The legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill and his band of Finian warriors loom large in Glenshee.
Fionn mac Cumhaill of course was popular elsewhere in Scotland, but there are a number of place-names and two ballads in particular that seem to locate Glenshee into the Finian legends.
One ballad, Laoidh Dhiarmaid (The Lay of Diarmaid), tells how Diarmaid, a colleague of Finn, dies on Ben Gulabin at the head of Glenshee, killed by a boar. At the bottom of Ben Gulabin, near Spittal of Glenshee, is a stone circle which has the name of Grave of Diarmaid. The ballad opens with the following lines:
Gleann Síodh an gleann so rém thaoibh i mbinn faoidh éan agus lon;
minic rithidís an Fhéin
ar an t-srath so an déidh a gcon.
An gleann so fá Bheann Ghulbainn ghuirm as h-áilde tulcha fa ghréin,
níorbh annamh a shrotha gu dearg
an déidh shealg o Fhionn na bhFéin.
This glen beside me is Glenshee, where blackbirds and other birds sing sweetly; often would the Fian run along this glen behind their hounds.
This glen below green Beann Ghulbainn, whose knolls are the fairest under the sun, – not frequently were its streams red after hunts had been held by Fionn of the Fiana.
Another ballad while not explicitly set in Glenshee, seems to have been popular with Gaels of the area in order for them to transfer the ballad from its original setting in Ireland to Perthshire. The ballad, Naonbhar do-chuadhmar fá choill (‘Nine strong we set out into a wood’), is about a group of Fianna who set off on a quest to make ‘some kind of object pertaining to dogs’. The band of warriors meet three groups of enemies – the Catheads, the Dogheads and a mysterious un-named band, whom they overcome and then succeed in their quest.
While the place-names in the ballad itself have been located in Ireland, the ballad must also have been acted out in Glenshee. In the middle of the ballad the Fianna raise their banners, ‘symbols of their strength and authority’, and they immediately defeat the Cathead, Dogheads and their comrades. In Glenshee is a hill called Creag nam Brataichean KRK ‘crag of the banners’; one of the banners raised in the ballad is Lámh Dhearg, bratach mheic Rónáin ‘[Red Hand], the banner of Rónán’s son’. Lamh Dhearg KRK is the name of a hill about 2.5 km north-east of Creag nam Brataichean. The heads of the enemies are then severed as a sign of victory; Finegand KRK is Fèith nan Ceann ‘bog of the heads’.
The above text has been taken from ‘The Place-names of Glenshee: a preliminary study for the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust’ by Peter McNiven.