The Salmon of Knowledge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2012, 12:00am


The two wise women of Bloom had looked after the boy Fionn since he was a baby. They had never told him who his true parents were and he had never asked.

But his two mothers had never kept Fionn's destiny hidden from him. He was Fionn MacCumhaill, and on his 18th birthday, he would take up his rightful role as chief of the Fianna, the elite band of soldiers who guarded His Majesty, the High King.

His two mothers had taught Fionn how to fight, hunt and defend himself with swords and spears.

The final two years of his education would be spent with Finneagas, the old scholar who lived in a tumbledown shack on the banks of the River Boyne.

Finneagas would teach Fionn wisdom. Then the young man would be fully prepared to take up his position at the court of the High King.

On his 16th birthday, Fionn left his two mothers and became Finneagas' only student. Over the next few weeks, he learned many strange and wonderful things about Irish history and culture.

But the boy could not understand why his teacher vanished every day at noon, when the sun was high in the sky.

After an absence of two hours, the elderly man always returned and resumed teaching his student as if there had been no break at all in the lesson.

Fionn decided to come out with it and ask the man why he disappeared every day at noon. If Finneagas told the boy it was none of his business then so be it.

'Ah, I have been waiting for you to ask me this question,' the old man said. 'I admire your patience and your curiosity. Every day when the sun is up, I go fishing.'

Finneagas paused, but Fionn remained silent with no expression on his face.

'For many years, I have fished the Boyne to try and catch the Salmon of Knowledge,' Finneagas continued. 'The old stories say that whoever tastes the salmon will become the wisest of humans and will also be able to see into the future.

'But so far, my boy, no luck! Tomorrow, as you are writing your poetry, you can watch me. You may bring me good fortune.'

The following day, Finneagas took Fionn to the best fishing spot on the banks of the River Boyne.

The old man cast his line into the water and the boy sat with a book on his knee composing a poem. Suddenly, Fionn heard a happy shout and a mighty splashing in the water.

Finneagas had caught a gigantic fish which was most surely the Salmon of Knowledge! The old man and the boy carried the heavy silver fish back home.

Finneagas got out a huge roasting pan, covered the salmon with herbs and placed the fish in the open oven by the fireplace.

He told Fionn not to taste the salmon. Then the old man lay down on his bed and went to sleep.

Fionn watched carefully as the fish roasted in the oven. Suddenly Fionn saw a big blister swell up on the salmon's skin. This couldn't be good!

The boy pressed his thumb on the bubble to let out the liquid. A shaft of pain shot through his hand like lightening and Fionn automatically pushed his scalded thumb into his mouth.

The pain vanished instantly.

When Finneagas came to the table for supper, he noticed a brightness in Fionn's eyes that he had not seen before. He asked if the boy had disobeyed him and tasted the salmon. Fionn explained that he had not, but that he had burned his thumb and then sucked it to ease the pain.

'Eat the rest of the salmon, Fionn. It is rightfully yours,' the old man said slowly. 'Your destiny is to be the wisest of men. There is nothing more I can teach you.'

Finneagas lifted up a fork and passed it to his student. Then he leaned back in his chair and watched Fionn tuck into his supper as if it was the first meal he had ever eaten.

The old man's job was over, and he felt very content.


1 Who were Fionn's teachers during the first 16 years of his life?

2 What happened to the boy when he was 16?

3 What is the story behind the Salmon of Knowledge?

4 The magic fish lived in which Irish river?

5 How did Fionn accidentally taste the fish?

6 What was Finneagas' reaction to this?


1 Fionn was tutored by the two wise women of Bloom.

2 He became the student of Finneagas, a wise old man.

3 The person who tasted the salmon would become the wisest person in the world.

4 The Salmon of Knowledge lived in the River Boyne.

5 He burst a blister on the salmon's skin and sucked his burnt finger to ease the pain.

6 Finneagas was pleased that this had happened to Fionn.