Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Zachary Pullen tells the story of how the giant Finn McCool acquired his great wisdom.
While Finn McCool was the biggest giant in all Ireland, and the greatest warrior ever known, he wasn’t known for being terribly bright. One day he overhears his neighbors in Drumnahoon discussing his lack of mental agility and he is determined to change the situation. From an old man in a neighboring village, he learns that in the River Boyne there is a salmon who contains all of the wisdom of the world and that if he eats the salmon, the wisdom will be his. Finn captures the fish, but as he sits looking at it, he realizes he is unwilling to sacrifice it for wisdom. He removes the hook from the fish and while preparing to let it go, catches his thumb on the hook mingling his blood with the salmon’s and transferring the wisdom of the fish. From then on, whenever he’s faced with a difficult problem, Finn always sucks the thumb he pricked with the fish hook.
This retelling of an old folk tale contains heroes and magic and the lesson that physical prowess isn’t everything and kindness and wisdom are strengths as well. My son loves to hear stories about Finn McCool, and he frequently asks if I’ve found more of them. The pictures of this edition are very evocative, with images of Finn helping his neighbors by carrying livestock in out of the rain, sitting and looking a bit like a turnip head, and his view of the glittering trail of fish scales that were all that remained of the old man that helped him.
The River Boyne, where the salmon of wisdom lived, flows 70 miles northeast from County Kildare to enter the Irish Sea just below Drogheda in County Louth. Despite only being 70 miles long, the river has historical and mythical significance. It was the site of the battle of Boyne in 1690 which was a power struggle between James II of England, William of Orange, and King Louis XIV of France. The Battle of the Boyne visitor centre in Drogheda, Co. Meath provides walking tours of the battlefield, audio/visual tours, 17th century weapon displays, laser battlefield models, as well as hosting numerous events during the spring and summer. It also passes near the ancient city of Trim and Trim Castle, Ireland’s largest Anglo-Norman castle (which was used in the filming of the movie Braveheart). The river also passes near the Hill of Tara, the ancient capital of the High King of Ireland; Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland; and the Hill of Slane which is associated with St. Patrick and reputed to be the place where he lit the Pascal fire in 433, symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over paganism. The river is also one of Ireland’s premier game fisheries and you can certainly try your hand at catching your own salmon of wisdom.