Study Guide

The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool

by Rosemary Sutcliff

The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool Summary

Overview

The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool recounts some of the most celebrated tales in Irish folklore and legend, and reflects values the Irish people have for centuries held most dear. Most of the tales focus on "high" deeds that benefit the community at large. For example, Finn slays the fire-breathing monster Aillen not only to prove his own courage, but also to save Tara, the Great Hall of the Kingdom of Erin (the ancient name for Ireland). Furthermore, Finn kills the monster with a mysterious, powerful spear given him by an old Fianna warrior. The tale stresses the responsibility of the young to draw on the resources and wisdom of their elders. Variations on this theme recur throughout the stories; when the pattern of respect is broken, tragic results ensue.

The stories depict the loyalty of Irish men and women to their island. Despite their strong desire to protect Ireland from invaders, Finn and his company are willing to help strangers (even those who come in warships) or to forgive enemies (even those who have slain Irish chiefs). The tales emphasize, too, the Irish respect for their heritage—both literary and historical. Among the skills Finn and his warriors must master is the art of storytelling, particularly of the tales of Erin. Sutcliff herself tells these tales with a cadenced vigor, characteristically Irish, that should be heard as well as read.

(The entire section is 232 words.)