1902 Encyclopedia > Fingal


FINGAL, the name of the chief hero in the English prose epics called the Poems of Ossian, written in the last century of James Macpherson, and based to a certain extent upon poems and prose tales to be found in manuscripts written in Irish -- the literary language common to both Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, or still preserved in memory by the Celtic-speaking people in those countries.

The Finn ua Baiscni, or Find Mac Cumhaill, of those poems and tales was, according to all Irish and Scottish traditions, the Rig, or king -- for that word was one of wider application than in modern times -- of the Leinster Fians or Fenians (see FENIANS) in the time of the monarch Cormac son of Art; and he resided at a Dun, or fort, at Almhain, now the Hill of Allen, in the county of Kildare, whence has come the name of Bog of Allen given to the great central bogs of Ireland.

Grainné, daughther of Cormoc Mac Airt, was betrothed to Find; but she having eloped with a celebrated warrior of the Fians -- Diarmait ua Duibhne -- her father offered him another daughter, Ailbhé, distinguished for her wisdom. The elopement of Diarmait and Grainné and their pursuit by Find is the subject of one of the most imporant of the Irish Fenian tales.

Find’s courtship of Ailbhé is also the subject of a curious tale. Find is said to have been killed in the year 283 A.D., at a place called Ath Brea, on the river Boyne, by a fisherman who thought to distinguish himself thereby. Find’s sons -- Fergus Finnbheoil, or the Eloquent, and Oisín (the Little Deer) -- were poets, and some poems attributed to them still exist. Oscar, the celebrated son of Oisín, was killed at the battle of Gabhra, which broke the Fenian organization and power; but Oisín and a few others survived that battle, and according to popular tradition lived down to the time of St Patrick.

The Fenian period, though not strictly within the historic period, is so close upon its threshold, that Find may have been a real personage. Much that is told of himself and of his father, Cumall son of Trenmor, might have happened. None of the poems attributed to Find himself, or his sons Oisín and Fergus, though some are in a manuscript of the 12th century, belong, at least in their present form, to the supposed time of the poets. But even if we admit that Find and the other Fenians were real personages, they have become, like Art and his son Cormac, the centres of a luxuriant growth of legend, Find himself having grown into a powerful giant.

In taking Find as the hero of his new epic, Macpherson changed his name, apparently for euphony sake, to Fingal, and made him king of a fictitious petty kingdom of Morven, corresponding apparently with the deanery of that name in the mediaeval diocese of Argyle.

The name Fingal is not, however, of his own coinage. A large number of Irish personal names end in the same letters, e.g., an (Abban, Aedan, &c.), nall (Domhnall, Seachnall, &c), gen, gan (Cellgen, Corrgen, &c.,), gus (Fergus, Oingus, Snedgus, &c.,), gal or ghal (Fergal, Aedhghal, &c.). The same stem, by the addition of different suffixes, gives a series of names, e.g., Ferbaeth, Fergal, Fergus, &c. The stems are often the names of colours, e.g., Donngall, Dubhgal, Gormgal, Fingal, brown, black, blue, fair.

According to the Annals of the Four Masters, there was an abbot of Lismore in Ireland named Fingal, who died in 741 A.D. The suffix gal has been assumed to mean stranger or foreigner, so that Fingal would be the fair stranger. This is, however, a mere guess. The meaning of the stems is equally uncertain; fair, brown, black, are designations which might be applied with propriety to the person, but what shall we say of blue, unless the person first called Gormgal painted himself blue with woad after the manner of the ancient Britons.

There is even a better justification than mere euphony for the change of Finn or Find into Fingal. Barbour, in his Bruce, written in 1375, has the following interesting passage (The Brus, xix. p. 49, Spalding Club edition) proving the ancient use of the form Fingal: --

"He said, ‘Methink, Marthokis sone,
Richt as Golmakmorn was wone
To haf fra Fingal his menyhe,
Richt sa all his fra us has he.’ "

In transferring his hero Fingal to Morven, Macpherson was also justified, for that distinct has an old Fenian topography of its own. Kirke in his Psalter, published in 1684, actually calls the districts from Morvaren to Glenelg and the Isles the land of the Fian or Fenians. These and the neighbouring districts are also intimately associated with the legends of the heroic period of Cuchulaind.

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