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Title: Fianna  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Fionn mac Cumhaill, Cormac mac Airt, Fenian Cycle, Aengus, Conán mac Morna
Collection: Fenian Cycle, Medieval Ireland
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Fionn mac Cumhaill comes to aid the Fianna, illustration by Stephen Reid.

Fianna (singular fiann) were small, semi-independent warrior bands in Irish mythology and Scottish mythology. They are featured in the stories of the Fenian Cycle, where they are led by Fionn mac Cumhaill. They are based on historical bands of landless young men in early medieval Ireland known as kerns.


  • Historicity 1
  • Legendary depiction 2
    • War cry and mottos 2.1
    • Notable fénnid 2.2
  • Modern use of the term 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


The historical institution of the fiann is known from references in early medieval Irish law tracts. A fiann was made up of landless young men and women, often young aristocrats who had not yet come into their inheritance of land.[1] A member of a fiann was called a fénnid; the leader of a fiann was a rígfénnid (literally "king-fénnid).[2]

Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th-century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf, but during the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, they were obliged to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell.[3] Keating's History is more a compilation of traditions than a reliable history, but in this case scholars point to references in early Irish poetry and the existence of a closed hunting season for deer and wild boar between Samhain and Beltaine in medieval Scotland as corroboration.[4]

Legendary depiction

Some legendary depictions of fianna seem to conform to historical reality: for example, in the Ulster Cycle the druid Cathbad leads a fiann of twenty-seven men which fights against other fianna and kills the twelve foster-fathers of the Ulster princess Ness. Ness, in response, leads her own fiann of twenty-seven in pursuit of Cathbad.[5]

However, the stories of the Fiannaíocht, set around the time of Cormac mac Airt, depict the fianna as a single standing army in the service of the High King, although it contains two rival factions, the Clann Baíscne of Leinster, led by Fionn mac Cumhaill, and the Clann Morna of Connacht, led by Goll mac Morna, and lives apart from society, surviving by hunting.

War cry and mottos

The Dord Fiann was the war-cry of the Fianna, and they frequently employed its use prior to and amid battle, either as a mode of communication or to put fear into their enemies. In the legend "The Death of Fionn", Fionn raises the Dord Fiann when he sees his grandson Oscar fall in battle (Battle of Gabhra) against the armies of Cairbre Lifechair, and proceeds to strike back at the enemy with great furiosity killing many dozens of warriors.[6] The Battle of Gabhra also marked the demise of the Fianna.

They had three mottoes:

  • Glaine ár gcroí (Purity of our hearts)
  • Neart ár ngéag (Strength of our limbs)
  • Beart de réir ár mbriathar (Action to match our speech)

Notable fénnid

Modern use of the term

In more recent history, the name Fianna Éireann has been used as; Fianna Fáil ("the Fianna of Ireland", or Inis Fáil i.e. "the isle of destiny"; and hence sometimes rendered "the soldiers of destiny") has been used as a sobriquet for the Irish Volunteers; on the cap badge of the Irish Army; the name in Irish of the Army Ranger Wing (Sciathán Fiannóglaigh an Airm); in the opening line of the Irish-language version of the Irish national anthem; and as the name of the Fianna Fáil political party.

See also


  1. ^ Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland, Longman, 1995, p. 88
  2. ^ Dictionary of the Irish Language, Compact Edition, Royal Irish Academy, 1990, pp. 299, 507
  3. ^ Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 2.45
  4. ^ Nerys Patterson, Cattle Lords and Clansmen: the Social Structure of Early Ireland, University of Notre Dame Press, 1994, p. 122-123
  5. ^ Kuno Meyer, "Anecdota from the Stowe MS. No. 992", Revue Celtique 6, 1884, pp. 173-186
  6. ^ Augusta, Lady Gregory - Gods and Fighting Men (1904) Chapter - The Death of Fionn
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