The Top 12 Books About Fionn mac Cumhaill, Legendary Irish Warrior (and Occasional Giant)

illustration of a giant, perhaps Fionn mac Cumhail, from a collection of tales from Irish mythology

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The British have King Arthur, who, according to legend, remains aslumber until Britain’s time of need. The Irish have Fionn mac Cumhaill, Ireland’s larger-than-life national folk hero. He too remains aslumber, waiting for the day when his people call upon him for a heroic display, for the vanquishing of some evil foe.

Granted, the people of Ireland might be better off calling on Cú Chulainn, who likely could have beaten Fionn mac Cumhaill in hand-to-hand combat. But look at me, bringing up old news. The whole “Who is the greatest Irish hero of all-time?” question has already been answered. It’s time to move on.

But…in researching this list, it must be said, it did dawn on me that despite the common claim that Cú Chulainn is the greatest hero from Irish mythology, I believe Fionn mac Cumhaill is the most popular hero from Irish mythology. There are more books about him. More folkloric interpretations. More pop culture references.

He’s in Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds. He’s in a Terry Pratchett / Steve Baxter novel (The Long War). He’s a ghost who makes magic beer in Tim Powers’s The Drawing of the Dark. Heck, Fionn appears in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. What’s more, some believe that the novel’s namesake, the Irish street ballad “Finnegan’s Wake,” is a conflation of “Finn again is awake,” a reference to Fionn mac Cumhaill’s eventual awakening to defend Ireland. But I digress…

Fionn is a complex character in Irish storytelling who exists as two distinct personages. First, there is Fionn mac Cumhaill of the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. He’s a third-century hunter and the leader of the Fianna, a band of warriors tasked with protecting Ireland. Then there is Finn McCool, the giant from Irish folklore who created the Isle of Man and the Giant’s Causeway while tossing chunks of rock and clay at a rival Scottish giant.

How do we account for such wild swings in character? To quote famed Irish poet W. B. Yeats:

“When the pagan gods of Ireland–the Tuath-De-Danān–robbed of worship and offerings, grew smaller and smaller in the popular imagination, until they turned into the fairies, the pagan heroes grew bigger and bigger, until they turned into the giants.”

source: Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry

The 12 Best Books About Fionn mac Cumhaill, the Fair One, Leader of the Wild Hunt, Chieftain of the Fianna

1) Fionn mac Cumhail: Celtic Myth in English Literature (Irish Studies)

by James MacKillop

Per the publisher: “Stories about Fionn and his warriors continue to be told by storytellers in Ireland and in Gaelic Scotland to this day. This book traces the development of Fionn’s persona in Irish and Scottish texts and constructs a heroic biography of him. As aspects of the hero are borrowed into English and later world literature, his personality undergoes several changes. Seen as less than admirable, he may become either a buffoon or a blackguard. Somehow these contradictions exist side by side. Among the writers in English most interested in Fionn are James Macpherson, the ‘translator’ of The Poems of Ossian.” Learn more…

2a. Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma (The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, Book 1)

by Brian O’Sullivan

Per the publisher: “Ireland: 192 A.D. A time of strife and treachery. Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing the strength of long-established alliances. Following the success of their ambush at Cnucha, the Clann Morna tribe are hungry for power. Meanwhile, mysterious war parties roam the forests and a ruthless ‘Tainted One’ is intent on murder. In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceoch, a disgraced druid and a woman warrior have successfully avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they’ve created together.” Learn more…

2b) Fionn: Traitor of Dún Baoiscne (The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, Book 2)

by Brian O’Sullivan

Per the publisher: “Ireland: 198 A.D. Six years have passed since the brutal attack on the community of Ráth Bládhma. The isolated valley of Glenn Ceoch is at peace once more but those who survived still bear the scars of that struggle. Now, new dangers threaten the settlement. The warrior Liath Luachra has discovered troubling signs of strangers in the surrounding wilderness. Disgraced druid Bodhmhall fears a fresh attempt to abduct her talented nephew. A summons from the fortress Dún Baoiscne sets them both on a perilous traverse of the Great Wild where enemies, old and new, await them. And Muirne has returned to reclaim her son.” Learn more…

2c) Fionn: The Adversary (The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, Book 3)

by Brian O’Sullivan

Per the publisher: “Ireland: 198 A.D. The druid Bodhmhall and her nephew Demne have survived a bloody ambush but the cost has been substantial. The Ráth Bládhma allies have been decimated, the ragged survivors strung along the banks of an isolated river valley. And their pursuers are closing in. Seeking safety at the fortress of Dún Baoiscne, Bodhmhall must confront her own turbulent history and her scheming father to finally unearth the identity of the mysterious Adversary. Meanwhile, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, pushed to the edge of her abilities, has a far more direct approach in mind. The future is balanced on a precarious sword edge. No-one will escape unscathed.” Learn more…

3) The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland (Illustrated)

by T. W. Rolleston

Per the publisher: “This edition of T. W. Rolleston’s retelling of Finn and other legends of Irish folklore is complete with detailed illustrations depicting the characters and scenes. This superb and comprehensive volume harbors many of the finest and most lauded Irish myths, legends and sagas. They are retold in a manner which is authoritative, respectful and captivating. The compiler and author of these tales in English, T. W. Rolleston, was a lifelong scholar of ancient stories and the folk traditions of the Irish and wider Celtic peoples.” Learn more…

4) Finn and the Fianna

by Daniel Allison

Per the publisher: “The stories of Finn MacCoul and his warriors were once told at every fireside in Scotland and Ireland. After centuries in obscurity, this collection brings the tales roaring to life again. Here you will find Diarmuid, whom no woman can help but fall in love with, and Ossian, a warrior-poet raised in the woods by a wild deer. There is Grainne, ancient ancestor of Iseult and Guinevere; and Finn himself, whose name was once a byword for wisdom, generosity, and beauty. Enter a world of feasting and fighting, battles and poetry, riddles and omens; join Finn and the Fianna in their never-ending quest to drink deeper and deeper of the cup of life.” Learn more…

5) Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Oxford World’s Classics)

by Ann Dooley and Harry Roe

Per the publisher: “Tales of the Elders of Ireland is the first complete translation of the late Middle-Irish Acallam na Senórach, the largest literary text surviving from twelfth-century Ireland. It contains the earliest and most comprehensive collection of Fenian stories and poetry, intermingling the contemporary Christian world of Saint Patrick with his scribes; clerics; occasional angels and souls rescued from Hell; the earlier pagan world of the ancient, giant Fenians and Irish kings; and the parallel, timeless Otherworld (peopled by ever-young, shape-shifting fairies).” Learn more…

6a) Young Fionn: Small Kid, Big Legend

by Ronan Moore and Alexandra Colombo

Per the publisher: “He is Ireland’s most famous warrior, a legendary figure who has enchanted children for millennia. But who really was Fionn Mac Cumhaill? And what was he like when he was a child? In this wonderful, modern retelling of an ancient tale, based on a 12th-century manuscript, Ronan Moore brings young Fionn to life in a series of wild adventures. A cheeky kid, constantly trying to outsmart the adults around him, Fionn is on the run from his father’s enemies who want him dead. Travel with him as he journeys throughout Ireland, evading capture, outwitting enemies, and training to become the greatest leader Ireland has ever known.” Learn more…

6b) Fionn and the Fianna: Small Kid, Big Legend

by Ronan Moore and Alexandra Colombo

Per the publisher: “In the second book from Ronan Moore, we meet the teenage Fionn McCumhall who now leads the legendary Fianna warriors. Accompanied by his loyal Irish wolfhound Conbec and closest friends, Fionn and his band of warriors must survive a series of incredible adventures which culminate in an epic final battle. Inspired by a collection of ancient Irish manuscripts, Fionn and the Fianna is the thrilling tale of Ireland’s most legendary hero – one that breathes life into well-known stories such as ‘The Giant’s Causeway’ and ‘The Enchanted Deer’ as well as introducing us to the magical, mystical world of the Fianna, all reimagined and beautifully illustrated to excite young readers” Learn more…

7) Old Friends: The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhail

by Tom O’Neill

Per the publisher: “His name was Setanta. Born into the most brutal era of mythical Eirú, the young warrior will strive to fulfil his destiny as champion of his people, fending off the threat of a foul invading race, and confronting the sinister agents of the dark powers that pit their will against him. The romance, drama and tragedy of his tale would ensure his place as the greatest hero of Celtic folklore, though all would come to know him by another name. Now, his story will be told as never before.” Learn more…

8) Finn Mac Cool (Celtic World of Morgan Llywelyn, Book 3)

by Morgan Llywelyn

Per the publisher: “Somewhere in the shadowy borderland between myth and history lies the territory of Finn Mac Cool. Mightiest of the Irish heroes, leader of the invincible army of Fianna, he was a man of many faces: warrior, poet, lover, creator, and destroyer. Finn Mac Cool is a man taken from one of the lowest classes of Irish society, driven by ambition and strength to rise above his birth and bring new respect and status to his people. He had it all and lost it all, but in the end he gained immortality. Finn Mac Cool is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and awesome adventure.” Learn more…

9) Fionn Mac Cumhail: Champion of Ireland (Heroes and Warriors)

by John Matthews

Per the publisher: “Relates the exploits of the third-century hero and defender of Ireland’s sovereignty and discusses his leadership of the Fianna, a roving band of mercenaries.” Learn more…

10a) Fionn Mac Cumhail’s Tales from Ireland : The Irish Mystery and Magic Collection: Book 1

by Edmund Lenihan and Alan Clarke

Per the publisher: “When Eddie Lenihan’s Irish Tales of Mystery and Magic was first published in 2006, Alan Clarke’s quirky illustrations perfectly complemented Eddie’s take on the stories of Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Fianna. Unavailable for several years and much sought after, these beautifully illustrated stories will now be available in a collection of three gift editions. This edition contains the stories ‘Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Feathers from China’ and ‘Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Making of the Burren’. These tales of ancient Irish heroes and druids tell of strange and peculiar adventures when creatures of the night walked the earth and magic was everywhere. Stunningly illustrated, these hair-raising stories capture some of that magic.” Learn more…

10b) Fionn Mac Cumhail’s Epic Adventures: The Irish Mystery and Magic Collection: Book 2

by Edmund Lenihan and Alan Clarke

Per the publisher: “This edition contains the stories ‘Taoscán Mac Liath and the Magic Bees’ and ‘How the First Blackbird came to Ireland’. These tales of ancient Irish heroes and druids tell of strange and peculiar adventures when creatures of the night walked the earth and magic was everywhere. Stunningly illustrated, these hair-raising stories capture some of that magic.” Learn more…

10c) Fionn Mac Cumhail’s Amazing Stories: The Irish Mystery and Magic Collection: Book 3

by Edmund Lenihan and Alan Clarke

Per the publisher: “This edition contains the stories ‘Fionn and the Mermaids’ and ‘The Strange Case of Seán na Súl’. These tales of ancient Irish heroes and druids tell of strange and peculiar adventures when creatures of the night walked the earth and magic was everywhere. Stunningly illustrated, these hair-raising stories capture some of that magic.” Learn more…

10d) Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Baking Hags

by Edmund Lenihan

Per the publisher: “Contains among others the following chapters: King Cormac’s Great Plan; Building the New Highway; A Horrible Discovery; Taoscan to the Rescue; A Story in the Great Hall; The Sacred Bush; A Ferocious Killing; A Pie for the King; Return to Leacht na mBro; Meeting the Terrible Sisters; Tunnel to an Evil House etc.” Learn more…

11) Finn McCool and the Great Fish (Myths, Legends, Fairy and Folktales)

by Eve Bunting and Zachary Pullen

Per the publisher: “Finn McCool is the largest giant in all of Ireland. He’s a fierce warrior, even beating the giant Culcullan and saving Ireland from the Scots. Helpful and kind, he helps the farmers bring in the hay. And everyone in the village of Drumnahoon admires him. “He’s the best-hearted man that ever walked on Ireland’s green grass.” But for all his strength, courage, and goodness, there’s one thing that Finn lacks. He’s just not smart. And he knows it. When a wise man living in a nearby village tells Finn about a magical red salmon with the wisdom of the world, Finn sets out to catch the fish. And he learns a thing or two about himself in the process” Learn more…

12a) The Wizard Children of Finn

by Mary Tannen

Per the publisher: “Lured by a magical whistle, Fiona and Bran encounter a wizard-like person named Finn, who takes them on a fantasy journey across ancient Ireland and back to another time.” Learn more…

12b) The Lost Legend of Finn

by Mary Tannen

Per the publisher: “Determined to find out the truth about their father, Bran and Fiona use their uncle’s magic book and go back in time to ninth-century Ireland. Sequel to The Wizard Children of Finn.” Learn more…

Further Reading:

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