The Salmon of Knowledge

The Celtic culture is rich with fascinating legends and myths, and one of the most intriguing is the tale of the Salmon of Knowledge. This ancient legend tells the story of a mystical fish that possessed all the wisdom and knowledge of the world. 

The great salmon was known by the name of "Bradan" and it lived in the Pool of Wisdom on the River Boyne. Bradan fed on the nuts from the nine hazel trees that grew around the pool and all the wisdom of the world became concentrated in his flesh.

Fineagas, a poet and teacher, lived in a hut beside the River. Watching the salmon feeding, he knew that whoever ate Bradan would inherit all his knowledge and judgement.  It is not easy to catch such a beast that is endowed with such wisdom, and for seven years Fineagas tried and failed.  One day, Fineagas was sitting with his pupil Fionn on the bank of the river when he saw the great fish swimming up the river towards them. Suddenly the salmon leapt into the air in front of Fineagas. Frightened, Fineagas looked straight into the salmon’s eyes and fell into the river and into a deep sleep. He might have been drowned, but Fionn pulled him to safety and shook him awake. 

After this Fineagas showed that he too had great wisdom. He ordered Fionn to blindfold him, and all afternoon he fought with Bradan, and eventually conquered the salmon. Exhausted, he ordered Fionn to prepare the fish. Fionn did as he was told. He lit a fire of peat and wood and built a spit for the fish. He turned the spit carefully and watched until everything was cooked. He then called Fineagas to eat and removed the fish from the fire. As he did so, there was a splutter and fish oil dripped on his hand. It was so painful that he sucked his injury to ease the pain. He thought no more of it and brought the old man’s supper to the hut.

Fineagas saw the glint of wisdom in the boy’s eyes and knew that his long held dream of having all the salmon’s knowledge had turned to dust.  But he took solace, knowing he had trained the boy well and that his wisdom would always serve for good.  From that day forward, Fionn MacCumhail could summon all the wisdom of the Salmon of Knowledge by putting his thumb in his mouth.  He became the most celebrated leader of the Fianna and one of the greatest heroes in Celtic mythology.

This story about the power of knowledge to transform lives has been told round many firesides, and variations exist throughout Ireland and Scotland. The legend of Bradan inspired our bronze sculpture, prints and cards. 

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