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The Death of Finn Mac Cumaill (Author: Unknown)


The Death of Finn Mac Cumaill

The usual account of the death of Finn is that he was slain in battle against the Lúagni Temrach at Áth Brea on the Boyne by Aiclech mac Dubdrenn, who cut off his head. This is the account given by the tenth-century poet Cinaed húa Hartacáin in the poem beginning Fianna bátar i n-Emain,1 by Tigernach2 and the Four Masters,3 and, with greater detail, in the tale entitled Aided Finn or ‘The Violent Death of Finn’.4 In this tale it is stated with some emphasis that the account there given is the true one: is í sin iarum Aided Finn iar fírinne in senchasa amail adfiadat na heólaig’’

Aided Finn, ed. in Cath Finntrága, 72–76; translated in Silva Gadelica II, 96-99.

‘that then is the Death of Finn


according to the truth of history, as the learned relate.’

So there were other versions.

One of these we can piece together from two scanty fragments, in which, I believe, we have the beginning and end of an Aided Finn story, while the connecting piece is lost. The first of these fragments I have already published on p. 76 of my edition of Cath Finntrága, though not quite correctly and without translation. It is found in the well-known Bodleian codex Laud 610, fo. 122b, 2, where it follows immediately upon the above-mentioned version of Aided Finn. It breaks off with the end of that page. With fo. 123a a new layer of vellum and a different hand begin.

The second fragment is preserved in the British Museum MS Egerton 92, fo. 6a, 1. It is much defaced and partly illegible.

The two fragments together make a fairly intelligible story. According to this, Finn in his old age, being forsaken by one after another of his fiann, who prefer service with the king of Tara, determines to put his remaining strength to the test by an attempt to leap across the Boyne at a spot which bore the name of Léim Finn or Finn's Leap. He accordingly sets out from where he is in the west of Ireland,5 passes along the high road of Gowran in Kilkenny, till at Mullaghmast he meets a woman making curds. Here the first fragment ends. He probably asks this woman for a drink, and thereby in some way violates one of the gessa laid upon him.6 The opening of the second fragment I think we can understand with the help of a passage in the other Aided Finn. It had been prophesied to Finn by his wife Smirgat7 that if he drank out of horns, his death would be nigh. It was therefore his custom alwways to drink out of cups. Now, in a place called Adarca Iuchba (the Horns of Iuchba) in Offaly he found a spring and drank out of it. An old woman reminds him of the prophecy, and Finn acknowledges its truth. For the rest of the tale I refer the reader to my translation of the second fragment.