASIONS. The goddesses each offered to let the invaders pass if they would name the land for her. The Milesians cavalierly promised they would do so, and so she stepped aside. Fodla met the invaders at Slieve Felim, a mountain in Co. Limerick, or on nearby mauher slieve, otherwise dedicated to an obscure goddess named ebhlinne, which may be another name for Fodla.

Slieve Mis; she offered them the same arrangement, and they made the same agreement with her. But it was eriu, goddess of the central mountain of uisneach, who was the most impressive and wealthy, and so Ireland (Erinn) is named for her. Some versions of the Book of Invasions claim that it was not Eriu who owned Uisneach but Fodla; the three goddesses of the land are sometimes conflated in this fashion. Fodla was married to mac cecht, a warrior of her tribe. She was killed by eadan at the battle of tailtiu—which marked the victory of the Milesians over the Tuatha de Danann.


Cornish mythological site. Underground stone chambers found in Cornwall, believed to have been built between between 500 b.c.e. and 500 c.e., fogous appear to have been places of ritual. As there is evidence of occupation by Celts during the latter part of that period, it is possible that the fogous were built by or used by them, although evidence suggests a pre-Celtic spiritual vision. An important clue is the alignment of many of the fogous to the summer solstice sunrise, which betrays a different calendar than that used by the Celts; some have suggested that the stone chambers are late revivals of the megalithic civilization that inspired stone-henge. Legends link the fogous with unearthly women, possibly goddesses. The beehive-shaped fogous often have secret chambers within them; imaginative reconstructions center on the idea of initiation or other ceremonies being held in the small chambers.

Fomorians (Fomoire, Fomhoire, Fomore)

Irish mythological race. Lurking in the background in Ireland’s mythological history are monsters, which prey upon the various settlers and wage unrelenting war until they are at last defeated by the magical tuatha de danann. As there is general agreement by scholars that the myths of Ireland’s settlement related in the BOOK OF INVASION and other texts are based in ancient history, the question has arisen as to who, then, these demonic beings could be. Certainly it is unlikely that they had but one leg, and one arm coming out of their chests, as early descriptions have it. But there is little evidence to determine who they really were. Earlier interpretations of them as sea monsters or pirates have been discounted as based on false etymology, for the mor in their names is not the word for "sea" but for "phantom." More commonly they are now interpreted as the remnant ghosts of ancient divinities whose people, subjugated in early invasions, remained in Ireland and intermingled (and intermarried) with the invaders.

While the earliest narratives do not distinguish one Fomorian from the next, in later mythological texts they are individually portrayed. They seem the peers of the Tuatha De Danann, with whom they frequently intermarry; the Tuatha De goddess eriu, after whom Ireland is named, took as her husband the Fomorian king elatha; their son bres Mac Elatha became king at tara for a short time. The gigantic and evil Fomorian King balor, too, was related to the Tuatha De through his daughter, the fair eithne, whose son was the half-breed lugh. Such alliances were not stable, and the Tuatha De finally met the Fomorians in the greatest combat in Irish mythology, the second battle of mag tuired, at which Lugh killed his grandfather Balor and the Fomorians were driven forever from the island and into the sea.

Forgall Manach

Irish hero. He was father to the beautiful emer, the most accomplished woman in Ireland and therefore the fit wife for the hero cuchulainn; Forgall’s main role in the ulster cycle is to thwart Cuchulainn’s desires. Forgall, whose surname means "the wily one," sent the hero away to train with the warrior woman scathach on the Isle of Skye, thereby ensuring that his daughter’s husband would become the greatest of Irish heroes, as Scathach ran the world’s best martial arts academy.


Roman goddess. Not a Celtic goddess, the Roman divinity of fortune is found nonetheless throughout Britain with her rudder, her wheel, and her cornucopia, all symbols of her power to steer the faithful through life’s changes and to offer them abundance. Celtic goddesses of abundance were typically earth deities, but Fortuna was honored more in urban areas; she was, however, associated with a plentiful harvest during her June festival, the Cerealia, celebrated in rural Britain until the 19th century.

Fortunate Isles Mythological site. Various islands just off the shores of Ireland and Scotland have been called by this name, which refers to the belief that fairies or the gods of the tuatha de danann lived on beautiful floating islands in the western sea.


Irish social custom. Noble children in ancient Ireland were not reared by their own families but by unrelated people, in a system called fosterage. The practice created bonds between families and territories, so intense that the bond of fosterage was held to be five times stronger than that of blood. The children received training—in druidic arts, in war, in householding—together with their food and lodging, which was provided in accord with the child’s family’s social status. Children raised in the same household became foster brothers and sisters to each other without being related by blood. Some of the most intense relationships in Irish mythology are those between fosterlings, and unquestionably the most poignant single scene in the many Irish tales is the combat between the hero cuchulainn and his beloved foster brother ferdiad, which after three days ended in Ferdiad’s death.

Myth suggests that fostering by the mother’s brother—the child’s uncle—was particularly common. Thus Cuchulainn was fostered in the court of his uncle, king concobar mac nessa. Such reliance upon the maternal uncle suggests that despite emphasis in Irish law on strict limitation of women’s rights, the matrilineal line was considered significant (see matriliny). The legal relationship between uncle and fosterling was almost as strong as that between parent and child; it was a fosterling’s duty to care for his foster parents in their age. The bonds created by such fostering were thus not only emotional but legal and financial.

Fothad Canainne

Irish hero. One of three brothers, he was connected with two provinces, the western region of connacht and the eastern one of leinster. Most of his legend has disappeared or been absorbed into that of the warrior hero fionn mac cumhaill, but he is interpreted as a diminished ancient divinity, possibly a fire god.


Irish mythological site. Among the many relics of the megalithic civilization in the Irish midlands, Fourknocks is outstanding for its size. While most other passage graves are so small that only a few people can comfortably fit within their inner chambers, the huge mound at Fourknocks could hold several dozen with ease. Lintels engraved with zigzag designs are part of this impressive site’s decorations.


Symbolic animal. In the Cotswolds, the wily fox was connected with a similarly canny human—the witch, who could assume the fox’s shape in order to steal butter from her neighbors and otherwise wreak havoc on the region. As foxes are known in farming communities for their nighttime raids on valuable chicken flocks, the connection of evil witch and thieving fox seemed easy to those searching for a target for their anger.


Folkloric motif. Within every substance on earth is its foyson or toradh ("essence"). The foyson of food is its nourishment, and it was this, Irish folklore contends, that the fairies stripped from food when they stole it. The milk might remain there, creamy in the milk pail, but without its foyson, it had no nourishment left. Many rituals and verbal charms existed to protect the foyson of foodstuffs from being stolen away by fairies.

Fraech (Fraoch, Fraich, Froeach)

Irish hero. The romantic hero beloved of finnabair, daughter of queen medb of connacht, Fraech was the son of the goddess bebinn and thus was half-divine. His appearance was entirely divine, for he was the most handsome man in Ireland. His reputation preceded him to Medb’s court at cruachan, and Finnabair fell in love with Fraech just from the descriptions of his masculine glories. Her desire was only heightened by his actual presence. Happily, he fell just as much in love with her. Finnabair gave him a little ring, a gift from her father ailill mac Mata, and suggested that he ask for her hand in marriage.

Whether from greed or because he opposed the match, Ailill set a dowry that Fraech could not meet, demanding that the young man bring the magical red-eared cows of his goddess-mother to Cruachan. This seemed impossible, so Fraech resigned himself to the loss of Finnabair. But Ailill was not assured that the young man would not elope with his love, so he stole Finnabair’s ring from Fraech while the latter was swimming, tossing it into the water, where a salmon ate it. Then he challenged Fraech to gather the magical healing berries from a rowan tree growing on an island; the tree was guarded by a dragon that almost killed Fraech, but he defeated the dragon in single combat. Fraech was so badly wounded that it took all the nurses of the otherworld to bring him back to health, whereupon he returned to earth, caught the ring-swallowing salmon, returned to Cruachan, and demanded Ailill agree to his courtship of Finnabair. This time, he also agreed to bring his magical cows to Ailill, and so an agreement was finally struck.

After happy years with Finnabair, Fraech returned home one day to find her, their children, and his magical cows gone. He traced them to a stone castle in the high Alps, from which an Irish spirit helped him free them. But their reunion was short-lived, for in Ireland Medb was mustering her armies for a cattle raid on ulster, which Fraech joined immediately upon their return. Facing the greatest of Irish heroes, cuchulainn, at a ford in the River Dee, Fraech lost his life in combat, and Finnabair died of grief.

This mythological story migrated from Ireland to Scotland, where it lodged in a romantic ballad about the "daughter of Donald" loved by the handsome Fraoch, who swam across Lough Luaim to get her the berries she desired.

Fraechnat Irish heroine or goddess. One of the women who arrived with the first boatload of invaders into Ireland, according to the place-lore called the DINDSHENCHAS, was Fraechnat, who died and was buried on a mountain that bears her name, Slieve Fraech. She does not, however, appear on the list of cesair’s companions in the BOOK OF INVASIONS, so she may have been a local divinity adapted to the tale.

Framing spell

Scottish magical belief. Crossing two threads, in the way they would be interwoven on a loom, was an occasional spell in Scotland.


Irish hero. The swineherd of the supernatural magician bodb derg had such antagonism toward his competitor rucht, swineherd to the farmer ochall ochne, that whenever he died, he reincarnated in a form that matched Rucht’s. Their combat went on lifetime after lifetime, in the air and on the land and in the sea, as they wore various animal and human bodies. Finally they contrived to be reborn as the strongest bulls in Ireland—Rucht as the white-horned bull finnbennac and Friuch as the brown bull donn cuailnge. The two great bulls of course fell upon each other in combat, each killing the other. The story of their endless cycle of reincarnation is part of the background to the great Irish epic, TAIN BO CUAILNGE.


Symbolic animal. While it is relatively rare for frogs to be described as magical in Celtic folklore, there is a Scottish tradition of the King Frog, who wore on his head a jewel that had great power for healing. The only way to obtain the stone was to locate the King Frog, who hid in a fen or bog, then let down a tame otter into the water in hopes of scaring the frog to the surface. When he appeared, one rapped him on the head, thus dislodging the stone, which had to be grasped quickly lest it disappear beneath the water’s surface.


Irish heroine. This druid was the jealous wife of the fairy king midir. When Midir sought to replace her with the beautiful etain, Fuamnach struck back. With a potion she received from her foster father, she poisoned Etain, who was transmuted into an insect. (Romantic versions of the story call the transformed Etain a butterfly, but others more baldly call her a worm or a fly.) Some versions say that Fuamnach waved a branch of rowan, a magical tree, thereby turning Etain into a puddle of water, a worm, and a fly; another wave of the wand created such a wind that the fly was blown clear out of Midir’s palace. Fuamnach did not ultimately prevail, however, for Midir sought out Etain after her rebirth as a human once again and, though she was queen of tara, brought her back to his otherworld home.

Funeral rites

Ritual observance. Not much is known about ancient Celtic funerary rituals, but burial rather than cremation or exposure appears to have been the norm. Stones carved with OGHAM writing are thought to have been erected to mark some graves, although not necessarily for those of lower status. Grave-goods—items deposited in the grave, presumably to accompany the dead to the otherworld—are found in profusion: chariots, coins, ornaments, weapons. There is some evidence of human sacrifice at the graves of rulers, for skulls are found detached from the rest of the skeleton, pointing to decapitation.

There is both archaeological and textual evidence of a fear that the dead could return to haunt the living, and some funerary rites seem designed to forestall that, including binding the feet of corpses as though to assure they would not wander about. Later customs kept the feet free, apparently to speed the dead on their way to the Otherworld and prevent their hanging about to bother the living.


Ferbend Irish hero. This ulster warrior, son of conchobar mac nessa, used his sling to kill the great queen medb of connacht, his aunt. Furbaide’s mother was Medb’s sister, clothra, whom Medb killed at the very place (Lough Ree in the Shannon River) where Furbaide killed her.


Symbolic plant. One of the most common bog plants of Ireland, the thorny furze is crowned with vanilla-scented yellow blossoms for much of the year. It has little value except as tinder, but it was described as feeding many need-fires and other sacred blazes, presumably because it was so plentiful. Fairy legends say that people under a glamour or spell will mistake the gold of furze for real metal and stuff their pockets with it before returning home to find a litter of petals. (See also gorse.)


Manx folkloric figure. The "hairy one" of the Isle of Man loved human women—so much so that he was evicted from the otherworld for missing too many fairy dances while pursuing non-fairy maidens. He roamed about, neither of this world nor the other, unable to settle down or to cut his long shaggy hair. Despite his loneliness, the fynnod-deree was invariably kind to humans and could be as helpful as a brownie.

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