Finn and the man in the tree

  • Old Irish
  • prose
  • Finn Cycle, minor Irish prose tales
Two short prose stories about Finn, cited in the commentary to the Senchas Már as a gloss on the term imbas forosnai. The first, about Finn's encounter with the supernatural thief Cúldub, tells how Finn acquired the gift of imbas, while the second story, about Finn and the gilla Derg Corra, tells how Finn put this gift to use.
Finn and the man in the tree
This is the English title given to the text in Meyer's edition, although it does not cover the first story concerning Cúldub.
Context(s)The (textual) context(s) to which the present text belongs or in which it is cited in part or in whole.
  • Old Irish
  • Secondary language(s): Latin
  • Latin words and phrases include: ut Scotti dicunt, norat (thus interpreted by Meyer) and si uerum est.
Meyer points to linguistic features which may indicate that the text belongs “to the late eighth or early ninth century”.(1)n. 1 Kuno Meyer, Fianaigecht (1910): xviii–xxix.
prose (primary)
verse (secondary)

Prose and retoiric.


Finn Cycle
Finn Cycle
id. 578
minor Irish prose tales (foscéla)Irish narrative literature
minor Irish prose tales (foscéla)
id. 33994

Relatively short prose tales in Irish. In learned discourse from the Middle Irish period and later, a distinction is sometimes made between the longer prím-scél and the shorter fo-scél. See eDIL s.v. ‘foscél’ for some references. In the first two volumes of BILL (1913 and 1942), Best included separate headings for ‘Minor tales’.


Imbas forosnaiImbas forosnai

Finn mac CumaillFinn mac Cumaill (Find úa Báiscni)
Fionn mac Cumhaill, Find úa Báiscni
(time-frame ass. with Finn Cycle, Finn mac Cumaill, Cormac mac Airt)
Finn mac Cumaill (earlier mac Umaill?), Find úa Báiscni: central hero in medieval Irish and Scottish literature of the so-called Finn Cycle; warrior-hunter and leader of a fían
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Cúldub mac uí BirggeCúldub mac uí Birgge
Cúldub mac Fidga
Cúldub (mac (h)uí Birgge in Finn and the man in the tree; mac Fidga in Echta Lagen...), fairy thief and opponent of Finn mac Cumaill.
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Anonymous [woman of the síd]Anonymous ... woman of the síd
Entry reserved for but not yet available from the subject index.

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Derg Corra mac hUí DaigreDerg Corra mac hUí Daigre
Entry reserved for but not yet available from the subject index.

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[1] First story: Finn, Cúldub and the gift of imbas

Includes verse: Tair Femen fuigial formuig
Finn ua Baiscne and his fían are at Badamair, a place on the River Suir. On three successive nights, Cúldub mac hUí Birgge appears from the fairy hill Síd ar Femin to steal the food that has been cooked for the fían. On the third night, Finn waits for him by the hill and slays him when he is about to re-enter it. As a síd-woman carrying an ever-full vessel of drink shuts the door, Finn withdraws his hand, but has a finger (mér) jammed in the doorway. Finn puts the sore finger in his mouth and afterwards makes a chant (dicetal): as imbas illumines him, Finn recites the retoiric beg. ‘Tair Femen fuigial formuig’.
» Comments: This first story apparently explains how Finn acquired the gift of imbas forosnai. Cf. the prose tale Tucait fagbála in fessa do Finn ocus marbad Cuil Duib. » People: Find úa Báiscni • Cúldub mac uí Birgge » Places: Badamair • River Suir • Síd ar Femin » Keywords: imbas forosnai

[2] Second story (part 1): Finn and Derg Corra

Finn and the fían have abducted women from Dún Iascaig in the territory of the Déisi. Among them is a beautiful maiden (anonymous) who becomes Finn's object of desire. However, she falls in love with Derg Corra mac hUí Daigre, a young man (gilla) of the fían, having seen him perform the feat of leaping back and forth over the cooking hearth (fulacht). She offers to make love to him, but he refuses her, mindful of Finn. When she manages to stir Finn's hostility towards Derg Corra, Finn sends him into exile, with three days of respite in advance.
» Places: Dún Iascaig

[3] Second story (part 2): Finn and Derg Corra

Forced into exile, Derg Corra retreats to a wood, where he moves about swiftly ‘on the shanks of deer’. One day, when Finn is looking for Derg Corra, he finds a man (Derg Corra) perched in the top of a tree. A tableau is given of the man, in the company of three animals (a blackbird, a trout and a stag) and sharing his food (nuts and an apple) or water with them. The men with Finn do not recognise the man because of his ‘hood of disguise’ (celtair díclithe) and look to Finn for an answer.

[4] Second story (part 3): Finn and Derg Corra

Includes verse: Con fri lon leth-cno contethain cotith
Finn temporarily places his thumb (ordu) in his mouth and imbas illumines him: he makes a chant (dichetal), beg. ‘Con fri lon leth-cno contethain cotith [...]’ (a retoiric), and so identifies the hooded man as Derg Corra.



Kuno Meyer, Fianaigecht (1910): xviii–xxix.

Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] Meyer, Kuno [ed. and tr.], “Finn and the man in the tree”, Revue Celtique 25 (1904): 344–349.
CELT – edition: <link> CELT – translation: <link> Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link>
Edition and translation. Meyer does not translate the speeches attributed to Finn as he attains or performs imbas.
[ed.] Binchy, D. A. [ed.], Corpus iuris Hibernici, 7 vols, vol. 3, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1978.  
comments: numbered pp. 745–1138; diplomatic edition of legal material from Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1337 (continued, pp. 745–1109); Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1317 (pp. 1111–1138)
879.23–880.14 Diplomatic edition.
[tr.] Hull, Vernam, “A rhetoric in Finn and the Man in the Tree”, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 30 (1967): 17–20.
Includes a translation of Finn's retoirics
[tr.] Carey, John, Ireland and the Grail, Celtic Studies Publications 11, Aberystwyth: Celtic Studies Publications, 2007.
95–96 Translation of part of the text.

Secondary sources (select)

Hollo, Kaarina, “‘Finn and the man in the tree’ as verbal icon”, in: Arbuthnot, Sharon J., and Geraldine Parsons (eds.), The Gaelic Finn tradition, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012. 50–61.
Hollo interprets the tableau of Derg Corra in the tree as “a skilfully composed reflection upon the mystery and salvific power of Christ's crucifixion and the Eucharist”.
Carey, John, “Obscure styles in medieval Ireland”, Mediaevalia 19 (1996): 23–29.
Hull, Vernam, “A rhetoric in Finn and the Man in the Tree”, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 30 (1967): 17–20.
Breatnach, Liam, “Varia V”, Ériu 41 (1990): 139–141.
139–140 On the date of the text.
Nagy, Joseph Falaky, The wisdom of the outlaw: the boyhood deeds of Finn in Gaelic narrative tradition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Meyer, Kuno, Fianaigecht: being a collection of hitherto inedited Irish poems and tales relating to Finn and his Fiana, Todd Lecture Series 16, London: Hodges, Figgis, 1910.
National Library of Scotland – PDF: <link> Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link>
Ó Riain, Pádraig, “A study of the Irish legend of the wild man”, Éigse 14:3 (1972): 179–206.
Scott, Robert D., The thumb of knowledge in legends of Finn, Sigurd and Taliesin: studies in Celtic and French literature, Publications of the Institute of French Studies, New York, 1930.
Chadwick, Nora K., “Imbas forosnai”, Scottish Gaelic Studies 4:2 (1935): 97–135.
Carey, John, “Two notes on names”, Éigse 35 (2005): 116–124.
[id. 2. ‘Dercc Corra’] On the name Derg/Derc(c) Corra
Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
March 2011, last updated: May 2021