CAHSS Faculty Articles

The Development of Finn (Joseph Falaky Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition University of California Press, 1985)

James E. Doan, Nova Southeastern University


The character of Finn (or Fionn) Mac Cumhaill (Mac Cool), one of the most persistent in Gaelic (and one may add Anglo-Irish as well as Scottish) literary and folk tradition, is the subject of these two fine studies. Joseph Falaky Nagy deals with the native Fenian tradition, from the earliest surviving 12thcentury manuscripts of macgnimrada (boyhood deeds) to modern folk versions collected in the Gaelic-speaking areas of Ireland and Scotland, whereas James MacKillip is concerned with the transmission and adaptation of the Finn tales into English from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. It was a revelation to this reviewer that Finn occurs in an English language content (in the form of his Scottish avatar Fingal or Fyngall) as early as the late 14th-century. In his work The Bruce, John Barbour portrays the Lord of Lome, presumably from Gaelic Argyll, as expecting his listeners to be familiar with the Fenian heroes, probably from hearing folktales such as those with which Nagy deals. This allusion also lends support to the 18th-century “translator” James Macpherson’s use of Fingal as Finn’s name in his much-traduced Poems of Ossian (1763) which, though primarily the result of Macpherson’s vivid imagination, do bear a resemblance to some genuine Fenian ballads.