Oisín is a name enormously popular in Ireland and Northern Ireland, though virtually unknown to Americans. For the record, it’s pronounced “OSH-een” and means “little deer” from the Gaelic “os” (deer) plus the Irish diminutive suffix –ín. In Irish mythology, Oisín was both a poet and a warrior; he was the son of the legendary Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn Mac Cool), chief leader of the Fianna who together defended Ireland from outside invaders. According to Irish legend, shortly after Oisín’s birth, his mother Sadhbh was turned into a deer by a malevolent Druid known as Fear Doirche, so the boy was reared in the woods until the age of seven. One day, when his father Fionn was out hunting he came across the child and, knowing him to be his own son, gave him the name Oisín (“little deer”).
Aside from his part fighting alongside his father and the Fianna in the Golden Age of Ireland, Oisín is most remembered for his love affair with Niamh of the Golden Hair. Niamh was the daughter of a sea deity and she dwelled in a place called Tir na nÓg (the land of Eternal Youth and Pleasure). One day she rode her horse across the sea to Ireland and came upon the handsome Oisín. Upon gazing at this extraordinarily beautiful golden-haired woman on her horse, Oisín fell instantly in love – and she with him. Niamh carried him back to Tir na nÓg where he remained for the next 300 years (although he thought only three weeks had passed). In time, Oisín, longing for his homeland, asked to go back to Ireland for a visit. Niamh gave him her horse and sent him on his way…with one warning: do not dismount the horse and touch Irish soil or all will be lost. Oisín returned to Ireland to see that 300 long years had passed and the old heroic age was gone. Unable to find his father or the Fianna warriors, he wandered the countryside and eventually came upon some men trying to move a boulder. Oisín easily picked up the stone with his legendary warrior strength, but his stirrup suddenly broke and he fell off the horse. Upon landing on Irish soil he was instantly transformed into a toothless, grey-haired, wrinkled old man.
According to another legend, Oisín’s return to Ireland coincided with the presence of St. Patrick who carried forth the poet’s stories. Apparently the Irish patron saint attempted to baptize Oisín but he refused upon learning his father Fionn and the Fianna died a pagan death (300 year prior, Ireland had not been Christianized, so their souls had not been saved). If they weren’t good enough for heaven then nor was Oisín, he exclaimed! – and instead went to join his forefathers in the Land of Eternal Youth and Pleasure.