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”The big fish” of Northern Ireland

3 min read

We are in Northern Ireland, along the banks of the River Lagan in Donegall Quay, Belfast. “The Big Fish,” also known as “The Salmon of Knowledge” (Irish: bradán feasa), is a sculpture made from a mosaic of ceramic tiles representing a creature of the Irish mythology.

The giant sculpture is based on a character from the tale “The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn”, which recounts the early adventures of Fionn mac Cumhaill, a mythical hunter-warrior of Irish mythology.
The story tells of an ordinary salmon that eats nine hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom (an Tobar Segais) from nine hazel trees that surrounded the well. After devouring the nuts, the fish gained all the knowledge in the world. According to the story, the first person to eat the fish would then inherit all of its knowledge.
As story goes, the poet Finn Eces (or Finegas) spent seven years fishing for this salmon. Finally Finn caught it and gave the fish to Fionn, his servant and son of Cumhaill, with instructions to cook it but on no account to eat any of it. Fionn cooked the salmon, turning it over and over, but when he touched the fish with his thumb to see if it was cooked, he burnt his finger on a drop of hot cooking fish fat. Fionn sucked on his burned finger to ease the pain. Little did Fionn know that all of the salmon’s wisdom had been concentrated into that one drop of fish fat. When he brought the cooked meal to Finn Eces, his master saw that the boy’s eyes shone with a previously unseen wisdom. Finn Eces asked Fionn if he had eaten any of the salmon. Answering no, the boy explained what had happened. Finn Eces realized that Fionn had received the wisdom of the salmon, so gave him the rest of the fish to eat. Fionn ate the salmon and in so doing gained all the knowledge of the world. Throughout the rest of his life, Fionn could draw upon this knowledge merely by biting his thumb. The deep knowledge and wisdom gained from the Salmon of Knowledge, allowed Fionn to become the leader of the Fianna, the popular heroes of Irish myth.

This sculpture of the legendary salmon, titled The Salmon of Knowledge but locally called The Big Fish, was constructed in 1999 to celebrate the return of fish to the River Lagan. Each of its tiles is decorated with texts or images that relate in some way to an aspect of Belfast’s history. According to local folklore, kissing the fish envokes wisdom.

Images from web.

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