Irish Fairy Tales is a retelling of ten Irish folktales by the Irish author James Stephens. The stories are set in a wooded, Medieval Ireland filled with larger-than-life hunters, warriors, kings, and fairies. Many stories concern the Fianna and their captain, Fionn mac Uail, from the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology.
"The Story of Tuan mac Cairill"
Finnian, the Abbott of Moville, travels to the home of Tuan mac Cairill and compels Tuan to admit him. The abbott convinces Tuan of the truth of the Gospel. Finnian asks Tuan to describe his past. Tuan reveals that he is centuries old and was one of the original settlers of Ireland. Tuan lost consciousness in a violent storm and woke to find himself transformed into a powerful stag. Tuan passes through a number of lives: as a stag, a boar, a hawk, and a salmon. As a salmon, Tuan is caught, roasted, and eaten by the queen of Ireland. He is reborn as her son.
"The Boyhood of Fionn"
Fionn is the son of Uail mac Baiscne, captain of the Fianna of Ireland. Uail was killed by members of clann-Morna, who desired to lead the Fianna. In order to protect Fionn from clann-Morna, his mother sends him to be raised in the forest by two druids, Bovmall and Lia Luachra. These women nurture Fionn and train him to run, jump, and swim. When Fionn is an old boy, his location is discovered by the Mornas, but he evades them by hiding in a tree. His location compromised, Fionn accompanies a band of poets on their travels. A robber kills the poets. Upon realizing Fionn's identity, the robber reveals that he is Fiacuil mac Cona, one of Uail mac Baiscne's comrades in arms. Fiacuil takes in Fionn. The boy lives in the robber's den for years. Eventually, clann-Morna learns of Fionn's location, so Fionn strikes off on his own. He serves under two kings but leaves the service of each when he feels his identity to be in jeopardy. Fionn then spends years in service to the wise poet Finegas, who educates Fionn and eventually gives him the Salmon of Knowledge to eat. At this point, Fionn is a young man, both strong and wise.
Fionn leaves the poet and attends a Samhain feast at Tara, seat of the High King of Ireland. He announces his identity and is given a seat of honor. Each Samhain, the fairy Aillen mac Midna is known to attack the city and cause much destruction. Fionn volunteers to defend the city against Aillen. As he approaches the fairy, Fiacuil emerges from the forest and offers Fionn his magical spear, with which he will be able to resist the sorcery of Aillen. Fionn accepts the spear and uses it to defend himself from Aillen's magic. Fionn chases Aillen and kills him shortly before Aillen can escape into Faery. Fionn returns to Tara, where the High King offers him any reward. Fionn asks to be made the captain of the Fianna. The High King grants this request, and the warriors present (including the warriors of clann-Morna) offer their services to Fionn.
"The Birth of Bran"
Tuiren, the young sister of Fionn's mother, is famed for her beauty. She marries an Ulster gentleman, Iollan Eachtach. Iollan formerly had a fairy lover, Uct Dealv, who became furious that Tuiren had stolen Iollan from her. Uct Dealv takes the shape of a messenger, approaches Iollan's castle, and indicates that she has a message for Tuiren from Fionn. When Tuiren emerges, Uct Dealv transforms her into a dog. Uct Dealv brings the dog to Fergus Fionnliath, a man famed for his hatred of dogs. She tells Fergus that Fionn has ordered him to care for the dog until Fionn asks for its return. Fergus reluctantly agrees. Tuiren manages to win over Fergus, who abandons his hatred of dogs.
Eventually, Fionn learns that Tuiren is no longer living with Iollan, and he demands her return. Iollan travels to Uct Dealv and begs her to reveal what she has done with Tuiren. After exacting a promise of eternal loyalty from Iollan, Uct Dealv accompanies him to the home of Fergus and changes Tuiren back into a human. Tuiren returns to Fionn with two puppies she has mothered, Bran and Sceólan. These become Fionn's favorite dogs. Fergus is heartbroken at losing his dog, so Fionn sends him a new puppy, which quickly cheers him up.