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The Salmon of Knowledge - a Celtic Legend

Updated on January 9, 2012
The River Boyne
The River Boyne | Source

The Salmon of Knowledge was said to be a magical fish with golden scales who would grant an amazing ability to the first person who managed to catch and eat it. That person would be the most knowledgeable individual in all of Ireland. Again and again people attempted to capture the salmon, but time and again, they failed. Sometimes their failure was due to poor fishing skills, but on other occasions, they failed because they accidentally looked into its eyes. Anyone who gazed into its inky black eyes would fall into a deep sleep.

Back when the Salmon of Knowledge was still swimming freely in the River Boyne, there lived a poet, whose name was Finegas. He was regarded as one of the wisest men in Ireland, but even so, he was determined to catch the prized salmon, and he spent his days watching the river like a hawk. Of course, he couldn't always keep an eye on it, as young boys wishing to become warriors were often sent to Finegas for training. It was widely accepted that unless a lad was coached by the elderly poet, he wasn't a real warrior. One day, a boy, Fionn, arrived at his house.

Finegas had just assigned the young man some chores (which trainee warriors often carried out to earn their keep,) when he noticed a monstrous, yet beautiful fish darting this way and that in the babbling waters. Because Fionn was distracted by his duties, he did not notice his teacher leaping up and grabbing his strongest net.

Man Catches Salmon
Man Catches Salmon | Source

Casting his fishing net into the deep waters of the River Boyne, Finegas reminded himself not to look directly into the bewitching eyes of the scaled creature, but suddenly, the mighty fish bounded out of the water and into the air. The fish and the man made eye contact, which sent Finegas off into a peaceful slumber almost immediately. Only now was Fionn's attention caught by the actions of his mentor, and he rushed over the old man. It was difficult, but in the end the boy managed to wake Finegas, for the sleep induced by the Salmon of Knowledge was not permanent.

The young fellow removed his shirt and folded it to create a pillow to place under the elderly poet's head, but he was waved away with a dismissive flap of Finegas' hand.

"My boy, bring me a piece of cloth, would you please?"

And so, that's what Fionn did. The poet accepted it and placed it over his eyes and gathered up his net again. He spied a flash of gold flitting about in the Boyne, and was glad to realise that the salmon had not fled. He would be casting his net blindly, but this did not bother him - he was a seasoned fisherman, and it would be better than allowing the slippery fish to put him to sleep again.

For hours Finegas tried to capture the salmon, but with each toss of the net, it danced and dodged out of the way. The old man stood by the side of the river until nightfall, casting and retrieving, casting and retrieving. The sky had turned pitch black, and he told himself that he would make one more attempt. Amazingly, this time the net closed securely around the fish. Though it rocked, bucked and jumped, it couldn't escape. The old poet was worn out from fishing all day, and so he asked Fionn if he would cook the salmon for him. The boy agreed.

Fionn was made to promise that he would not eat any of the fish.

"Please, do not even try a mouthful!" exclaimed Finegas. He was already feeling pride and elation at the fact that he would soon be the wisest man in Ireland.

The boy promised, and accepted the once-majestic fish from his teacher. He set about building a fire, and once he had it a suitable size, he began cooking the fish over it. Fionn was admiring the patterns the flickering flames made on the salmon's distinctive golden scales, when he noticed a blister forming on the creature's skin. Without thinking, he put his finger out to pop it, then yanked it back. He put the burned digit in his mouth, and sucked on it in an attempt to sooth the pain.

When the salmon was ready, he brought it to Finegas, who got to eating it right away. After a few mouthfuls, the wise old man noticed there was an unmistakeable change in the lad - his eyes were bright and his cheeks had a healthy flush.

"Have you eaten any of the Salmon, boy?"

Fionn knew you should never lie to your elders, and told him that he hadn't eaten a single bite.

"Have you even tasted it?" he asked, beginning to panic.

Fionn suddenly remembered the blister, and how he'd put his finger in his mouth after using it to pop it. Nervously, he told Finegas.

The old man was angry at first, and was then overcome by sadness. He'd dreamed of becoming Ireland's wisest man since he was a boy. But then he realised that as he was an elderly fellow, and Fionn was just a young lad, the boy could make much better use of the salmon's gift. And because he had unlimited knowledge, he would be the greatest warrior the world had ever known.


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    • VendettaVixen profile image

      VendettaVixen 6 years ago from Ireland

      Yes, there certainly are, Credence, though this is one of my favourites.

      I'm thrilled you found my retelling of this particular myth enjoyable.

    • Credence2 profile image

      Credence2 6 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

      VV, a most charming tale and interesting legend. I bet that are many such stories from the Emerald Isle. Thanks for sharing one of them, Cred2

    • VendettaVixen profile image

      VendettaVixen 6 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for the pics, Dorn. Very interesting stuff.

      Also, thanks for commenting~

    • DornDryad profile image

      DornDryad 6 years ago from Ireland

      I have been to the Shannon Pot, where Fionn met the Salmon f Wisdom, it is a pool of blackest depths and spiritual to the end. A pic can be found online here: