Finn McCool and the Mountain of Women

Finn McCool was a great Irish warrior. He was a leader and a poet and a thinker too. Finn had the longest arms and the broadest shoulders and the strongest legs and the fairest hair and the bluest eyes and the soundest digestion of any man that ever lived. It was Finn who built the “Giant’s Causeway”, the stepping stones to Scotland, the remains of which are a major tourist attraction in Ireland to this very day. Yes, Finn McCool was quite a sight to behold.

Not only was Finn McCool strong and cunning, he was wise as well, for you see he had tasted of the great Salmon of Wisdom. You might recall that when Finn was only a young lad he had come upon a man roasting a great fish over a fire along the beach. The man had to step away from the fire for a bit, and so he asked Finn to keep a watch over the fire and the fish. “But,” he had told Finn clearly, “You are not to taste it.” For you see, this was the Salmon of Wisdom, and whomever tasted of it first would get all the wisdom of the world, all the wisdom that ever was. The man wanted this for himself. Well Finn took his task seriously. Soon there appeared a few blisters on the skin of the great fish. Finn became alarmed that maybe it would burn. Maybe the fire was too high, or the fish too close. He took his thumb and pushed down on the blisters to break them. “Ooohhh,” it was hot, and he burned his thumb. Doing just what you or I would do in this situation, Finn stuck his thumb in his mouth, and in that instant he tasted of the Salmon. Quick as a flash, Finn acquired for himself all of the wisdom that ever was.

So when Finn came to seek a wife, he knew just what he would do. He sought a wife who was beautiful and capable. He wanted a wife that other men would admire, but not admire too much. A wife who was wealthy would not be a bad thing. When the word got out that Finn McCool sought a wife, the young girls began to descend upon him like rain. Or rather the mothers of the young girls, with their daughters in tow, began to descend upon him. Finally, Finn used his wisdom to devise a plan to deal with all these lovely, sweet-natured, competent young ladies, and the many who were not so lovely and sweet-natured as well.

Finn asked them all to meet him at the base of a mountain in Tipperary, a place where Finn liked to hunt for deer and wild boar. Hundreds of young girls and mothers, and in many cases whole families, soon arrived at the mountain. Some of the girls were blond as flour, others as dark as blackberries, some were as red-haired as rage. Some even brought apple cakes, as everyone knew that Finn McCool had a mighty appetite for apple cakes. Finn lined them all up and told them there was to be a race to the top of the mountain.

Finn told them that he would go up to the mountain top and sit and wait. He would blow his great horn to start the race. The first girl to reach him would be his bride. But the racing would only be done during daylight. As the sun went down, Finn would again blow his horn and all must stop for the night. He would blow the horn again the next morning to start the race again. It was a tall mountain, covered with brush and trees and rocks and brambles. Finn told them it would take at least three days to climb to the top.Then Finn, giant of a man that he was, turned and strode off up the mountain, reaching the top in only seven great strides. Finding a comfortable place to sit, Finn blew on his horn and the race began. Quickly the ladies, and their mothers and families began to scramble up the side of the mountain, but the going was slow because the obstacles were many. By nightfall, when Finn blew his mighty horn to end the race for the day, only a few had gotten even a third of the way up the mountain. Soon Finn could see cooking fires of the racers far down the mountain, and soon thereafter he heard the sounds of snoring wafting up the mountain side.

At the break of day, Finn once more blew his great horn, and the racers resumed the climb, but the going was even tougher than the day before. Many of the girls tuckered out and decided that not even Finn McCool was worth all the effort. They had tumbled into the streams, and were scratched by the rocks, and bitten by the horseflies. Many turned back down the mountain, berated loudly by their mothers for not trying hard enough. But those that had been in the lead on the first day stayed strong and remained in the lead. But all of them were glad when Finn blew his horn to end the race for the second day.

Many of the girls who had come alone had brought no food, because who would have thought there would be a three day race. But those who had shared with those who had not, because they wanted Finn to see how kind they were, and Finn was pleased with this. But as he sat under a shady tree at the top of the mountain and watched those who remained in the race settling down for the night, he looked particularly for a fair young red-haired maiden from Kildare, who had early on caught his eye before the race began. She had a lovely smile and a gentle eye.

When he was sure that all the racers were sound asleep, Finn crept quietly down the mountain. Being a mighty hunter and warrior, with eyes that could see in the dark, he moved silently among them, searching for the girl from Kildare. Soon he found her, fast asleep on a bed of heather. Carefully and gently, Finn picked her up and carried her up higher on the mountain. Not so far up that anyone would suspect her of cheating, but far enough to assure that no one else would overtake her.

The next morning, Finn blew his horn once again to resume the race. The girl from Kildare was surprised to see where she was when she awoke, and she quickly got up and hurried up the hill. It was no surprise to Finn McCool, when she was the one who reached him first. And so the great race was over, and many were the wailings of those who had run a good race but not been the winner and the chosen one, and even louder were the wailings of the mothers who would have to try another time to marry off their daughters.

On the first of the very next month, the red-haired girl from Kildare became Finn’s bride. It was the grandest wedding anyone could ever remember, either before or since. There were seven men wielding seven shovels for seven days, and they were only mixing the mustard for the sandwiches.

To this very day, that mountain in Tipperary where the great race took place is called Slievenamon, the “Mountain of Women.” Some would say this tale is just a myth or a bit of Irish blarney, but I’m here to tell you that every word is the truth!

This is one of several tales about the mountain, and the race by which Finn chose a wife. In other tales it was the beautiful Gra’inne, herself an Irish legend, who won the race, without any help. But she soon changed her mind about marrying Finn, and in fact eloped with the warrior Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. Finn’s chase of the couple is a tale for another time. The photograph below is of the mountain.