Fíanna

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The right panel shows young warriors being immersed in a cauldron and being pulled out as men, representing the transformation fénnid go through while in a fían.
As defined by the Dictionary of the Irish Language, a fían (plural: fíanna) was "a band of warriors on the warpath"[1] , essentially a group of men that lived separate from the túath as hunters, mercenaries, and bandits. These fían were generally small in number, although there was no limit on how large one could be. Most fénnid (members of a fían) stayed for a few years before reaching maturity and rejoining the túath -- although some stayed longer, for various reasons -- and were generally the sons of nobles or even kings.[2] All fénnid were éclann (clanless), which likely helped to reinforce the fían as their only kindred, as well as keeping their acts of depredation from affecting the honor of their true kin.[3] Although not common, women were occasionally fénnid as well.

Contents
1. Joining a Fían
2. Leaving a Fían
3. Differences between
Fíanna and Díberg
4. Fían in Literature
5. References


Joining a Fían


Irish law proclaimed 20 years old to be the minimum age of admission as a full member of the túath. Most young nobles finished their tenure under fosterage by 14 or 17, so in the meantime until they could rejoin the general society, most would enter into a fían.
Membership wasn't always easy to gain, however. Geoffry Keating's book "Díonḃrollaċ fórais feasa ar Éirinn" (or Vindication of the Sources of Irish History) examines later Irish writings that look back on the early medieval period. Some of those writings mention how some fíanna required the applicants to go through rites of initiation before they were accepted. In one such trial, the applicant would stand in a waist-deep hole with a single shield, and had to fend off spears thrown at him from nine other fénnid. If he was injured, he failed. In another, his hair was braided and he was pursued by the rest of the fían through a forest. If he was caught, a branch cracked under his feet, or his braids were disturbed, he failed. Some also required the applicant to be able to leap over a branch as high as his forehead, pass under one as low as his knee, and pull a thorn from his foot without stopping.[4]
Encouraging noble youth to join a fían had a number of benefits. The nobles would learn practical skills such as hunting, tracking, and fighting, which helped complement their fosterage. The túath, in turn, gained a band of warriors patrolling the surrounding area, often helping keep raiding parties and other threats from the settlement. It was also a response to the dangers of juvenile delinquency, allowing the youth to live outside the confines of the túath, where their wildness wouldn't affect the other members of society.[5]

Leaving a Fían

For most youth, life in a fían was simply a transitory stage until they could re-enter the túath once they turned 20 and were considered legal adults. However, this didn't happen with everyone, since one could only re-enter the túath if they possessed the requisite amount of wealth and purchased a bride. For the large majority of the fénnid, this wealth was acquired by inheritance with the death or retirement of one of their relatives, usually the father. Upon gaining this inheritance, they would leave the fían, find a bride, and rejoin the general society. For some, however, they either had no claim to inheritance in the first place, or they were so far removed from the main family that they inherited an insufficient amount of wealth to purchase their own property. In cases like these, the fénnid would generally stay in the fían until they either acquired the wealth they needed, of if they never did, for the rest of their life.[6]

However, any fénnid who had to stay past 20 could attempt to become a fergnia -- a man at arms, sometimes called a fían-champion, who had to pass certain tests to gain the title. The fergnia was generally a senior fénnid in the service of a king, helped in cases of litigation as needed, generally to aid in the process of athgabal, and in general as an enforcer of law and order within the túath. Besides having such a powerful position, the fergnia enjoyed a noble status equal to that of an aire déso, and led a band of five members, employed by the túath, who would exact revenge against neighboring regions when necessary.[7]


Differences between Fíanna and Díberg

Some sources referring to a fían will use the term almost interchangeably with díberg, a word that is taken to mean a band of marauders in this case. (Like some other Irish words, díberg can refer to both an action, i.e. marauding and brigandage, and the action's practitioners, i.e. a band of marauders or brigands. Here, we use it to refer to the group.) However, there is a noticeable difference between the two. A fían is meant to refer to a band of men whose principal concerns are hunting and war, where díberg simply refers to the more violent aspects that some fían chose to commit. This view of the words as interchangeable was likely due to the church's influence. Many of the writings at the time came from the church, who viewed the fíanna to be a threat to the settled societal túath life the church had an interest in. The church's emphasis on the the díbergach acts of the fíanna was in order to discredit the institution as a whole, and thereby lessen the threat is posed.[8]


Fían in Literature

  • In The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel, the three sons of Dond Desa, Conare's foster brothers, are exiled from Ériu after their fían plunder the area. Under exile they meet Ingcél Cáech, son of the king of Bretain and grandson of Conare. Together with Ingcél, the sons of Dond Desa form another fían and plunder Bretain, before returning to Ériu to plunder there again.[9]
  • In the Táin Bó Cúailnge, known also as simply The Táin, there are multiple references to groups of young warriors that both aid and oppose Cú Chulainn, these groups are most likely fían.[10]
  • In The Heroic Biography of Cormac Mac Airt, there is a reference to Cormac "running with [the] wolves" of Luigne Fer Trí. This is likely a reference to his time in a fían, as references to wolves in early Irish literature usually referred to fíanna.[11]


References

1.) "Fían." Def. F117. eDIL Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. Royal Irish Academy, 2007. Web. 11 Oct. 2010. <http://dil.ie>.
2.) McCone, Kim R. "Werewolves, Cyclops, Díberga, and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland." Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. Ed. Patrick Sims-Williams. University of Cambridge: n.p., 1986. 8-9. Print. 12.
3.) McCone, Kim R. "Werewolves, Cyclops, Díberga, and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland." Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. Ed. Patrick Sims-Williams. University of Cambridge: n.p., 1986. 11. Print. 12.
4.) Keating, Geoffry. Díonḃrollaċ fórais feasa ar Éirinn. Dublin: Gill, 1898. Print.
5.) McCone, Kim R. "Werewolves, Cyclops, Díberga, and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland." Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. Ed. Patrick Sims-Williams. University of Cambridge: n.p., 1986. 15. Print. 12.
6.) McCone, Kim R. "Werewolves, Cyclops, Díberga, and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland." Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. Ed. Patrick Sims-Williams. University of Cambridge: n.p., 1986. 10-11. Print. 12.
7.) McCone, Kim R. "Werewolves, Cyclops, Díberga, and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland." Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. Ed. Patrick Sims-Williams. University of Cambridge: n.p., 1986. 6-7. Print. 12.
8.) McCone, Kim R. "Werewolves, Cyclops, Díberga, and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland." Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. Ed. Patrick Sims-Williams. University of Cambridge: n.p., 1986. 2, 6-7. Print. 12.
9.) "The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel." Early Irish Myths and Sagas. Ed. Betty Radice. Trans. Jeffrey Gantz. N.p.: Penguin Books, 1981. 60-106. Print.
10.) Carson, Ciaran. The Táin. N.p.: Penguin Books, 2009. Print.
11.) Tomás Ó Cathasaigh, The Heroic Biography of Cormac Mac Airt. Dublin Institute for Advanced Study, 1977. Pp. 124-33.