The Story of Oonagh and Finn McCool
Long, long ago, in the days of giants and pixies and leprechauns and magic, in the island of Ireland, on the northern side, lived a giant called Finn McCool. He lived by the sea and on a very clear day he could see right across to Scotland.
Amongst all the giants that Finn and his giant friends knew, there was no doubt at all. Finn was the biggest, strongest, most handsome giant ever. You know how you might pluck a flower, or pull up a weed? That’s how Finn would get pine trees for Christmas. You know how you like jumping over muddy puddles on a rainy day if you’re trying to keep your socks dry? That's how Finn would skip across whole, raging rivers! Have you ever played “Karate Chop!” with the side of your hand on a cracker or a poppadom? That’s what Finn could do to a great big stone- not for any good reason, really - just to show off.
So you can see how everyone - including himself - thought Finn was a pretty great giant!
Would it surprise you to hear that the world of the giants was not so different from the world we live in today? There were helpful giants and kind giants and thoughtless giants and greedy giants and friendly giants and chatty giants and wise giants. Some were fat, some were fatter and some were just big-boned. Some were bald and some were hairy. Some were curious about the world and others just wanted as much of it for themselves as they could get.
Finn loved hearing about giants in other parts of the world. There was no “giant-ernet” and there were no “huge-papers”. You got all your news from other giants, a bit like the way we get our stories - from someone who told someone who told someone, who told - you!
Today, Finn was thinking about the games he had heard that Scottish giants play, over in Scotland, that land over the sea. He’d heard that for fun they threw heavy things around, to see who could throw them the farthest. It was Finn’s idea of heaven. They threw boulders and tree trunks and - well, other stuff - that was just lying around. And the more he thought about the Scottish giants’ games, the more he really, really wanted to go there.
But Finn had a problem.
Some people hate peanut butter. Some people are frightened of velvet. Some get a rash in the sunlight and others start sneezing when it rains. But Finn’s problem was nothin like these. Finn hated getting his feet wet.
It wasn’t a problem most of the time - he wasn’t a water-skier, he didn’t train dolphins, he didn’t have any close friends who were mermaids. But if he was going to get to the Scottish games, he would have to swim across the sea. And that meant getting his feet wet.
Finn’s wife was a giant called Oonagh. When Finn told her he wanted to go to Scotland but didn’t want togged his feet wet, she smiled to herself and said, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” and she gave Finn a look.
(Yes, you’re right. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” is a particularly disgusting phrase. It means, “there’s more than one way to do a thing” and I have a suspicion that it comes from a grown-up who wasn’t fond of pets.) But Oonagh was telling Finn to use his imagination and find another way to get to Scotland. What can you think of - a boat? a giant kite? the first ever plane?
But whatever Finn thought of, he worried that each one would break and he’d end up in the water. Until - “I know!” he grinned. “I’ll build a ROAD!” “You’re a genius,” smiled Oonagh, who’d thought of this ages ago.
Finn put on his giant boots and giving Oonagh a peck on the cheek, he said,“I’m off to build a road across the sea. I’ll be back in a week.” “A week?” laughed Oonagh. “It’ll take at least two!” because although she loved him very much, she knew Finn wasn’t as mighty as he liked to think.
Finn strode away, over the hills and the forests, ’til he reached the coast, where he started to build his road. He ripped rocks out of the mountains and one by one, threw them into the sea. Before long, the pile of stones stuck out of the water and began to make a road.
Three days’ sweaty work later, one of Finn’s giant friends walked by. “Finn, I don't mean to worry you,” said his friend, “but I’ve just heard that our old enemy, the moody, angry, fighty Benandonnar is on his way to your house. He’s heard how much everyone admires your strength and rugged good looks and now he’s beaten all Ireland’s biggest giants, he’s coming here to turn you into sausages!”
“Oh.” said Finn. And he put down the boulder he had been about the throw into the sea. Benandonnar was a famously unpleasant enemy of the giants of Ireland. He was so strong, he had squashed a thunderbolt between his fingers ’til it was flat as a pancake. Now he kept it in his pocket to show people before he hurt them. There was only one giant that Benandonnar hadn’t beaten yet - and that was Finn.
“Well, if he’s planning to turn me into sausages, I’ll be making mashed potatoes out of him first, “ said Finn, putting on a brave act. “And beans, too!” he added, just to show he meant business. And he walked back home as quick as he could.
When he got home, Finn sat glumly in the kitchen and told Oonagh about Benandonnar.
“He's going to mush me like mash! Pop me like peas! Gulp me like goo!” fretted Finn.
“Ach, ya silly wee lump,” smiled Oonagh, who was never one for panicking. “You boys always boast about your muscles, but it’s your brains you really need!” she said. “Leave it to me. Just do what I say.”
First, she went outside and got nine round, flat stones and then put them on a plate. Second, she went to the cupboard and took out one round, flat biscuit, and very carefully, she put it on a plate with all the stones. Third, she told Finn to build an enormous baby's cradle and put it by the fireside. Fourth, she ran up the stairs, saying - “I’m just off to get my nightie!”
“Your nightie?” fretted Finn. “You can’t go to bed and leave me all alone!”
But up she went, so Finn did what he was told and carried on making his giant baby cradle.
As Oonagh came down the stairs, they felt the ground start to shake and a dark shadow fell over the house. “Oh no!” It's him, he's here!” panicked Finn. “What shall I do?!!”
“Calm down and put these on, “ said Oonagh and thew her nighty at him. It was pretty and frilly, with a hat like a baby’s. “Now climb into the cradle,” she said. Finn was too terrified even to ask or argue. He put on the frilly bonnet and frilly nightie and climbed into the giant cradle, by the side of the fire.
6 - Grinding bones, or teeth or maybe some fingers…
Before you could say FEE FI FO FUM, Finn McCool was dressed as a baby, crouched in a massive crib and had a giant bottle of milk in his mouth. Oonagh went to the door and opened it with a sweet smile upon her face. “Hello?” she smiled at the giant at the door.
“Where is Finn McCool?!” roared Benandonnar. He was the biggest giant Oonagh had ever seen - and definitely the ugliest. “I'm going to rip him to shreds and make marmalade!”
“I'm afraid you've missed him,” smile Oonagh, sweetly. “He's away at the coast just now, building a road across the sea to Scotland. But he started this morning, so he’ll easily be finished by teatime. Come in and wait for him if you like!” This wasn’t what the giant expected. He was used to people screaming in terror, wetting themselves, screaming some more, then keeling over in a faint. He grunted something under his breath that might have been a thank you and followed Oonagh inside.
“Have something to eat,” she said kindly. “You need to get your strength up, if you're going to fight my Finn! I don’t meant to sound rude, but you’re just a tiny pixie next to him!” In the cradle, dressed as a baby, Finn’s teeth began to chatter with fear. What was Oonagh up to, annoying a monster giant like this?!
“Here, “said Oonagh, “Have an oatcake.” She went to the plate, took one of the big round flat stones and gave it to Benandonnar. He stuffed it into his mouth all at once and then began to chew. “AOWWWWW!” he screamed and spat out a mouthful of broken teeth.
“Oh, dear,” said Oonagh. “Did you not like it? What a shame. They’re the baby’s favourite!” And picking up the plate, she walked to the cradle and very carefully, gave Finn the real biscuit to eat. And he munched on it very happily indeed. The giant peered into the cradle. “That's Finn McCool's baby?!” he asked, surprised. “He's quite big for his age isn't he?”
“Oh, no,” said Oonagh, tickling her husband under the chin like a baby. “Finn was twice this size when he was wee. He’ll catch up. But he has got some teeth now! Go on, have a feel.” Nervously, the giant put his little finger inside Finn’s mouth.
CRUNCH! Finn bit down as hard as he possibly could, all the way through Benandonnar’s finger! OOOWWW! yelped Benandonnar. “If a baby of Finn McCool’s is this strong, I'm not going to hang about to meet Finn McCool himself!”
And before Finn could climb out of the cradle to laugh himself silly, Benandonnar was out of the door and running over the hills and the sea, back to Scotland.
Finn never did finish building his sea-road, and if you go to Ireland today you can still see it poking out of the water.
It wasn’t - he said - that he was scared of the Scottish giants, of course. It was just because he wanted nothing more to stay at home and enjoy the company of Oonagh, his very wise wife.
What do you think of Finn, Oonagh and the angry giant?
What did Finn think of himself at the start?
Was he right?
What saved the day - panicking, muscles or brains?
What do you think would have happened if Oonagh hadn’t been there? Or if Finn refused to listen to her? Why did he do what she said?
Why was Oonagh’s plan such a good one? (she used what she had - a giant husband - and just changed the story around him)
How did the giant change? How did Finn change?