Every master teacher wants his pupils to succeed and to gain mastery. Socrates and Plato; Jesus and John; Merlin and Arthur are prime examples.
These ancient teachers take on a mystical aura as time passes. Their pupils become folk heroes, whose stories have been passed down from generation to generation with embellishments.
On the Emerald Isle, if you traverse the Irish Sea you find the beginning of a river which has a story. Well, every river in Ireland has a story and in many cases more than one.
According to old folk tales and legends shared by Irish grandmothers and sometimes Irish grandfathers who sat in the villages sharing their knowledge with the local denizens at the pubs, this has been a type of education for the young for centuries. I truly believe the current generation loses a valuable resource in not taking the time to listen to the aged members of our society who have a story to share.
One day very, very long ago salmon entered the mouth of the River Boinne (Boyne). The fishers enjoyed the decision of the salmon, but one special salmon survived the hooks and snares of the villagers.
It found itself in a beautiful cove surrounded by nine hazelnut trees. The water reflected the azure sky and the verdant richness of the trees and land.
In eating the nuts from the over-abundant trees, the salmon gained knowledge and eventually wisdom. It would listen to the stories of the rivers, and the music of the aged trees along the banks.
Fishers and children would come down to fish or swim. The salmon learned language not only from the humans but also that of the animals which came to drink. These animals shared their history with the salmon.
Stories along the river grew about a salmon. Many fisher-people attempted to capture the fish, but it had learned to reflect sunlight or moonlight into the eyes of its would-be captors to temporarily blind them and thwart their quest.
Over the years the fish was named bradán feasa, salmon of wisdom. Eventually, the name of FinTan would become its name.
Perhaps the locals chose this name in honor of Fintan mac Bóchra, the grandson-in-law of Noah. Fintan was able to survive the Great Deluge by becoming a salmon. For the next five millennia Fintan became an advisor to the chieftains and kings of Ireland. He became known as “The Wise”.
When Fintan’s king Cumhail was murdered, he had Cumhail’s young son, Fionn, secreted away to an aged druid poet, Finegas. Finegas would guard the boy’s true identity and train him in all wisdom which he possessed.
Finegas saw in the boy a helper. Perhaps, with his youth and dexterity he could help catch the salmon of wisdom.
The boy grew in wisdom and stature. However, the salmon was as elusive as ever as Finegas and Fionn went about the capture.
As the salmon listened to the teachings of Finegas and the ever-increasing knowledge of the growing young man, it felt a strange attraction to the young man. The fish became very aware of its loneliness.
It had lived for years beyond its life expectancy. All it knew of its origins was fading into the shadows of the past. These shadows were like the dark shadows of the murky waters after a torrential rain.
It was tired of immortality. What use is immortality if you cannot share the experience with your own kind? Time meant nothing to the fish since sunrise and sunset were a myriad of chromatic images blending into the textured layers of what was.
As the years went on and the young man became a teenager, the salmon sensed that its destiny was interlaced with this young, exiled prince. His destiny was yet to be seen on the horizon.
One night the salmon gazed at the moonless heavens. It knew that those points of lights were older than the river and predated the creation of the earth with its hues and tints of exorbitant life.
It longed for its life on this planet traversing the cosmos to end so it could join the chorus of the universal symphony playing above it. It wanted to add its song to the repertoire.
As the antelucan was fading into sunrise, the salmon made its way to the surface. There on the bank was the old angler, Finegas, with his lure.
Standing near the fire was the young exiled prince Fionn. He was growing into a handsome young man with majestic bearing. He was chewing on a hazelnut.
The fish decided it was time, but he would make Finegas work hard to snare him. This would be the last battle between man and wisdom. They both were growing old and weary.
It was an epic struggle as the salmon allowed itself to be brought to shore. Finegas gave the noble fish to Fionn to prepare, but he warned the young man not to partake of the pink flesh.
Fionn obeyed his master. Unfortunately, the salmon with its last iota of strength sent the essence, the ousia, of its years of living, a hundred-plus lifetimes, into a bubble.
Fionn pressed the bubble with his left thumb without thinking. The hot liquid covered his thumb, and he quickly placed it in his mouth to relieve the agony of the burn. Fionn had tasted the water of wisdom.
It was at that moment the salmon allowed its life to end. Its quest was ending, but Fionn’s was just beginning.
One would conclude that Finegas would be very upset with the young man since for years he had desired to gain the bradán feasa for himself. However, Finegas knew his time on earth was short, and like the salmon he longed to touch the stars with his song.
In a short span of time Fionn would be ready to assume his rightful place as king of the Fianna. In the years to come Fionn would use his skills and wisdom to defeat his enemies.
Fintan mac Bóchra guided the young leader as he had his father and fathers before him. Fintan was proud of the young man and was impressed by his wisdom, the bradán feasa.
One day, after six thousand years, Fintan decided his time on earth was coming to an end. He had survived the Great Deluge and had loved many women beginning with Cessair, Noah’s granddaughter, who was lost in the flood.
He had served many mortals. One day he stood on a hill watching the sunset, as a hawk came soaring overhead. It was a magnificent bird.
He had heard tales of the Hawk of Archill. He wondered “could it be?”
Indeed! The hawk spoke and Fintan understood the language. To his delight he discovered that the hawk was as old as he was, being born on the same day and time.
Noah had taken it aboard the ark. He set it free to roam the earth with the blessings of the rainbow.
Over the course of weeks Fintan and the Hawk of Archill grew close. Their destinies were one.
King Fionn had come to watch the sunset by Fintan’s invitation. There Fintan said his good-byes.
Fionn protested, but, like the salmon, in his wisdom he knew it was time for Fintan to find his ultimate destiny in the stars. With all his energy Fintan transformed himself one last time into a wind which carried the Hawk of Archill into the heavens.
As Fionn watched, he saw a burst of light. It had the colors of the rainbow as it faded into starlight.
For he knew that starlight was the song of creation. Fintan and the Hawk were where they belonged.
The next day Fionn visited his old friend, Finegas. The memories of the river were as vivid as when he lived there.
Finegas was lying on his cot of straw. He attempted to rise to greet the king, but his body was too week.
They talked most of the day. Fionn helped the old man to the bank to watch the sunset.
Finegas smiled and said, “My son, may your days be long and ones of happiness. For human life is a journey. For some it is short, and for others it is long and eventful. Your defeat of Aillen to regain your rightful place was only the beginning of your adventures on this earth. I made this horn for you. Use it when you go on your hunt in the forest, but my boy, remember life is not always joy. Find your true love for she is out there and be happy for dark times will come and much sadness on your road of life.”
As the sun set, the old druid faded away into the night mists. Some say Finegas can be heard on the River Boyne when the night mists are rising before dawn. They say he sings a lament about life, its joys and sorrows.
For Fionn he went hunting and found his true love, Sadhbh. Briefly they were happy, but happiness is elusive. Sadhbh was taken from him, and he never found her again. He did find their son, Oisin.
It is said that Fionn and the valiant members of the Fianna rest under Ireland in a magical cave protected from human eyes. They sleep until the horn, Dord Fiann, given by Finegas is sounded three times when Ireland is in its greatest peril.
Ancient heroes are there in the shadows of yesterday. They lived, loved, grieved and died to become legends associated with esoteric mysteries and the vast mysteries of the past.
Value your heritage. Share it with your children and children’s children. For it is in remembering the past that it achieves immortality in the present.
G. D. Williams © 2014