The Salmon of Knowledge

Storyteller Eddie Lenihan said “These stories are not yours or mine, they belong to the people who were kind enough to tell them to me, while they were still able to. I in turn regard it as my duty to share them with others. Through this process, hopefully, the stories will live on.” Here in Ireland, we are completely saturated with stories of Ireland’s mystical people, The Sidhe. 

Many of us, like Eddie, regard it as our duty to pass these tales to those coming along behind us. It is part of our heritage, our upbringing and our culture. So that’s why we, at Mallon Ireland, have cultivated a list of some of Ireland’s most prolific folklore tales. Today, we have a version of the Salmon of Knowledge for you to read. 

On our website, we have a bronze sculpture of the Salmon of Knowledge. This beautiful story is one of our favourites. It tells of Fionn mac Cumhaill as a young boy, who went to live with renowned poet, storyteller and generally clever man Finnegas. 

The wise old man tried to impart his knowledge on Fionn but sometimes some facts escaped him. He lived beside the River Boyne, and for years had been trying to catch the fish known as The Salmon of Knowledge. It was said that as a result of eating the nuts of magical hazel trees that the Salmon had acquired all the knowledge of the world. And so it was that the one who would eat the Salmon would gain the knowledge for themselves.

On one occasion, Finnegas finally caught the fish and sent Fionn to cook it. He asked Fionn had he eaten any of it, to which he replied, ‘‘I have not! But when I was turning it on the spit I burned my fingers, so I put my thumb into my mouth to ease the pain.’ 

Finnegas was disappointed but told his prodigy to eat the full fish. However, Fionn felt no different and didn’t feel any more wise than before. Then Finnegas suggested he suck his thumb since that was the part of him that touched the Salmon of Knowledge. After this, he felt all the knowledge in the world rush into his head, filling it with information, wisdom and stories. 

Exasperated, Finnegas said, ‘‘You must go now! There is nothing more I can teach you. You are destined to become a wise poet, warrior and leader.’ 

And it was true, Fionn became the leader of the Fianna, the greatest band of warriors Ireland has ever known.

You can find traces of this story in Ireland everywhere. A giant sculpture of the legendary "Salmon of Knowledge" celebrates the return of fish to Belfast's River Lagan. You'll find it along the banks of the river in Donegall Quay, Belfast.

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