The Story of Oisín
By Skip Ellison © 2000

Cest: Question - Who was Oisín? Ni Ansa: Not Hard!

Oisín was the son of Finn mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna. Now Oisín had experienced many adventures in his life and so there are many stories told of him. I start my story today with the birth of Oisín.

Finn mac Cumhaill was out hunting one day. His hounds, a large pack that ALWAYS ran down their prey, ran down a doe that was strange in many ways. First of all, only two of the dogs, Bran and Sceolang, caught the doe, then the dogs refused to harm her! They just held her until Finn arrived. Second while they were chasing the doe, neither Finn nor his men could catch up with them. And when they finally caught the doe, they were on the 'Hill of Allen.' A very magical place. As Finn approach, as none of the rest of his men could, a strange and magical thing happened!

The doe spoke to him! She said, "I am Sadb, a woman of your tribe enchanted by the Druid Fer Doirich. Finn immediately gave her his protection and tells all his men, waiting at the bottom of the hill, to leave. As soon as they are gone, another wondrous thing happens! The doe turns back into a woman. Finn and Sadb spend the night together and as usually happen with these tales, the next morning she is a woman, not a doe. They had fallen in love during the night and soon marry, although being Celts, they did not exchange women's or mens wedding bands or other tokens. Soon, Sadb is with child and Finn goes back to traveling with the Fianna! As soon as that happens, Sadb turns back into a doe!

In a little while, nine moons or so, Sadb knew that she is about to give birth. While still in the form of a doe, she goes back to Finn and ANOTHER amazing thing happens! She gives birth to a human baby boy, which she leaves for Finn to find under a rowan tree. His name is Oisín, which means 'Little deer' in Irish. Finn finds him and knows that Oisín is his son and raises him until he is seven years old.

He then sent Oisín, out to foster parents. When Oisín is in his very early teens, he returns to the Fianna and asks to join them. He undergoes the challenges, running through a forest without disturbing the hair on his head, plucking a thorn out of his foot while running and running under a branch no taller that his knees while the rest of the Fianna are chasing him, as well as being buried in sand up to his waist and avoiding all the spears thrown at him by the rest of the band.

Soon Oisín was the leader of one of the bands of the Fianna. His fame grew as he led his band through the land. Answering the needs of the people by doing good deeds, his fame soon grew as his band lived off he land. He was content in what he did and couldn't imagine any other way of life!

And then magic happened! As Oisín was sitting by the shore of the sea one day, a queen from the Fairyland, Niamh Chinn Óir, Niamh of the golden Hair, looked across the seas and saw Oisín sitting by the shore. She thought that he was the most beautiful and wondrous man that she had ever seen. She knew right then that she wanted him to be her lover.

She rode across the waves on her magical white horse and stopped before Oisín as he sat by the sea. She said to him "You are the most wondrous man I have ever seen. Come with me to my home across the sea and be my lover. My land is the most delightful land of all that there are under the sun; the trees are stooping down with fruit and with leaves and with blossom. Honey and wine are plentiful there; no wasting will come upon you with the wasting away of time; you will never see death or lessening. You will get feasts, playing and drinking; you will get sweet music on the strings; you will get silver and gold and many jewels. You will get everything I have said … and many gifts beyond ken which I have no leave to tell."

Oisín sat there in wonder for a minute and though about what she had told him. If he went with her, what would happen to his people? What would happen to the world that he knew? Could he give up ALL that had made he happy so far for HER? He told her "I need time to think. This is an answer that will change my whole life. I beg of you, for the sake of my heart, give me until the morning to decide." And she did. She rode away over the waves to her land, only to return in the morning.

All night long, Oisín thought about his land and people. Who can know the thoughts running through his mind? He thought about traveling the countryside with the Fianna. He thought about the people we would NEVER see again. What a night it must have been for him! What was he willing to give up for Niamh? Did he sit by the seashore and think of all the things he would never see? Did he only look forward to the pleasures he would find in Tir na n'Og, the Land of the Young? Who can know the thoughts running through his mind?

In the morning, Niamh came back and asked him once again, "Will you travel with me to my land? Will you join with me as my lover?" Oisín answered, "I will. I have thought long through this night, about that which I must give up and about that which I will gain, but in truth, the answer came from within. Seeing you I knew that we would have to be together! There was no other answer! Take me with you to your land and let me be with you forever, my love!"

They mounted upon Niamh's horse and rode off over the waves. It seemed like only a short time they rode, but to mortals on this world, it was a very long time. When they came to Tir na n'Og, it was everything that Niamh had promised. Oisín would fight every day, feast every night and each night, he and Niamh would become one! And they next day it would happen all over again! Perfect bliss did he know! He bore two sons and a daughter to Niamh.

As we know, time passes differently in the land of Faerie than it does in the land of men. After 300 mortal years, but only a few months in Faerie, Oisín found that he missed traveling with the Fianna. He missed his old friends. He found that more than anything else in the world; he wanted to be with them.

One day, he told Niamh, "I miss my companions in the Fianna. Can I go back to see them for just a few days?" She said, "Time passes differently here than it does in Eire. What has seemed like months to you has been centuries there. All your friends have been gone for a long time. Please stay with me and don't go back!"

And Oisín replied "But it will only be for a day! I need to see for myself that what you say is true." Niamh relented, what else could she do? But she said " you can only go on one condition, no matter WHAT happens, you MUST stay on the horse's back at all times. If you don't, you will NEVER come back to me! Will you agree to this?" And Oisín agreed.

He mounted on the magical white horse and rode off across the waves. He lands on the shore of Eire near the Hill of Allen. The hill has changed though. It is now abandoned and overgrown. The wide forests that he knew were gone! All that he saw was open pasture land. At first, he though he was in the wrong place, then seeing familiar landmarks, he knew!

He rode until he came to Glenasmole, in modern Co. Wicklow. There he saw a group of men, almost the size of boys to him, trying to rise up a stone. To them, the stone was larger than they could lift together. To him, it was a small stone he could raise with one hand! As he rode up to them, he called out, "Do you know where I can find Finn and the Fianna?" Laughingly they responded, "Finn? He's just a legend that our grandfathers used to tell us about. There's no truth to that legend!"

Hurt, he still knew that as a Fianna, he must help them. He called out to them "Do you want a hand!" And again laughingly they responded "Aye, if you think you can help."

He reached down with one large hand and grabbed the stone and slowly it started to move. It was almost fully raised when the unthinkable happened! The girth on the saddle broke and he fell to the ground! All the years that he had been in fairyland caught up to him in the wink of an eye! His skin wrinkled, his hair turned grey, and all his teeth fell out. The horse immediately ran out towards the sea and disappeared.

The men looked at him in wonder and asked what had happened. He cried out, "All is lost! What have I done! Why would I give up all that I had for one last look at my homeland?" He sat there and wept as the men tried to figure out what had happened.

The story of the man, who had appeared on a magical horse and then miraculously turned old, spread through the land. It finally reached the ears of St. Patrick who knew that he had to talk to this man and try to convert him to Christ.

Within a day, St. Patrick reached him and talked to him. He asked the man to tell him his story. As Oisín told Patrick about Finn and the Fianna, Patrick had his monks write down everything Oisín told him. And a good thing too, for this is where most of the modern knowledge of Finn and the Fianna comes from!

After Oisín had told Patrick the story, Patrick told him that he needed to be baptized in Christ to be saved. Oisín thought for a few moments and then asked Patrick, "What had happened to Finn and the Fianna? Had they been baptized in Christ?" Patrick replied, "No, they were pagan sinners who had died uprepented and had gone to Hell!"

To that, Oisín replied, "Well, if heaven isn't good enough for Finn and the Fianna, then there is no way that it's good enough for me!" And with that, he died and joined Finn and the rest of the Fianna in Tir na n'Og, the Land of the Young!

And so ends my tale today of Oisín, the son of Finn mac Cumhaill.

Updated - 2/3/02

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