Tales of Finn mac Cumaill linked to places of exceptional natural resources

NUI Galway Geologist Dr Ronan Hennessy and field archaeologist Dr Paul Naessens, record the prehistoric cairn known as Carn Seefin (the cairn of Finn's Seat) on the summit of Keeraunnageeragh Mountain in Connemara, for an Atlas of Finn mac Cumaill's Places at NUI Galway (photo: Elizabeth FitzPatrick).
Feb 24 2015 Posted: 10:21 GMT

Public talk on 5 March at NUI Galway

Places associated with Finn mac Cumaill in the Fenian cycle of tales and named after him and his warrior band have an historical reality as important boundary points, hunting grounds and areas of mineral enrichment in medieval and prehistoric times. This concept will be explored further in a public lecture on 5 March by NUI Galway archaeologist, Professor Elizabeth FitzPatrick.

Finn mac Cumaill (Finn McCool) and his fían or warrior band are central figures in the literature and oral tradition of Gaelic-speaking peoples of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Landforms and place-names associated with him and his hunting and martial activities include hills such as Seefin (Finn’s seat), Knockfinn (Finn’s Hill) and Formoyle (very bare place), caves such as Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Arran, and causeways like the World Heritage Giant’s Causeway on the Co. Antrim coastline.

Tales of Finn reveal that he lives in a strange boundary place, a wilderness at the margins of territories. An examination of places associated with him in the real landscape show that they occur where different rock types meet and where mineral and metal ores are usually found. Red deer frequented such places to obtain their essential mineral licks and so they became important hunting grounds in the past. “These place names are much more important than instances of the survival of Finn folklore. They indicate areas of enriched natural resources and physical boundaries in the landscape,” explains Professor Elizabeth FitzPatrick.

The lecture is based on a project in Archaeology at NUI Galway, with NUI Galway’s Dr Ronan Hennessy and Dr Paul Naessens, Professor Joseph Nagy at UCLA, Dr Ruth Carden wildlife ecologist and Dr Matthew Parkes of the National Museum of Ireland. The aim is to produce a digital and print Atlas of Finn mac Cumaill’s Places which will showcase new knowledge about the relationships between archaeology, geology, wildlife ecology, mythology and place-names in landscape and settlement research.

Professor FitzPatrick added, “Finn places on the edge of Western Europe may be the most enduring survival of a wider landscape expression of the Celtic place-name ‘vind’ and its associated phenomenon of boundaries and enriched natural resources, extending from Gorumna Island in south Connemara to Galatia in Asia Minor."

The public talk will take place on Thursday, 5 March, at 6pm in the Moore Institute Seminar Room, Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway.


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