In days long gone, at a time that is long past, a great salmon named Bradan rested calmly in the Pool of Wisdom on the River Boyne. The salmon fed on the nuts from the nine hazel trees growing around the pool and all the wisdom of the world became concentrated in his flesh.
Fineagas, a poet and teacher, lived in a hut beside the River. Watching the salmon feeding, he knew that whoever ate Bradon would inherit all his knowledge and judgement. It is not easy to catch such a beast that is endowed with wisdom, and for seven years Fineagas tried and failed. One day, Fineagas was sitting with his pupil Fionn on the bank of the river when he saw the great fish swimming up the river towards them. Suddenly the salmon leapt into the air in front of Fineagas. Frightened, Fineagas looked straight into the salmon’s eyes and fell into the river and into a deep sleep. He might have been drowned, but Fionn pulled him to safety and shook him awake.
After this Fineagas showed that he too had great wisdom. He ordered Fionn to blindfold him, and all afternoon he fought with Bradan, and eventually conquered the salmon. Exhausted, he ordered Fionn to prepare the fish. Fionn did as he was told. He lit a fire of peat and wood and built a spit for the fish. He turned the spit carefully and watched until everything was cooked. He then called Fineagas to eat and removed the fish from the fire. As he did so, there was a splutter and fish oil dripped on his hand. It was so painful that he sucked his injury to ease the pain. He thought no more of it and brought the old man’s supper to the hut.
Fineagas saw the glint of wisdom in the boy’s eyes and knew that his long held dream of having all the salmon’s knowledge had turned to dust. But he took solace, knowing he had trained the boy well and that his wisdom would always serve for good. From that day forward, Fionn MacCumhail could summon all the wisdom of the salmon of knowledge by putting his thumb in his mouth. He became the most celebrated leader of the Fianna.
Story by Kevin Johnston, Illustration by David Rooney, Sculpture in bronze by Charlie Mallon