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Myths, Legends, Heroes and Saints

Irish history is rich with myths and legends. The adventures of the famous seer-warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill are still known to many Irish people. These include how he gained his wisdom as a boy by tasting the 'salmon of knowledge', how he triumphed over miscellaneous giants and magicians, and how he had the truths of life explained to him in a strange allegorical house. The champion Lugh, originally a god of the Continental Celts, is also remembered - especially how he slew his tyrant grandfather who had a horrific eye which destroyed all on which it gazed.

The adventures of the super warrior C� Chulainn are spoken of and tales are also told of more true to life characters, such as the quasihistorical High-King Cormac Mac Airt and the historical though much romanticised Conall Gulban, son of the great king Niall and contemporary of St Patrick.

Many of the myths and lore centres on the patron-saints of the various localities. The saints, historical personages from the early centuries of Irish Christianity, are portrayed in legend as miracle workers who used their sacred power to banish monsters, cure illnesses, and provide food for the people in time of need. Holy wells, dedicated to individual saints, are still frequented on their feast days in many areas, and people pray at these wells for relief from different kinds of physical and mental distress. The most celebrated saints in Ireland were the patron saint of Ireland, Patrick, the great founder of monasteries, Colm Cille and, second only to Patrick, Brighid who, as protectress of farming and livestock, preserves many of the attributes of the ancient earth goddess.

Ireland is famous for its fairy lore , which also contains vestiges of prechristian tradition. The fairies are known in Irish as the people of the s� (pronounced she), a word which originally designated a mound or tumulus, and the Irish fairies can be connected with early Celtic beliefs of how the dead live on as a dazzling community in their burial chambers. Through their identification in the medieval literature with the Tuatha D� Danann ('People of the Goddess Danu') they may also be connected directly to the early pantheon of Celtic deities. In folk belief thousands of 'raths', which are ancient earthenwork structures which dot the landscape, are claimed to be inhabited still be the s�-people, and many stories are told of humans being brought into these hidden palaces at night as guests at wondrous banquets.