Emerald Isle

The Seven Trials of the Fianna

When Fionn Mac Cumhaill became leader of the Fianna, the fiercest and most warlike of those bands of heroes who lived in the wild places, hunting and acting as champions for their kings, and defending Ireland from evil, he decided that he wished to have only the best warriors to follow him.

So he sat down and sucked his thumb to taste the wisdom of the Salmon of Knowledge, then devised seven tests by which the greatest and most skilled could be selected.

And not only the greatest in arms, for any brute could swing a sword, but those who could think and understand poetry and culture, the better to love what they fought for. Fionn needed warriors who could live up to the words of the Fianna:

“Truth in our hearts,
Strength in our arms,
Honesty in our speech.”

In threes the Fianna fought, and three by three administered the tests, which were firstly, to leap over a height as tall as yourself, to show vigour. The second test was to run beneath a staff laid as low as your knees, to display flexibility.

The third test was to run as fast as you could until you stepped on a thorn placed before you, and in the next step to take it out of your foot without breaking stride, to demonstrate speed and accuracy of hand.

If you passed the first three tests, you'd have to pass the fourth, which was to tie your hair back in a braid and race through the forest with three of the Fianna chasing you. If you broke a twig in your flight, your garments were torn by a single bramble, or if your pursuers laid claim to a single hair on your head, you would fail.

And then to the fifth, which was to recite the twelve collections of poetry passed down by the bardic file and druids, without pause and by heart.

Having made it this far, the sixth test was more challenging than all the others put together! For now you were buried in a hole to the belt, and nine of the Fianna would stand around and try to stab you with spears – and you were given nothing but a wooden stick and shield to protect yourself!

Having completed this, then you must marry for love, and take a woman without a dowry for your wife.

Below on the map is marked the Hill of Allen where Fionn made his castle and trained his men.


More Legends from the Fenian Cycle