The Life of Findchú – part four

This is the end, my friend.

Having dealt with war among the Ulstermen, Leinstermen and Munstermen, Findchú has only one province left. Luckily for him Connacht was being raided yearly by foreigners and the king, Tomaltach, sent for aid from your favourite warrior saint. Once the man of Connacht submitted to the saint’s will, Findchú went to deal with the battalions of the foreigners camped on Cúil Cnamrois. Iron bars were used in the camp as part of the pallisade surrounding the tents and as tent poles. Praying to God Findchú caused a great heat to seize the iron poles and all the camp. In the morning all that was left of the foreigners was bone and ash. For this deed the community of Brí Gobann receives a yearly tribute from the king of Connacht.

This is what you get.
This is what you get.
At that time Mothla was king of Kerry. He was bringing up his brother’s son Ciar at his court. The courtiers around Mothla, seeing the boy grow, become concerned for the future of the kingship and advise Mothla to do away with the child. The plan is hatched to kill him in a “hunting accident” – the old William Rufus trick. However, they did not succeed. So the courtiers come up with another plan, becoming more and more like Wile E. Coyote in the process. At the feast after the hunt they get Ciar drunk, put him in a boat with one oar and set him out into the Atlantic. Luckily Ciar is blown to Inis Fuamnaige where he wakes, confused and with a massive hangover. Magor the viking lives on Inis Fuamnaige and agrees to look after Ciar if he tells him where to raid in Kerry. This is important because Magor, like all good TV vikings, does not sow. Over three years Magor and Ciar steal all the corn from Kerry.

Magor, Ciar, and the obligatory Game of Thrones reference.
Magor, Ciar, and the obligatory Game of Thrones reference.
Mothla calls on Findchú’s help to deal with these raids. So Findchú comes and decides to attack the raiders when they are making off with the corn. Through his miracles the army of Kerry comes upon the raiders unseen as they are loading their ships. Then Findchú unleashes hell. The sea, once smooth, rises up in waves as high as a mast. The saint runs at the raiders trapped on the shore howling like a wolf and swinging his crozier over his head. Even if the army of Kerry wasn’t there he would have routed the foreigners, attacking them with his teeth and nails as well as his weapons. It was pretty awesome. None of the raiders escaped alive, except Ciar.

This guy's a saint. Try and remember that.
This guy’s a saint. Try and remember that.
Mothla gives a tribute to Findchú, as a reward for his help, with malt and food coming from every household in Kerry. Although Ciar was spared, he could no longer live in Kerry so Findchú takes him away and sets him up near, what is now Cork. I’m not entirely sure that Ciar was treated fairly in all this, you know.

Once again the Uí Néill come from the north to invade Munster. That is to say the people in the north who are not Ulstermen – roughly. Gaelic kingdoms are a pretty fluid notion. They picked on Munster because they heard that it was full of fertile land and had no over-king, but rather all chieftains were of equal rank. The Munstermen usually trusted in their saints to save them and in this instance one chieftain declares that seven saints would come to save them if they could find a hero to accompany their army. The Munstermen heard that there was a brave man called Cairpre the Bent who was hunting game in the wilderness. Messengers were sent into the wilderness to find him and ask him to come with the army to save Munster. Cairpre replies that he will not come unless Findchú was with the army. In order to start this chain reaction of hero recruiting, the messengers are sent to Brí Gobann. I always thought I’d like to be a messenger if I was alive in the Middle Ages but these lads seem over worked. Findchú says he will come with the army but he is an old man by now and not too happy about it.

Even saints get too old for this shit.
Even saints get too old for this shit.
The Uí Néill outnumber the Munstermen three to one. They have heroes and champions a plenty. In the face of their wall of shields and forest of spears everyone flinches, save Findchú and Cairpre alone. “All your homes will be burned to the ground if you flinch!” said Findchú, not really nailing the pregame pep talk. “What are we to do, Findchú?” said the Munstermen, “we are outnumbered three to one!” Findchú replies (and this is a word for word quote, which makes it even better) “You should kill all the extra Uí Néill until they are the same number as you, and then just kill one man each”. Boom. Suitably heartened the Munstermen engage in battle. The fighting is fierce but the Munster saints rise above the host and the battle goes in their favour. The severed heads are gathered at Loch Cenn – the lake of heads.

Findchú really wanted to be in a macho action movie.
Findchú really wanted to be in a macho action movie.
Since the battle went so well the Munstermen decide to make Cairpre king. Findchú blesses him so that he no longer is known as Cairpre the Bent but Cairpre the Fair. Once again, say it with me now, tribute is given from Munster to Brí Gobann for the help given in battle.

At the end of his life Findchú begins to think on his warlike ways. Turns out hacking Irishmen, raiders and foreigners to pieces, even with your hands and teeth, is not so Christian. So he journeys to Rome in pilgrimage to atone for his sins. The Life ends with this poem that he recites:

Seven battles have I fought-
I am Findchú without disgrace-
From the battle of Dubcomar
To the battle of Finntracht against Magor.

A battle at Tara I delivered,
A battle in Leinster, with my devotion,
A battle in the middle of Munster,
I gave it without danger.

The contentious battle of Loch Cenn
Against the clans of Niall without disgrace;
The renowned battle of Cruachan Aí
It broke before me.

My fight against the Munstermen,
With Aed’s son, with my miracles,
My battles for the mindful,
It’s good to reckon them in their sevens.

My pilgrimage is to Rome in Latium,
On the road of Peter and Paul,
In Bronaide’s monastery
I have been reckoned in their sevens.

Always good to end on a song.

There is a nod at contrition at the end of the life but it is easy to see why older commentators have seen Findchú as a euhemerised god or at least an example of the very un-Christian nature of Irish Christianity. This view is a bit outdated now and we can see that the main concern is with establishing the dues owed to Brí Gobann from all over Ireland (but especially from its neighbours in Munster and Leinster). I hope you enjoyed this saint’s life, though it may be a while before we go through another one.

As ever the Irish and an old translation can be found here.


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