The Life of Findchú – part three

War! Huh! Good God, ya’ll! What is it good for?

When we last left Findchú he was breast feeding the child of the king of Leinster. As if this wasn’t bad enough for the king, war came to his province. The Uí Chennselaig were kicking off. The king, though, knew what to do in such a situation. He calls on his friend Findchú, who should come to his aid because of the affection he has for the king’s son. So Nuadu sends poets to ask Findchú to accompany the army when it goes on campaign. The poets arrive at the river beside Brí Gobann and ask to see Findchú. The saint, however, has just got in his ascetic bath and so asks that they wait for him to finish. The poets are offended by this and get angry. Findchú is offended that they are offended and gets angry himself. From that day forward no poets were allowed to get closer than the river to Brí Gobann. Also the king of Leinster can no longer use poets as messengers. Tetchy bunch anyway. Despite this rudeness Findchú agrees to help the army of the Leinstermen.

Poets can be annoying
Poets can be annoying

Findchú comes to the fortress with his clerics in tow, including young Fintan. Nuadu is pleased to see his son, who seems to have learned a lot with Findchú. The saint’s advice is that Nuadu send a gift of peace to Cennselach, the leader of the opposing army. Nuadu gets in touch to see what trinkets he fancies, but Cennselach will only accept the destruction of the fort the next day. Them’s fighting words. Indeed, in a pattern we’ll be comfortable with now, Findchú flies into a rage at hearing these words and want to have the fight there and then: “He wants to go, let’s go. I’ll take him right here, right now”. The two armies line up opposite each other, Findchú takes the lead in the Leinster forces. Seeing the enemy for the first time he is seized by a “wave of boldness” (direct quote) and the feet, hands, and eyes of the Uí Chennselaig are rendered useless.The saint is then seized by a “wave of godhead” (direct quote again) and offers the enemy one last chance to hand over hostages and go home safely. Rather foolishly the Uí Chennselaig refuse and in the following battle they are all killed, except Cennselach himself. For sparing his life Cennselach offers a tribute from himself and his descendants in perpetuity for Findchú. Handy that. As a final action Findchú blesses both the king of Leinster and Cennselach with chastity in all their queens and wives. Which was nice of him.

Since Nuadu has had a touching father-son reunion over the bodies of dead Leinstermen, he realises that misses the young tyke (although he’s never met him before in his life). So Nuadu asks Findchú if he would leave the boy Fintan with him in Leinster. Obviously it would be a shame if the boy was turned away from his holy calling but the choice was left up to the kid. Unsurprisingly, in a saint’s life, Fintan chooses to remain a monk and he stays in Leinster to found Clonenagh. This bit isn’t that exciting but if you were a medieval Irish monk you’d be all over these stories about monasteries and how they relate to each other.

This is an excited monk.
This is an excited monk.

This concludes Findchú’s adventures in Leinster. He next moves on to Munster. The Munstermen were in a spot of trouble because of the wife of the king of Ulster. Let me explain. The king of Ulster was Eochu, the son of Scannlan who we met in part one, remember? His wife was Mongfinn. She was the daughter of Daire and came from Munster. The only thing that she wanted in life was for her husband to conquer Munster so that the land could be divided up between her three sons Cas, Cian, Cingid. She had a Kardashian sort of naming practice going on. Once again, we are dealing with medieval literature so the scheming of a woman is just terrible and ends up destroying all the virtuous men around her. I know, right?

Findchú learns that Eochu is about to invade Munster and sends him a warning not to invade as it will end in his death. The king is seduced by the wiles of his wife and before you know it the Ulster army has set up camp on Knocksouna in Munster. The current king, Cathal (who you’ll recall from part two – see how it all comes together?) then turns up with his own army. When he realises that the Ulstermen have invaded he sends for Findchú to come and help him out. Findchú had previously promised to aid Cathal in all his battles, using his magic crozier Cennchatach – the Chief Battler. Lots of people name croziers.

What she said.
What she said.

The saint comes to Cathal straight away without waiting for any of his clerics. Once again, before it all descends into madness Findchú goes with a gift to Eochu, to tell him that he has no right to the kingship of Munster, so should go on his way. Mongfinn recognises the saint as he approaches and comes up with a plan to kill him off. She tells her sons to pretend to argue so that when Findchú comes to split them up, they can all jump him and deprive the Munstermen of his holy aid. Findchú enters the camp and Mongfinn runs up to him, saying that her sons are fighting about who should be king after they win the battle. She appeals to the saint to calm them down. The thing I like about Findchú is that he is good with a put down and one liner. Since he knows that it’s all a trap, he walks past the queen saying: “Mongfinn’s sons are peaceful”. However this means that the peace talks have broken down so Findchú returns to Cathal ready for war.

Findchú advises the Munstermen to make a battle line at the top of the hill. Cathal asks for Findchú’s crozier, since it is a mighty powerful weapon, but Findchú keeps it for himself so that he’ll be the one to kick most arse. Like a good Christian. The Ulstermen make their battle line at the bottom of the hill and prepare to meet the Munster charge. They kneel down, ready to rise up at the last minute but Findchú uses the power of God to stick them to the ground. When the Munstermen charge down the hill the Ulstermen are stuck fast to the floor and slaughtered in short order. Eochy, Mongfinn and their three sons were all killed that day and buried in the same place.

Shit. I'm stuck.
Shit. I’m stuck.

Before destroying the entire host some of Findchú’s fosterlings come to him and ask that he spare the Ulstermen. So the rest of the host goes back north unharmed. In a final good deed to the Munstermen, the saint cures some of their maimed and wounded, thereby also getting a tithe from their families for the rest of time.

The middle of a saint’s life does tend to drag as miracles get repeated often. What we see here is that Findchú is a great help in battle. This excellence in battle is something that Findchú’s successors would lean on to influence any kings in their own time, who were thinking of going into battle. Which happened a lot. We also see the figure of the scheming woman, bringing destruction – a common trope, especially in ecclesiastical texts. As ever the Irish can be found here.


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