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MacCool, Finn
Malone, Edmund

McAskill, Angus "Big Boy"
M'Donald, Big Sam
Middleton, John
Murphy, the Irish Giant
Nabontree, Shawn


McCool, Finn

FINN MACCOOL

Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhail) is a semimythical character said to have been the greatest leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland responsible for guarding the High King. The Fianna were founded in 300 B.C. by the High King Fiachadh (fee-a-kuh). Until Finn MacCool implemented a code of honor among them, the Fianna were an unruly band. Finn challenged the Fianna to become champions of the people and to make of themselves models of chivalry and justice. Some argue that the tales of the Fianna are the basis of the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.

Who was Finn MacCool?

Finn's father, Cumhail, engages Urgriu (er-gru) in battle for the position of Chieftain of the Fianna. Cumhail is wounded and his attacker carries off his pouch of magical objects. Lacking his pouch, Cumhail is slain by a member of the Morna clan, who beheads him.

Slain, Cumhail leaves behind a pregnant wife, Muirne, who gives birth to a beautiful fair-haired boy. Fearing for her son's life at the hands of Clan Morna, she sends him to the forest to be raised by Bodhmal the Druidess and her sister, the warrior Liath Luachra. Reared by these strong, wise women and tutored by the Druid Finegas as well, Demne grew to become a fierce warrior skilled at weaponry and fighting as well as at the healing and magical arts. Unable to reveal his name lest clan Morna discover him, he becomes known as "Fionn", meaning "fair or fair-haired".

The druid Finegas catches the Salmon of Knowledge and gives it to him to cook. Finn burns himself while doing so and sucks his thumb, thus acquiring the gift of prophecy, which he uses to ensure his survival, bring peace to his homeland, and inspire the Fianna to greatness.

Fionn gains command of the Fianna by saving the life of the High King Cormac mac Airt, who much later promises his daughter Gráinne (grahn-ya) to him in gratitude for a lifetime of service. Gráinne, however, loves another man, with whom she flees. A large part of ballads and legends of Finn MacCool concern his sixteen-year pursuit of Gráinne and her lover. Eventually he makes peace with them; they set up house near Finn and have four sons and a daughter.

He has a series of adventures involving hunting, fighting, sorcery, love, and passion. Finn has many romances but it is with the goddess Sadb that he begets his famous son, Oisín (Ossian).

In one legend, he is the creator of the Giant's Causeway, a peculiar series of volcanic rock formations on the coast of Ireland. One day, Finn grows angry when he hears that a Scottish giant is mocking his fighting ability. He throws a rock across the Irish Sea to Scotland; the rock includes a challenge to the giant.

The Scottish giant quickly throws a message in a rock back to Finn, stating he can't take up the challenge because he can't swim to reach Ireland.

Finn doesn't let the Scottish giant off so easily. He tears down great pieces of volcanic rock that lay near the coast and stands the pieces upright, making them into pillars that form a causeway that sretches from Ireland to Scotland. The giant now has to accept the challenge. He comes to Finn's house. Finn, masquerading as a 18-foot baby, bites the Scottish giant's hand and then chases him back to Scotland, flinging huge lumps of earth after him. One of the large holes he creates fills with water and becomes Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ireland. One large lump of earth misses the giant and falls into the Irish Sea; this lump is now known as the Isle of Man.


Malone, Edmund
In the Philosophical Transactions for 1698, Dr. William Musgrave issued the following report on the Irish giant Edmund Malone:

"The measure of some of the parts of this Irish-man, nineteen years of age, shown at Oxford, were communicated to me by Dr. Plot. He was seven feet six inches high, his finger six inches and three quarters long, the length of his span fourteen inches, of his cubit (the distance from the elbow to the finger-tips) two feet two inches, of his arm three feet two inches and a quarter, from the shoulder to the crown of his head eleven inches and three-quarters."

Earlier, in 1684, the giant appeared before the Court of Charles II. The amazed king walked under his outstretched arm, an event that Malone mentioned thereafter in his handbills, as in the following: "The Gyant; or the Miracle of Nature. Being that so much admired young man, aged nineteen years last June, 1684. Born in Ireland, of such a prodigious height and bigness, and every way proportionable, the like hath not been seen since the memory of man: he hath been several times shown at court, and his majesty was pleased to walk under his arm, and he is grown very much since, he now reaches ten foot and a half, fathoms near eight foot, spans fifteen inches; and is believed to be as big as one of the giants in Guildhall. He is to be seen at the sign of the Catherine Wheell in Southwark fair. Vivat Rex."


McAskill, Angus "Big Boy"
More than a century after his death, Nova Scotians still tell stories about the mighty Scottish giant Angus McAskill. After so many tellings, some of the stories no doubt have become somewhat stretched. But others, even some that seem at first outlandish, have been verified by credible witnesses.

64Also, The Canadian Encyclopedia reports that the giant "is known to have possessed prodigious strength and reputedly could lift 635 litre barrels and beams as long as 18 meters."65 And in her Two Remarkable Giants, biographer Phyllis R. Blakeley recounts that he once "jogged down the street with a 300 pound barrel of pork under each arm to the admiring whistles of bystanders."66

"set a forty foot mast into a schooner as easily as a farmer sets a fence post in a hole."67

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"Big Boy," (or "Gille Mor"), and that nickname stuck with him all his life. "As the boy kept growing and growing," writes Blakeley, "his father raised the roof and lifted the ceilings of the kitchen and living room, but as he did not raise the door Angus had to stoop to enter."69

ANGUS McASKILL, Cape Breton's famous giant, became a legend in his own time for his great feats of strength. (Courtesy Public Archives of Nova Scotia)
Angus McAskill eventually reached a height of seven feet nine inches, with shoulders that measured forty-four inches broad and hands a foot long with palms eight inches wide. He weighed over four hundred pounds. By all accounts, the deep-blue-eyed giant with black, curly hair was likable, and had a "pleasant manner," but he could get riled up. For example, as a teenager, he once accompanied the crew of a fishing schooner to a dance in North Sydney barefoot. As he sat watching, a show-off danced by with his girlfriend and stepped-deliberately, it seems-on Big Boy's unprotected toes. This occurred a second time, to the laughter of bystanders. But when it happened yet a third time, young Angus sprang out of his chair with a swift uppercut that propelled his tormentor through the air and landed him some distance out on the dance floor. The fellow remained there so still for so long that many feared he would die. The most concerned, it appears, was Angus himself. For, upon returning to the schooner, the captain of the crew reported he found the lad on his knees, fervently praying that the one rendered unconscious by the blow of his big fist might recover.70

71 became a familiar sight. He was on such a fishing trip in 1849, when the captain of a Yankee schooner spotted the towering young man at Neil's Harbour and sought to become his agent. After several meetings, the captain persuaded Angus and his family that fame and fortune awaited him in the outside world. For the next four years, he toured Lower Canada, the United States, the West Indies, Cuba, Newfoundland, and apparently England.

James D. Gillis says in his book, The Cape Breton Giant, that Britain's Queen Victoria summoned McAskill to Windsor Castle to see for herself if stories of his astonishing height and amazing strength were true. Almon later disputed this audience before the queen because he could find no record of it. But Duncan McAskill, another of Angus' brothers, told Gillis that he indeed appeared before the queen and afterward received from her the gift of a highland costume.

When his tour ended in 1853, McAskill returned to Cape Breton and bought a large grist mill at Munro's Point and opened a shop at Englishtown. He did well, but ten years later he suddenly took ill and soon after died from what his doctor called "brain fever." On his gravestone appears this inscription:

Erected to the memory of Angus McAskill
The Nova Scotia Giant
Who died August 8, 1863
Aged 38 years
A dutiful son, a kind brother,
just in all his dealings,
Universally respected by all his
acquaintance, "Mark the perfect man,
and behold the upright".

But after years of neglect this stone fell and in time grass and earth covered it. Many years later the provincial government authorities decided to replace the lost stone of their famous son with what could be remembered of his original epitaph. Later, however, some graveyard workers uncovered the original stone. It can be seen today at the Giant McAskill and Highland Pioneers' Museum located on the grounds of the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts overlooking St. Ann's Harbor. Among other exhibits at the museum are Angus' eight-foot bed, his great chair, and some of his clothing. And there also, from a large mural on the wall, Cape Breton's mighty giant, dressed in his highland costume, solemnly gazes down upon the museum's visitors. (For an account of Nova Scotia's other famous giant, see Swan, Anna Haining)

McCool, Finn

FINN MACCOOL
Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhail) is a semimythical character said to have been the greatest leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland responsible for guarding the High King. The Fianna were founded in 300 B.C. by the High King Fiachadh (fee-a-kuh). Until Finn MacCool implemented a code of honor among them, the Fianna were an unruly band. Finn challenged the Fianna to become champions of the people and to make of themselves models of chivalry and justice. Some argue that the tales of the Fianna are the basis of the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.

Who was Finn MacCool?

Finn's father, Cumhail, engages Urgriu (er-gru) in battle for the position of Chieftain of the Fianna. Cumhail is wounded and his attacker carries off his pouch of magical objects. Lacking his pouch, Cumhail is slain by a member of the Morna clan, who beheads him.

Slain, Cumhail leaves behind a pregnant wife, Muirne, who gives birth to a beautiful fair-haired boy. Fearing for her son's life at the hands of Clan Morna, she sends him to the forest to be raised by Bodhmal the Druidess and her sister, the warrior Liath Luachra. Reared by these strong, wise women and tutored by the Druid Finegas as well, Demne grew to become a fierce warrior skilled at weaponry and fighting as well as at the healing and magical arts. Unable to reveal his name lest clan Morna discover him, he becomes known as "Fionn", meaning "fair or fair-haired".

The druid Finegas catches the Salmon of Knowledge and gives it to him to cook. Finn burns himself while doing so and sucks his thumb, thus acquiring the gift of prophecy, which he uses to ensure his survival, bring peace to his homeland, and inspire the Fianna to greatness.

Fionn gains command of the Fianna by saving the life of the High King Cormac mac Airt, who much later promises his daughter Gráinne (grahn-ya) to him in gratitude for a lifetime of service. Gráinne, however, loves another man, with whom she flees. A large part of ballads and legends of Finn MacCool concern his sixteen-year pursuit of Gráinne and her lover. Eventually he makes peace with them; they set up house near Finn and have four sons and a daughter.

He has a series of adventures involving hunting, fighting, sorcery, love, and passion. Finn has many romances but it is with the goddess Sadb that he begets his famous son, Oisín (Ossian).

In one legend, he is the creator of the Giant's Causeway, a peculiar series of volcanic rock formations on the coast of Ireland. One day, Finn grows angry when he hears that a Scottish giant is mocking his fighting ability. He throws a rock across the Irish Sea to Scotland; the rock includes a challenge to the giant.

The Scottish giant quickly throws a message in a rock back to Finn, stating he can't take up the challenge because he can't swim to reach Ireland.

Finn doesn't let the Scottish giant off so easily. He tears down great pieces of volcanic rock that lay near the coast and stands the pieces upright, making them into pillars that form a causeway that sretches from Ireland to Scotland. The giant now has to accept the challenge. He comes to Finn's house. Finn, masquerading as a 18-foot baby, bites the Scottish giant's hand and then chases him back to Scotland, flinging huge lumps of earth after him. One of the large holes he creates fills with water and becomes Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ireland. One large lump of earth misses the giant and falls into the Irish Sea; this lump is now known as the Isle of Man.

There are varying accounts of Finn's death. One tale is that he is killed while stopping a fight between members of the Fianna. Another version is that he in fact does not die at all, but is sleeping in a cave, waiting to awaken and defend Ireland in her greatest hour of need.


M'Donald, Big Sam
Samuel M'Donald, of Lairg, in Sutherlandshire, who some claimed grew nearly eight feet high, served as a private in the Sutherland Fencibles in the latter years of the American Revolution. Later, after he became a fugleman with the Royals, he so impressed the Prince of Wales (afterward King George IV) that he was made lodge-porter at Carlton House. Big Sam, as he was commonly called, apparently did not take to this kind of life. So, after two years, he resigned and reenlisted with the Sutherland Fencibles with the rank of sergeant.

In his Edinburgh Portraits, Kay writes that while Big Sam was in London some tried to persuade him to show himself for money. He declined to do so under his own name, but he agreed to dress up as a female and advertise himself as a "remarkably tall woman." He drew remarkably large crowds and soon became flush with money. Suspicious of his new spending power, Sam's colonel called him in for questioning and learned of the giant's profitable moonlighting.

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Middleton, John
Born in 1578 in the chapelry of Hale just southwest of Manchester, John Middleton grew almost tall enough to look Goliath straight in the eye. He was also endowed with extraordinary strength -a trademark of the true giant.

In 1620, Sir Gilbert Ireland, the sheriff of Lancashire, got the giant all dressed up and took him to London to meet King James I. On his return home, the fancy-dressed Middleton had his portrait painted. It is preserved in the library of Brasenose College at Oxord.

"John Middleton, commonly called 'The Childe of Hale', whose hand from the carpus to the end of the middle finger was seventeen inches long, his palm eight inches and a half broad, and his whole height nine foot three inches, wanting but six inches of the height of Goliath, if that in Brasenose College Library (drawn at length, as 'tis said, in his just proportions) be a true piece of him."74

Middleton, who died at the age of 45, was buried in the Hale churchyard. On the twelve-foot-long stone covering his grave appears this epitaph:

HERE LYETH
THE BODIE OF JOHN MIDDLETON THE CHILDE.
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Murphy, the Irish Giant
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Nabontree, Shawn
On December 6, 1856, the Mayo Constitution carried this obituary: "One of the last of the mythical line of Irish giants, in the person of Shawn Nabontree, died at Connemara, Ireland, on Friday last. He owed his sobriquet to his unusual stature, being a man of extraordinary athletic symmetry-namely, seven feet in height, and weighing over twenty stone [280 pounds]. His family, the Joyces, has been for many years one of the wonders of Connemara. He died at the age of seventy, and has left four stalwart sons."

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