Fuin Mac Cumhal and the Salmon of Knowledge.
In days of yore, Cormac, son of Art, ruled Ireland, and a hospitable prince was he. His house was always open, and many were the retainers kept in his hall, and thereby, like many modern princes, his expenses outran both his ready money and his tardy credit, and he was at his wits’ end how to supply with meat and strong drink those who honored his quality by feeding at his expense.
After all, the most obvious recipe that can occur to any prince, when desirous of aggrandising himself, is to go to war with one of his neighbours.
Now, Fiachadh Muilliathan, King of Munster, had some fat pasture-lands along the banks of the Suir, which preserve their credit for fertility unto this very day, and go under the name of the “Golden Vein.” On these plentiful plains Cormac cast his longing eye, assuring himself that were he once possessed of such mensal lands, he should never want a sirloin or basin of beef to grace his board. Go to war, therefore, he should; but withal, Fiachadh of Munster was potent and wise, and he valued those fields as the apple of his eye, and his merry men of Ormond and Desmond were as fond of fighting as their descendants are at this very day.
In this difficulty Cormac resorted for advice to a Druid, who was a Caledonian, for even in these early days the Scotch were fond of foreign travel, and were everywhere at hand to give advice to those that could pay for it; and he, being an enchanter and depository of old prophecies, told the King that in one of those rivers that run under ground in the western land now called Mayo, and not far from that lofty mountain now named Croagh Patrick, there was a salmon, which, if caught and eaten, would communicate such wisdom, prowess, and good fortune to the eater, that from that day forth fame and prosperity would attend him in all his wars. You may be sure Cormac lost no time in setting out on his fishing excursion into Connaught, according to all the directions of his adviser. He came to the banks of a river that rises in the mountain-chain surrounding the rock of Croagh Patrick, and, pursuing that river’s course through a fertile valley, he at length came to where the turbulent stream falls into a fearful cavern and is lost, to be seen no more. Whether it seeks by some unknown passage the depths of the ocean, or whether it plunges into the depths of the earth’s abyss and goes to cool the raging of its central fires, has never yet been ascertained.
Close to the jaws of the engulfing cavern there is a dark, deep pool, where the stream, as if in terror, whirls about in rapid eddies, and here, amidst multitudes of fish, it was supposed the Salmon of Knowledge spent his days. On the banks of this pool Cormac and his Caledonian adviser sat day after day, and complain they could not of want of sport, for many a fine fish they caught and broiled on the live coals which they kept for their accommodation on the bank. But still Cormac became not a whit the wiser; and he at length grew so tired of fish, it palled so much upon his appetite, that the Milesian monarch began to sigh after the fat mutton that the broad pastures of Tara supplied.
At length the fish were caught with such rapidity that if he got thereby the wisdom of Solomon he could not be brought to taste of every one taken in this populous pool. And now he and his adviser presumed to make selections, and applying the arbitrary principles of physiognomy to fish, ventured to throw back some into the stream, while others, as more
Thus it was that Fuin Mac Cumhal, not King Cormac, happened on the Salmon of Knowledge, and time and your patience would fail me to recount all his succeeding renowned deeds.
Irish Fairy Tales. Illustrated by Geoffrey Strahan.
London: Gibbings and Company, Ltd., 1904. 47-51.
Background courtesy of Windhaven Web Art.
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