Manannán is a popular character who appears in a lot of folk tales as well as myths, evolving over time from a god of the sea who reveals the Otherworldly nature of his realm to Bran in Immram Brain (‘The Voyage of Bran’), to an Otherworldly figure or a magician, sometimes a buffoon, sometimes a trickster, sometimes – as in this tale – a helpful and generous figure.
This following tale is from Donegal. Colum Cille, whose name means ‘Dove of the Church’ is otherwise known as Saint Columba, and was born in Donegal in the sixth century. After a dispute between the saint and Saint Finnian escalated and ultimately led to the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne, Colum Cille was nearly excommunicated for his part in causing the deaths of so many. Legend has it that St Brendan of Birr spoke up for him, and so in the end he was simply exiled. This led to Colum Cille’s missionary journey over seas, where he eventually established the monastery of Iona (and many more) after being given permission by the Dál Riatan’s of western Scotland, who were Irish settlers themselves:
Saint Colum Cille had broken his golden chalice, and sent it by a servant to the mainland to have it repaired. The servant took it in his currach Cuisle, and on his way fell in with another currach, rowed by a stranger, who enquired his errand. When the man told it, the stranger blew his breath on the chalice, which got whole again; and bade him return it to Colum Cille and bring back word what he should say. Saint Colum said, “Monúar! Monúar! fear na noibreacha sin, as go bráth nach bfuil maitheamhnas lé fághail aige” (Alas, Alas, for the man of such works, for ever there’s no forgiveness to be got by him). On hearing the saint’s reply the stranger exclaimed, “Woe is me, Manannán mac Lir! for years l’ve helped the Catholics of lreland, but I’ll do it no more, till they’re weak as water. I’ll go to the grey waves in the Highlands of Scotland!”
(From the editor’s brother, in Donegal, 1870.)
David Fitzgerald, ‘Popular Tales of Ireland,‘ in Revue Celtique Volume IV, 1880, p177.