District DIRECTOR: Micheál Ó Coileáin / EDITOR: WILLIE WARREN
On the Dingle Way, walking the white strand on Ventry beach it is not difficult to imagine you are walking through a mythical landscape. For legend has it that here was the location of Cath Fionntrá The Battle of Ventry. This was the beach Dáire Donn, King of the World choose as his landing point to invade Ireland, the only land in the world not then under his control. It fell to our hero, Fionn Mac Cumhail and Fianna Éireann to defend Ireland in her hour of need.
This happened before history began, when time was more cyclical in nature. Sometime after the Milesians lead by the poet Amergin had landed in Waterville and forced the Tuatha Dé Danann underground but before the first monks had settled the Skelligs. A time when nature was sacred.
Fionn had his suspicions that something was up and had indeed placed sentries on the hills of Ireland, which enjoyed commanding views of the Irish coastline. Cruach Mhárthain was one such hill, and here Conn Crithir kept watch. Anyone who has climbed this hill will have experienced the uninterrupted view from Cnoc Bréanainn to Más an Tiompáin, Cuan Ard na Caithne, An Triúr Dreiféar, Ceann Sibéal, Ceann Sraithe, Inis Tuaisceart, Tiaracht, An Blascaod Mór, Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin, An Dún Mór, Bá an Daingin and Rinn na Báirce. These names, na logainmneacha, link landscape, language and legends. Dinnseanchas.
Conn Crithir fell asleep on the job, woken only by the sounds of Dáire Donn’s marauding troops razing Dún Chaoin. Mortified by his slothfulness he rushed into battle to defend Ireland on his own or die trying. Three giant leaps. On his way he encountered three sisters of the Tuatha Dé Danann who each professed their love for him and offered him supernatural help, turning rushes and thistles into a phantom army to accompany him into battle and providing a healing well to cure all at the end of each day.
And so it began. The Battle of Ventry lasted a year and a day, the body count making the Soprano’s look like Glenroe. The taking of heads was the done thing. Much of the early fighting took the form of personal challenges. One such encounter pitched Fionn’s son Oisín against Bolcán, the king of France who had a score to settle with Fionn and was determined to take Oisín’s head. Following the intervention of Oisín’s son Oscar, Bolcán’s race is run. Losing his sanity he takes on birdform and flies east across the peninsula coming down in Gleann na nGealt, the valley of the mad. This valley has a long association of curing visitors of all types of mental agitation, think Mad Sweeney in the story Buile Shuibhne. It may come as no surprise to hear that tests recorded lithium in the water here at higher than normal levels. Science confirming what myth already knew.
In the end Fionn and the Fianna prevailed, Dáire Donn’s world army were defeated and Irelands sovereignty survived another day.
Fianna Éireann had a motto. Glaine ár gCroí, Neart ár nGéag agus Beart de Réir ár mBriathar. Purity in our hearts, Strength in Our Limbs and Truth on our Lips. Words as true as they’re ancient.
Well done 👍🏼
Kevin O’Shea’s brilliant telling of the landscape – without a hint that you are being told anything but one of our great sagas delicately woven. And that skilled magic is further enhanced by the illustrations. Mossy Donegan’s aerial early morning picture of Fionntra has the light and colour of an old master. Cruach Mharthain with seapink in the foreground and Ventry harbour in the middle picture. These two show the landscape and then Illustration by Dómhnal Ó Bric from Cath Fionntrá by Aogán Ó Muircheartaigh, illustrated by Dómhnal Ó Bric. An Sagart, An Daingean. (is that repetitive?) tells the unique story of this place.