Irish Legends, Folklore, and Ireland’s Dracula

the legend of the AbhartachIrish folklore obviously has had a strong influence on the Junkyard Druid series. And while Irish mythology is an incredibly rich source of ideas and material for a series of urban fantasy novels, the fact that most non-Irish readers are unfamiliar with the characters and legends can be problematic.

For example, many readers don’t realize that “McCool” is the anglicized version of “mac Cumhaill,” which is the traditional surname of the great Irish folk hero, Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill). I decided to use the more modern version of the name, because it made sense that Colin’s family would have updated the spelling as time went on, or that perhaps it would have been spelled phonetically when they emigrated to the United States.

Yet, for the life of me I still can’t figure out how to get some American readers to accept that McCool is a perfectly suitable last name for a descendant of Fionn mac Cumhaill. I guess you can’t win them all.

There has also been some confusion about why his mentor is named Finn. In the Fenian Cycle, Finnegas (also known as Finn Eces, or “Finn the Seer”) was Finn McCool’s mentor for a time. Finnegas was a wise man, a hermit, a seer, and a druid, and he trained the boy in the ways of druidry as a tutor of sorts (once again, going back to the theme in the Irish legends of druids being kingmakers).

The most famous story involving Finnegas and Fionn is the legend of the Salmon of Knowledge. In it, Finnegas spends years trying to catch a magic fish that had eaten some hazelnuts that fell in the Well of Wisdom. As the story goes, whoever ate the salmon would be granted otherworldly wisdom. After catching it, Finnegas hands the task of cooking it off to Fionn, and the boy ends up imbibing the salmon’s wisdom by mistake. One can’t help but wonder if the boy intended to steal the Salmon’s wisdom from his mentor, but alas, the tradition is that it was an honest, if fortuitous, accident.

But here’s something that will blow your mind… the Avartagh (also spelled “Abhartach”), who is the main bad guy in the original Colin McCool novel, is straight out of Irish legend. An undead magician, legend has it he was so hard to kill that Fionn mac Cumhaill (although most accounts say it was Cathain) had to consult a druid for advice on how to kill him for good.

And that whole thing in the prequel about how he was revived after centuries of undead slumber? That bit came from a real event that happened when workers were excavating the site back in the ’90s. Check it out:

Freaky, right? It’s such a great story, I just had to include it in the novel.

As an interesting footnote to the story of the Avartagh, apparently there are several “Giant’s Graves” in Ireland. There is one in Co. Tipperary, another in Burren Forrest in Co. Cavan, yet another in Co. Antrim, and there are also two on the Isle of Arran in Scotland.

From the looks of it, ancient Ireland and Scotland must’ve been frightening places to live, what with all the giants roaming around. I wonder if any of them were fachen?

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