Fiannas and Irish Wolfhounds

Irish Wolfhound: “Gentle when stroked; fierce when provoked:” Old Irish proverb.

In medieval Ireland, there were bands of landless and lawless young people known as “kerns.” Some were young aristocrats who hadn’t yet come into their inheritance of land, and mostly they were young men, but sometimes they were women. These gangs were called the “Fianna,” and they gave rise to what amounted to urban legends of the day. More than a few Irish and Scottish mythology spoke of the small, quasi-independent warrior bands, but a few tales were rooted in historical fact: In the Ulster Cycle, for example, the Druid Cathbad led a “fiann” of twenty-seven men that fought and killed the twelve foster-fathers of the Ulster princess, “Ness.” In response, Ness took into battle her own fiann of twenty-seven men in pursuit of Cathbad. Never irritate an Irish woman. But we digress.

During a time when only nobility could own an Irish Wolfhound, one such Fianna existed in the second century A.D. in which each warrior was allowed to own TWO Hounds. Its chief, Fionn mac Cumhall, owned three hundred grown Wolfhounds and two hundred puppies. His favorite hounds were Bran and Sceólang, born of a human enchanted into the form of the Irish Wolfhound. Truth be told, however, his real favorite was “Bran” who always dispatched more men or beasts in battle then his master.

Legends are held dearly in Gaelic cultures. The 19th-century Irish revolutionary organisation, the Fenian Brotherhood, took its name from these legends. Former Riverdance leads, Jean Butler and Colin Dunne, included Fionn in the 1999 Irish dance show, “Dancing on Dangerous Ground,” and Fiannas have lived on in modern literature and plays.

Image of sculptures of Fionn mac Cumhall and his two Irish Wolfhounds, “Bran” and “Seoclan” at the Ballymany Roundabout

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