Fort of the Fianna

James Bones is a bit of a legend in our family history. There are several stories surrounding his participation in the 1798 Rebellion for a free and independent Ireland. One legend says that James, fleeing for his life, took a piece of the Giant’s Causeway with him before he met a boat at nearby Dunluce that took him to safety in Jamaica.

The Giant’s Causeway
© Julie Medlock Flake

The Giant’s Causeway, known for its beauty and geological history, has a legend of its own. Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) is a hero in Irish mythology. Many spots around the causeway are named for things that belonged to Finn. Finn is credited with building the causeway to Scotland after challenging the giant Benandonner to a fight. Finn and his wife, Oona, are able to scare off the Scottish giant, who tears up the causeway on his return home.

I wonder if James knew the story of Finn and what he thought of it. Regardless, James’ connection to the causeway, whether legend or truth, creates a link to the wonder of the myth of Finn MacCool.

Recently, I found a second connection between James and Finn.

As I transcribed some property agreements for James, I found that he leased land in the townland of Dunfane. The property was described as a farm “containing thirty acres woodland measure, more or less” with a house and garden. The first indenture is made in 1793 for a period of 18 years, but a second indenture for the same property is made in 1800 for 16 years. (It’s possible this is related to the legend of James going to Jamaica since he was back in Ireland by 1800. I have lots of questions about these agreements, but that is for another time.)

Since Dunfane was a new place to me, I did a little research on it. After not finding it on Irish Townlands, a Google search brought me to PlacenamesNI and an entry for Drumfane. I learned that “dún” (fort) and “droim” (ridge) were often interchanged since a fort often sat on top of a ridge, thus Dunfane is an older name for the same place.

 Finn MacCool comes to Aid the Fianna by Stephen Reid

Most interesting, though, is understanding the significance of the second half of the place name. Drumfane (Dún Fiann) means “fort of the Fianna.” And who are the Fianna? Well they were “small, semi-independent warrior bands in Irish mythology” who at the end, were led by…Finn MacCool.

While there may be lots of things in Ireland named after or connected to Finn MacCool, I’m fascinated that James lived in a small townland (0.32 square miles) named for Finn’s warriors and is also connected in family legends to the place Finn is said to have lived.

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