Fionn mac Cumhaill waxwork

Why the Salmon of Knowledge ate Hazelnuts!

In the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology, the story goes that long ago when Fionn mac Cumhaill, the leader of the Fianna of Ireland, was still a young boy, he was sent to live with and learn from a wise man named Finnegas. Finnegas was a poet who lived on the banks of the Boyne River and was renowned throughout Ireland for his vast knowledge, including the secrets of the birds and animals and plants and stars.

The Boyne River
The Boyne River

Fionn loved to listen to and learn to recite the old man’s wonderful stories and his many words of wisdom, and in exchange for this would help out around the house, cooking, cleaning and fishing for the old man.

Fionn was full of insatiable curiosity and sometimes Finnegas was left unable to answer the young boy’s questions.

‘Is there a way to know everything?’ Fionn asked.

HazelnutsThis was a question that Finnegas had asked once too and was the very reason why he now lived next to the Boyne River. It had been told that in a still, dark pool known as the Well of Wisdom, in the shade of nine overhanging hazel trees , lived the Salmon of Knowledge. It was as result of eating nine hazelnuts of these hazel trees that the then ordinary Salmon had acquired all the knowledge of the world. And so it was that, according to prophecy, the one who would eat the Salmon would gain the knowledge for themselves. Finnegas had been living on the edge of the river for several years now, and had been trying to catch the Salmon for seven years and gain such wisdom.

One day, not long after Fionn had come to study under him, Finnegas went fishing and finally caught the Salmon. ‘I’ve caught it! I’ve caught it!’ he cried happily.

He immediately reeled it in and ran up to Fionn with the Salmon in his arms.

‘You must cook it straight away!’ Finnegas ordered Fionn, and as Fionn began to set up the fire and spit in order to cook the Salmon, Finnegas warned him, ‘Cook it, but whatever you do, do not eat a single bit of it!’

Fionn nodded and went about cooking the Salmon while Finnegas went to fetch some extra firewood.

Upon his return Finnegas found the Salmon laid out and ready to eat. He looked at Fionn and thought he saw something different about him.  His eyes seemed bluer and his cheeks redder. He also looked bigger and stronger. ‘Have you eaten any of the Salmon?’ he asked Fionn anxiously.

‘I have not!’ Fionn replied, ‘but when I was turning it on the spit I burned my fingers, so I put my thumb into my mouth to ease the pain.’

Finnegas’ heart sank. ‘That’s enough!’ he told Fionn, ‘You have tasted the Salmon of Knowledge; in you the prophecy is fulfilled. You are the one who has gained all the knowledge of the world.’

He then ordered Fionn to eat all of the Salmon.

However, when Fionn was finished he realised he didn’t feel much different nor did he feel any wiser than before. When he told this to Finnegas, Finnegas replied, ‘If it was your thumb you first burnt, then place it in your mouth.’

Fionn did as Finnegas suggested and immediately all the knowledge of the world rushed into his head.

‘You must go now! There is nothing more I can teach you,’ Finnegas informed him, ‘You are destined to become a wise poet, warrior and leader.’

From then on, if Fionn needed to know anything he just put his thumb in his mouth and he knew what to do.

And so it was that when Fionn grew up, he did indeed become a wise poet, warrior and leader. He became a great leader of the Fianna, the greatest band of warriors Ireland has ever known.

The Salmon of Knowledge Experience
Salmon and Hazelnuts

As part of our “Epicurean Mystery Romp across the Boyne Valley” Day Trip, come for a scenic river walk along the legendary Boyne River with Gerry from the Salmon of Knowledge Experience, and be regaled with this famous story of Fionn, his cunning mentor and the famous fish.  

Then you will get to actually taste a portion of the freshly cooked salmon itself in Smyth’s of the Bridge pub in Navan, and hopefully you too may even acquire some of the knowledge of the world there and then!

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