A Legend Of Knockmany

: Celtic Folk And Fairy Tales

What Irish man, woman, or child has not heard of our renowned

Hibernian Hercules, the great and glorious Fin M'Coul? Not one, from

Cape Clear to the Giant's Causeway, nor from that back again to Cape

Clear. And, by the way, speaking of the Giant's Causeway brings me at

once to the beginning of my story. Well, it so happened that Fin and

his men were all working at the Causeway, in order to make a bridge

across to Scotl
nd; when Fin, who was very fond of his wife Oonagh,

took it into his head that he would go home and see how the poor woman

got on in his absence. So, accordingly, he pulled up a fir tree, and,

after lopping off the roots and branches, made a walking-stick of it,

and set out on his way to Oonagh.

Oonagh, or rather Fin, lived at this time on the very tiptop of

Knockmany Hill, which faces a cousin of its own called Cullamore, that

rises up, half-hill, half-mountain, on the opposite side.

There was at that time another giant, named Cuhullin--some say he was

Irish, and some say he was Scotch--but whether Scotch or Irish, sorrow

doubt of it but he was a targer. No other giant of the day could

stand before him; and such was his strength, that, when well-vexed, he

could give a stamp that shook the country about him. The fame and name

of him went far and near, and nothing in the shape of a man, it was

said, had any chance with him in a fight. By one blow of his fists he

flattened a thunderbolt and kept it in his pocket, in the shape of a

pancake, to show to all his enemies when they were about to fight him.

Undoubtedly he had given every giant in Ireland a considerable

beating, barring Fin M'Coul himself; and he swore that he would never

rest, night or day, winter or summer, till he would serve Fin with the

same sauce, if he could catch him. However, the short and long of it

was, with reverence be it spoken, that Fin heard Cuhullin was coming

to the Causeway to have a trial of strength with him; and he was

seized with a very warm and sudden fit of affection for his wife, poor

woman, leading a very lonely, uncomfortable life of it in his absence.

He accordingly pulled up the fir tree, as I said before, and having

snedded it into a walking-stick, set out on his travels to see his

darling Oonagh on the top of Knockmany, by the way.

In truth, the people wondered very much why it was that Fin selected

such a windy spot for his dwelling-house, and they even went so far as

to tell him as much.

"What can you mane, Mr. M'Coul," said they, "by pitching your tent

upon the top of Knockmany, where you never are without a breeze, day

or night winter or summer, and where you're often forced to take your

nightcap without either going to bed or turning up your little finger;

ay, an' where, besides this, there's the sorrow's own want of water?"

"Why," said Fin, "ever since I was the height of a round tower, I was

known to be fond of having a good prospect of my own; and where the

dickens, neighbours, could I find a better spot for a good prospect

than the top of Knockmany? As for water, I am sinking a pump, and,

plase goodness, as soon as the Causeway's made, I intend to finish


Now, this was more of Fin's philosophy; for the real state of the case

was, that he pitched upon the top of Knockmany in order that he might

be able to see Cuhullin coming towards the house. All we have to say

is, that if he wanted a spot from which to keep a sharp look-out--and,

between ourselves, he did want it grievously--barring Slieve Croob, or

Slieve Donard, or its own cousin, Cullamore, he could not find a

neater or more convenient situation for it in the sweet and sagacious

province of Ulster.

"God save all here!" said Fin, good-humouredly, on putting his honest

face into his own door.

"Musha, Fin, avick, an' you're welcome home to your own Oonagh, you

darlin' bully." Here followed a smack that is said to have made the

waters of the lake at the bottom of the hill curl, as it were, with

kindness and sympathy.

Fin spent two or three happy days with Oonagh, and felt himself very

comfortable, considering the dread he had of Cuhullin. This, however,

grew upon him so much that his wife could not but perceive something

lay on his mind which he kept altogether to himself. Let a woman

alone, in the meantime, for ferreting or wheedling a secret out of her

good man, when she wishes. Fin was a proof of this.

"It's this Cuhullin," said he, "that's troubling me. When the fellow

gets angry, and begins to stamp, he'll shake you a whole townland; and

it's well known that he can stop a thunderbolt, for he always carries

one about him in the shape of a pancake, to show to any one that might

misdoubt it."

As he spoke, he clapped his thumb in his mouth, which he always did

when he wanted to prophesy, or to know anything that happened in his

absence; and the wife asked him what he did it for.

"He's coming," said Fin; "I see him below Dungannon."

"Thank goodness, dear! an' who is it, avick? Glory be to God!"

"That baste, Cuhullin," replied Fin; "and how to manage I don't know.

If I run away, I am disgraced; and I know that sooner or later I must

meet him, for my thumb tells me so."

"When will he be here?" said she.

"To-morrow, about two o'clock," replied Fin, with a groan.

"Well, my bully, don't be cast down," said Oonagh; "depend on me, and

maybe I'll bring you better out of this scrape than ever you could

bring yourself, by your rule o' thumb."

She then made a high smoke on the top of the hill after which she put

her finger in her mouth, and gave three whistles, and by that Cuhullin

knew he was invited to Cullamore--for this was the way that the Irish

long ago gave a sign to all strangers and travellers, to let them know

they were welcome to come and take share of whatever was going.

In the meantime, Fin was very melancholy, and did not know what to do,

or how to act at all. Cuhullin was an ugly customer to meet with; and,

the idea of the "cake" aforesaid flattened the very heart within him.

What chance could he have, strong and brave though he was, with a man

who could, when put in a passion, walk the country into earthquakes

and knock thunderbolts into pancakes? Fin knew not on what hand to

turn him. Right or left--backward or forward--where to go he could

form no guess whatsoever.

"Oonagh," said he, "can you do nothing for me? Where's all your

invention? Am I to be skivered like a rabbit before your eyes, and to

have my name disgraced for ever in the sight of all my tribe, and me

the best man among them? How am I to fight this man-mountain--this

huge cross between an earthquake and a thunderbolt?--with a pancake in

his pocket that was once----"

"Be easy, Fin," replied Oonagh; "troth, I'm ashamed of you. Keep your

toe in your pump, will you? Talking of pancakes, maybe, we'll give him

as good as any he brings with him--thunderbolt or otherwise. If I

don't treat him to as smart feeding as he's got this many a day, never

trust Oonagh again. Leave him to me, and do just as I bid you."

This relieved Fin very much; for, after all, he had great confidence

in his wife, knowing, as he did, that she had got him out of many a

quandary before. Oonagh then drew the nine woollen threads of

different colours, which she always did to find out the best way of

succeeding in anything of importance she went about. She then platted

them into three plats with three colours in each, putting one on her

right arm, one round her heart, and the third round her right ankle,

for then she knew that nothing could fail with her that she undertook.

Having everything now prepared, she sent round to the neighbours and

borrowed one-and-twenty iron griddles, which she took and kneaded into

the hearts of one-and-twenty cakes of bread, and these she baked on

the fire in the usual way, setting them aside in the cupboard

according as they were done. She then put down a large pot of new

milk, which she made into curds and whey. Having done all this, she

sat down quite contented, waiting for his arrival on the next day

about two o'clock, that being the hour at which he was expected--for

Fin knew as much by the sucking of his thumb. Now this was a curious

property that Fin's thumb had. In this very thing, moreover, he was

very much resembled by his great foe, Cuhullin; for it was well known

that the huge strength he possessed all lay in the middle finger of

his right hand, and that, if he happened by any mischance to lose it,

he was no more, for all his bulk, than a common man.

At length, the next day, Cuhullin was seen coming across the valley,

and Oonagh knew that it was time to commence operations. She

immediately brought the cradle, and made Fin to lie down in it, and

cover himself up with the clothes.

"You must pass for your own child," said she; "so just lie there snug,

and say nothing, but be guided by me."

About two o'clock, as he had been expected, Cuhullin came in. "God

save all here!" said he; "is this where the great Fin M'Coul lives?"

"Indeed it is, honest man," replied Oonagh; "God save you

kindly--won't you be sitting?"

"Thank you ma'am," says he, sitting down; "you're Mrs. M'Coul, I


"I am," said she; "and I have no reason, I hope, to be ashamed of my


"No," said the other, "he has the name of being the strongest and

bravest man in Ireland; but for all that, there's a man not far from

you that's very desirous of taking a shake with him. Is he at home?"

"Why, then, no," she replied; "and if ever a man left his house in a

fury he did. It appears that some one told him of a big basthoon of a

giant called Cuhullin being down at the Causeway to look for him, and

so he set out there to try if he could catch him. Troth, I hope, for

the poor giant's sake, he won't meet with him, for if he does, Fin

will make paste of him at once."

"Well," said the other, "I am Cuhullin, and I have been seeking him

these twelve months, but he always kept clear of me; and I will never

rest night or day till I lay my hands on him."

At this Oonagh set up a loud laugh, of great contempt, by-the-way, and

looked at him as if he was only a mere handful of a man.

"Did you ever see Fin?" said she, changing her manner all at once.

"How could I," said he; "he always took care to keep his distance."

"I thought so," she replied; "I judged as much; and if you take my

advice, you poor-looking creature, you'll pray night and day that you

may never see him, for I tell you it will be a black day for you when

you do. But, in the meantime, you perceive that the wind's on the

door, and as Fin himself is from home, maybe you'd be civil enough to

turn the house, for it's always what Fin does when he's here."

This was a startler even to Cuhullin; but he got up, however, and

after pulling the middle finger of his right hand until it cracked

three times, he went outside, and getting his arms about the house,

turned it as she had wished. When Fin saw this, he felt the sweat of

fear oozing out through every pore of his skin; but Oonagh, depending

upon her woman's wit, felt not a whit daunted.

"Arrah, then," said she, "as you are so civil, maybe you'd do another

obliging turn for us, as Fin's not here to do it himself. You see,

after this long stretch of dry weather we've had, we feel very badly

off for want of water. Now, Fin says there's a fine spring-well

somewhere under the rocks behind the hill here below, and it was his

intention to pull them asunder; but having heard of you, he left the

place in such a fury, that he never thought of it. Now, if you try to

find it, troth, I'd feel it a kindness."

She then brought Cuhullin down to see the place, which was then all

one solid rock; and, after looking at it for some time, he cracked his

right middle finger nine times, and, stooping down, tore a cleft about

four hundred feet deep, and a quarter of a mile in length, which has

since been christened by the name of Lumford's Glen.

"You'll now come in," said she, "and eat a bit of such humble fare as

we can give you. Fin, even although he and you are enemies, would

scorn not to treat you kindly in his own house; and, indeed, if I

didn't do it even in his absence, he would not be pleased with me."

She accordingly brought him in, and placing half-a-dozen of the cakes

we spoke of before him, together with a can or two of butter, a side

of boiled bacon, and a stack of cabbage, she desired him to help

himself--for this, be it known, was long before the invention of

potatoes. Cuhullin put one of the cakes in his mouth to take a huge

whack out of it, when he made a thundering noise, something between a

growl and a yell. "Blood and fury," he shouted; "how is this? Here are

two of my teeth out! What kind of bread is this you gave me."

"What's the matter?" said Oonagh coolly.

"Matter!" shouted the other again; "why here are the two best teeth in

my head gone."

"Why," said she, "that's Fin's bread--the only bread he ever eats when

at home; but, indeed, I forgot to tell you that nobody can eat it but

himself, and that child in the cradle there. I thought, however, that

as you were reported to be rather a stout little fellow of your size,

you might be able to manage it, and I did not wish to affront a man

that thinks himself able to fight Fin. Here's another cake--maybe it's

not so hard as that."

Cuhullin at the moment was not only hungry, but ravenous, so he

accordingly made a fresh set at the second cake, and immediately

another yell was heard twice as loud as the first. "Thunder and

gibbets!" he roared, "take your bread out of this, or I will not have

a tooth in my head; there's another pair of them gone!"

"Well, honest man," replied Oonagh, "if you're not able to eat the

bread, say so quietly, and don't be wakening the child in the cradle

there. There now, he's awake upon me."

Fin now gave a skirl that startled the giant, as coming from such a

youngster as he was supposed to be. "Mother," said he, "I'm

hungry--get me something to eat." Oonagh went over, and putting into

his hand a cake that had no griddle in it, Fin, whose appetite in the

meantime had been sharpened by seeing eating going forward, soon

swallowed it. Cuhullin was thunderstruck, and secretly thanked his

stars that he had the good fortune to miss meeting Fin, for, as he

said to himself, "I'd have no chance with a man who could eat such

bread as that, which even his son that's but in his cradle can munch

before my eyes."

"I'd like to take a glimpse at the lad in the cradle," said he to

Oonagh; "for I can tell you that the infant who can manage that

nutriment is no joke to look at, or to feed of a scarce summer."

"With all the veins of my heart," replied Oonagh; "get up, acushla,

and show this decent little man something that won't be unworthy of

your father, Fin M'Coul."

Fin, who was dressed for the occasion as much like a boy as possible,

got up, and bringing Cuhullin out, "Are you strong?" said he.

"Thunder an' ounds!" exclaimed the other, "what a voice in so small a


"Are you strong?" said Fin again; "are you able to squeeze water out

of that white stone?" he asked putting one into Cuhullin's hand. The

latter squeezed and squeezed the stone, but in vain.

"Ah! you're a poor creature!" said Fin. "You a giant! Give me the

stone here, and when I'll show what Fin's little son can do, you may

then judge of what my daddy himself is."

Fin then took the stone, and exchanging it for the curds, he squeezed

the latter until the whey, as clear as water, oozed out in a little

shower from his hand.

"I'll now go in," said he "to my cradle; for I scorn to lose my time

with any one that's not able to eat my daddy's bread, or squeeze water

out of a stone. Bedad, you had better be off out of this before he

comes back; for if he catches you, it's in flummery he'd have you in

two minutes."

Cuhullin, seeing what he had seen, was of the same opinion himself;

his knees knocked together with the terror of Fin's return, and he

accordingly hastened to bid Oonagh farewell, and to assure her, that

from that day out, he never wished to hear of, much less to see, her

husband. "I admit fairly that I'm not a match for him," said he,

"strong as I am; tell him I will avoid him as I would the plague, and

that I will make myself scarce in this part of the country while I


Fin, in the meantime, had gone into the cradle, where he lay very

quietly, his heart at his mouth with delight that Cuhullin was about

to take his departure, without discovering the tricks that had been

played off on him.

"It's well for you," said Oonagh, "that he doesn't happen to be here,

for it's nothing but hawk's meat he'd make of you."

"I know that," said Cuhullin; "divil a thing else he'd make of me; but

before I go, will you let me feel what kind of teeth Fin's lad has got

that can eat griddle-bread like that?"

"With all pleasure in life," said she; "only as they're far back in

his head, you must put your finger a good way in."

Cuhullin was surprised to find such a powerful set of grinders in one

so young; but he was still much more so on finding, when he took his

hand from Fin's mouth, that he had left the very finger upon which his

whole strength depended, behind him. He gave one loud groan, and fell

down at once with terror and weakness. This was all Fin wanted, who

now knew that his most powerful and bitterest enemy was at his mercy.

He started out of the cradle, and in a few minutes the great Cuhullin,

that was for such a length of time the terror of him and all his

followers, lay a corpse before him. Thus did Fin, through the wit and

invention of Oonagh, his wife, succeed in overcoming his enemy by

cunning, which he never could have done by force.