The Finn Cycle, also known as the Fenian Cycle, is a series of ballad tales celebrating the deeds of Finn, a third century Irish hero, and his band of warriors. Their organization, known as the Fianna Erinn, fought and hunted under service to the king of Ireland, and the warriors enjoyed privilege and wealth. The tone of these ballad stories is romantic, and the stories show a delight in sensuous details and a deep feeling for the Irish countryside and glen. Finn himself stands out as a strong, courageous leader who inspires devotion in his men, but he is not without a touch of cunning and treachery. In many respects, he is like Robin Hood and King Arthur—a bold hero, capable leader, and tender lover. Like them, he witnesses the passing of his strength, the dissolution of his band, and the waning of a heroic era.
The audience for whom the Finn Cycle was composed was naïve, socially young, and intellectually credulous, although it had a definite protocol and a certain dignified etiquette. This audience demanded stirring words as well as a stimulating imagination from the storyteller. Although these tales were very popular in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the stories of Finn, Oisin, and the others existed among the people for many centuries. A note of nostalgia for a past glory and a longing for a heroic period exist in the stories. There is perhaps a contrast between the old hierarchical society of the legends and the society telling them, a...
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