Tag Archives: Manannán


The following dialogue is taken from a booklet originally published in 1870, and then reproduced for the Manx Quarterly (#23). The transcription here isn’t great and I’ve tried to correct what I can, but some of it is difficult to make sense of… 

The dialogue centres around Manannán, or Manannan-beg-mac-y-Leirr, as he’s called here (“Little Manannán, son of the Sea”) – a common title for him on the Isle of Man – who is speaking with an old woman, referred to in the original Manx as Yn Chen Ven (literally, “the Old Woman”). The overtones of her really being the Cailleach, or the Manx Berrey Dhône, are clear, and as they chat they talk about how the Isle of Man has changed over the years, lamenting that it is for the worse, for the most part, which has resulted in their being forced to move from one place to another as their homes have become unlivable.

As the introduction notes, Manannán’s “chief attributes [lie] in his knowledge of the weather, and his magical power over the air and sea. In his capacity of navigator, he [has] continual intercourse with the Isle of Man which was ‘looked upon by the Irish as’ one of the enchanted islands to which their heroes might and did resort. He is supposed to have fled thither, when the tribe he belonged to and led in Ireland was put to flight by later conquerors. On his arrival the was elected by the Manx as their King. The view has been hold that Mannanan [is] an eponymous hero, and gave his name to the Island, but later writers on folklore are inclined to reverse the order of the christening, because our hero was originally known as Orbsen. Once settled in Man, Mannanan is represented as living in a fairy palace, and he figures in many stormy encounters with this adversaries, sometimes rolling on three legs like a wheel through the mist, at others being endued with a giant’s strength and performing many prodigies.”

The tradition of Manannán is still strong in the Isle of Man, and this relatively modern tale, which interweaves much of Manannán’s lore throughout it, makes it clear that he always will be. Times may change and such horrors as “crinolines, bonnets without back or top, and rolls of hair twisted together set at the back of the heads of our women just like hay-risks…” may plague us, but Manannán will always be looking out for his people. 

A Conversation between Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, the three-legged King of the Isle of Man, and an old Manx woman on the top of Snaefell.

THE OLD WOMAN: Good morning to thee, Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, I wonder at meeting thee here. I have been looking for thee everywhere for many years without any sign of thee.

MANNANAN: O, my dear woman. It rejoices my heart to meet thee, because my sorrows have been so many, and my friends so few, that a little talk to thee once move revives my heart and raises such joy in my soul as I have not felt for many years.

THE OLD WOMAN: What is the nature of thy sorrow, O Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, and whence has it come?

MANNANAN: Thou surprisest me that thou dost ask the question of me, old woman. Thou knowest very well that I have been a King in the Isle of Man, but in an unlucky hour, and through the craftiness of strangers, I was cast down from the highest pinnacle of fame and power to the most abject poverty in the Island, and what are its consequences now ? Those who cannot be compared with me in any way, either in learning or knowledge or wisdom, look at me with contempt and bear themselves towards me as to a robber. Once those who wore under my sway obeyed me and loved me. They brought me every year a small quantity of coarse meadow hay, or else rank grass from the top of Barrule to the dwelling-house of my chief officer at the foot of the mountain (a). Even the coin of our Island was spurious except the three-legged arms were stamped on it (b); but now, my dear old woman, am driven away from the dwelling-place of the living to wander on the sea-shoe or on the tops of the mountains (c). Eve the vary few pence that remain which are found with my token on them are thrown in a corner as bad money. The only thing they have now to keep up the memory of old times is the spreading a small quantity of rushes on the top of Tynwald (d).

THE OLD WOMAN: Where, then, is thy dwelling now?

MANNANAN: For many years I was dwelling in the great cave of Ballagyr and sometimes I lodged do the ruins of Peel Castle, but I was driven away by those who were saying I was the “modde dhoo” (e). Seeing, therefore, that my life was in danger, I went to the waterfall of Glen Maye. There they treated as the Phynnodderee; therefore I shook the dust of my feet against the people of Gordon and Glen Maye, and passing right through the merry vale of Rushen I took shelter at last in the Chasms at Cregneish. But what is the use? The strangers have come among us so sneakingly and so full of inquisitiveness that they came with great leaden weights tied to long ropes, lowering the rope in clefts of the rocks and swinging it from side to side, sounding and banging (f). that they frightened me, and I ran to Langness at Ronaldsway; but even then I could not remain, because there was a light-house (1).to save the life of poor sailors my heart was almost broken within me seeing so many wrecks of ships broken in small pieces on the rocks and at hearing the awful cries of poor sailors drowning without help to save them. The feeling of my heart could not stand it any longer and I went to the mountains south and north, the two Barrules, Cronk yn Irr Laa, Snaefell, Slieu Whallian, and other mountains of the Island, which were no far from the shore where I was constantly bathing. But my peace was again broke in the mountains. They sold the poor mountains from me and from the public (g). Whilst they left me the rule, the people had as much to say in the matter of the mountains as in that of the air above them and the waters round about them. But now all the way from Douglas Head to Maughold Head, and over all the mountains of Man, they have staked them with great staves like sheep-poles (h), and they have given a big English name to the stakes, which thou and I my old comrade, do not understand very well, because Manks is our mother tongue, and we have not much liking for their English. The name of the stakes on the mountain used to be with us something like Abernethies (i), let me be right or wrong. But what a wonderful thing it is, woman (with everything else they have done) at Port Erin on the coast of our Island, they have buried in the water hundreds and thousands of tons of the rocks of the Howe in the bay (k), and spoilt the little port that formerly was the accustomed place of safety from the Calf to the Point of Ayre.

THE OLD WOMAN: But poor Mannanan where is thy dwelling now?

MANNANAN: I am dwelling now in one of the prettiest glens in our Island, that is to say, Ballure Glen it Ramsey, but I am afraid even there my peace and happiness will not last long, for quite lately I have heard a very unnatural shout and cry saying, “Where art thou Adam?” I imagined first of all that these doleful cries came from a ventriloquist, for his voice came at different times from each district round about. Then one day I asked a fairy I knew, and she told me that the voices I had heard came from a believer who revealed his mind sometimes to the people, and, fearing that someone might think his kindred at some time or other had descended from the Great Buggane of Gob-ny-Scuit (l), he spends the greater part of his time in arguing with the people and feeling very anxious that the first man who was created should again appear and help him to dispel all misgivings that there was a relationship between himself and the Buggane (the Great Buggane of Gob-ny-Scuit) he is continually calling in his mournful strain: “Where art thou’ Adam?” Whether this account given me by the Fairy, of the mournful cries which I heard was true or not, I know very well that I cannot stand it much longer.

THE OLD WOMAN: These wretched mischances that have befallen thee, O po Mannanan-my-Chree, have been because of the slackness of thy rule in thy Kingdom; If thou had’st in thy rule tightened thy halter a little more, and “put a tie on the sportive cow” (m), this certainly would not have overtaken us so soon, for trouble and anguish have come on me as well as on thyself.

MANNANAN: With all submission to thy judgment, my good companion, I am ready to assert that there has been no rule in Man to be compared with my own Government. In the days of my rule, the people lived in peace and happiness. They were not under the taxes as they are now. They had no highway labour, except a very little for the main roads. Drunkards were not amongst them, and, therefore, theme was no need in our Island for a fine big palace for insane people.(2) The cupboard was empty of bottles, for the use either of the for insane people.

The cupboard was empty of bottles
For the use either of the wastrels or the doctors;
The ardent liquor of the publican was forsaken;
My people were without distress or any adversity.

But now crime and poverty have filled our streets; but what trouble has come to thee my old woman?

THE OLD WOMAN: My sorrow is greater than tongue can tell. Like thyself I have been. banished and driven out of the country. For many years I got lodging in the Niarbyl and the great glen of Dalby. My enemies drove me out of that to Ronnag, Where I found the manner of living of its inhabitants spoiled by evildoers. I then went to Fistard (n), which was not much better, and from there to the Chickens; again they. found me these, and drove me away, and now for the last time I have come to the mountains of our sweet old Island, to take a last ;sight of her with her seacoasts, before going out of the country for ever, to Cleveland in America (o)where they love me and take compassion on me, far they speak my own language,. and keep it up every day.

MANNANAN: My poor old woman, for myself my life is almost run, but if talon wilt go, many will grieve on thy account.

THE OLD WOMAN: I believe there are some in the Island yet who will feel for me, such as the parson of Kirk Arbory, the parsons of Kirk Braddan, Kirk Onchan, Kirk Lonan, end Kirk Bride, (p) with many people south and north who have been striving to restore me to the state I was once in. But what is the use! I will go, notwithstanding, and will take with me the names of Bishops Wilson and Mark Hildesley (q), and all the old parsons who translated the word of God into Manx, my own old language, and all those who have been striving since to keep it up, and they will be the Manx. friends of my heart.

MANNANAN: The old times past were splendid times:

THE OLD WOMAN: They were indeed splendid, times, but although our statutes and laws were a cause of terror to evil works (Rom. xlii, 3), yet there was no virtue in them unless spoken in my name. I argued the cause of the fatherless children and widows with the most powerful fluency,, and in the judgment seat where I constantly sat to decide the causes of the people, I cleaved always to the side of love and spirit of charity, neither did I suffer any witness to be perverted by crafty advocacy and crooked tricks. The guilt of the criminal I announced in very solemn words. The Church I constantly attended, and went with pious people to prayer and praise to the Lord, and my sermons sank deep in the hearts of the people. I went also with the young men to seek their wives, and when they had chosen them, I went with them to the wedding. By my advice they dwelt together in peace and comfort, but, alas! those happy days are gone for ever.

MANNANAN-BEG-MAC-Y-LEIRR: From thy talk my old Manx woman, I behold our sorrow and trouble have been much alike, how wonderful the changes which are made in our Island, both in customs, our laws, and manner of living. Our mountains have been sold, we are all under taxation, thousands (of pounds) coming into our Island are buried in the sea, fashions which have come amongst us have destroyed good manners, such things as crinolines, bonnets without back or top, and rolls of hair twisted together set at the back of the heads of our women just like hay-risks (r). But the conversation has quickly come to an end, and on my three-legs I must go my way, and take up my abode in the beautiful Glen of Ballure. Therefore, good-night to thee, and my blessing on thee for ever, O my old woman.

From Manx Quarterly #23.



(a) Old traditionary Manx custom on Mid summer Eve of paying rent to Mannanan. See ballad in Train, Vol. 1, p. 50.
(b) All Manx coinage. except tokens bore the 3 legs from 1709 until 1839.
(c) Old raying “The thief has the mountain and shore to live on.”
(d) Still part of the ceremony on Tynwald day
(e) Old Peel Castle legend.
(f) Obscure, but possibly a reference to the operations of the Ordnance Survey.
(g) In 1860 some Common Lands were sold to defray the cost of forming mountain roads.
(h) Meaning of original uncertain, but see Manx Society, v. xvi, p. 127.
(i) Probably derived from name of Engineer (Abernethy) who constructed Douglas Breakwater in 1862.
(k) Port Erin Breakwater. Begun in. 1864.
(1) A, place in Maughold (referred to by Kennish in “Mona’s Isle,” p. 14) where there is a cavern formerly supposed to be the haunt of a buggane from the wailing noises which came from it; found after to be due to the wind blowing through a hole in the rock.
(m) An old Manx saying.
(n) At Fistard a buggane was reported in the form of a black cat which grew like a big black bull in a. few minutes. “Manx Notes and Queries,” p. 11.
(o) There is still a large Manx colony in Cleveland and Manx may yet be heard spoken there.
(p) (l )J Qualtrough. (2) W. Drury (3) J. Howard (4) T. Caine, (5) D Nelson.
(q) The Bible and Prayer Book were translated mainly through the influence of these two bishops. ,
(r) Chignons of 60 years ago.

addtional notes fpc

(1) Lighthouse at Langness – not built until 1880 so reference a little obscure
(2) Ballamona Hospital

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Posted by on November 7, 2015 in Man, Uncategorized


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The Fate of the Children of Tuireann (Part 1)

Here we have the first part of a longer story, focusing on the tensions between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the oppressive Fomorians in the lead up to the First Battle of Mag Tured. This tale here shows them as foreigners – from Lochlann, which Joyce says are the Danes, from across the Baltic sea. It is a popular explanation of their origins, although sometimes they are seen as more supernatural entities, not potential invaders, but Otherworldly forces or giants – beautiful like Bres, or hideous and ‘demonic’ in appearance, with one leg and distorted features.

Mythologically the Fomorians are traditionally seen as the arch-enemy of the settlers of Ireland. They first appear when agriculture is introduced to Ireland, by Parthalon and his people (the second wave of invaders in Ireland, according to the Lebor Gabála Érenn – ‘The Book of Invasions’), and are subdued at last when Lugh manages to get a vital piece of information from Bres, the half-Fomorian former king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, at The Second Battle of Mag Tured. Here Bres tells Lugh when it is best to plough, sow, and reap, and with that Lugh spares his life and accepts peace between the two factions. The underlying symbolism seems to suggest that the Fomorians represent not the forces of demonic evil as they are sometimes interpreted as, but that they represent the chaotic, untamed forces of nature. Once the Tuatha Dé Danann finally establish how the people of Ireland  – whoever they may be – should approach nature properly, the Fomorians never make trouble again; peace has been made. 

Whatever the case, the Fomorians are never seen to triumph over Ireland and settle there themselves. At best, they live on the periphery, travelling from their native ‘Lochlann’, or setting up base on the Isle of Aran, where they inflict their havoc intermittently. To this day, Balor in particular is associated with many parts of Aran and County Donegal. 

In this following tale, from P. W. Joyce’s Old Celtic Romances, I’ve chosen to change some of the spellings and epithets to more recognisable forms – where Joyce has Luga the Ildanach, I’ve rendered him as Lugh, the Samildanach (Many-Skilled), for instance. The notes I’ve given in the text are selectively referencing Joyce’s notes.  

When the Tuatha Dé Danann held sway in Erin, a prosperous free-bom king ruled over them, whose name was Nuada of the Silver Hand.

In the time of this king, the Fomorians, from Lochlann, in the north, oppressed the Tuatha Dé, and forced them to pay heavy tributes; namely, a tax on kneading-troughs, a tax on querns, and a tax on baking flags; and besides all this, an oimce of gold for each man of the Tuatha Dé Danann. These tributes had to be paid every year at the Hill of Uisneach;1 and if any one refused or neglected to pay his part, his nose was cut off by the Fomorian tyrants.

At this time a great fair-meeting was held by the king of Ireland, Nuada of the Silver Hand, on the Hill of Uisneach. Not long had the people been assembled, when they saw a stately band of warriors, all mounted on white steeds, coming towards them from the east; and at their head, high in command over all, rode a young champion, tall and comely, with a countenance as bright and glorious as the setting sun.

This young warrior was Lugh of the Long Arms. He was accompanied by his foster brothers, namely, the sons of Manannán Mac Lir; and the troop he led was the Fairy Host from the Land of Promise.2

Now in this manner was he arrayed. He rode the steed of Manannán Mac Lir, namely, Enbarr of the Flowing Mane: no warrior was ever killed on the back of this steed, for she was as swift as the clear, cold wind of spring, and she travelled with equal ease on land and on sea. He wore Mannanan’s coat of mail: no one could be wounded through it, or above it, or below it. He had on his breast Manannán’s breast-plate, which no weapon could pierce. His helmet had two glittering precious stones set front, and one behind; and whenever he took it off, his face shone like the sun on a dry day in summer. Manannán’s sword, The Answerer, hung at his left side: no one ever recovered from its wound; and those who were opposed to it in the battle-field were so terrified by looking at it, that their strength left them till they became weaker than a woman in deadly sickness.

This troop came forward to where the king of Erin sat surrounded by the Tuatha Dé, and both parties exchanged friendly greetings.

A short time after this they saw another company approaching, quite imlike the first, for they were grim and fierce and surly looking ; namely, the tax-gatherers of the Fomorians, to the number of nine nines, who were coming to demand their yearly tribute from the men of Erin. When they reached the place where the king sat, the entire assembly — the king himself among the rest — rose up before them. For the whole Tuatha Dé Danann race stood in great dread of these Fomorian tax-collectors; so much so that no man dared even to chastise his own son without first seeking their consent.

Then Lugh of the Long Arms spoke to the king and said, “Why have ye stood up before this hateful-looking company, when ye did not stand up for us?”

“We durst not do otherwise,” replied the king; “for if even an infant of a month old remained seated before them, they would deem it cause enough for killing us all.”

When Lugh heard this he brooded in silence for a little while, and then he said, ” Of a truth, I feel a great desire to kill all these men!”

Then he mused again, and after a time, said, “I am strongly urged to kill these men!”

“That deed would doubtless bring great evil on us,” said the king, “for then the Fomorians would be sure to send an army to destroy us all.”

But Lugh, after another pause, started up, exclaiming, “Long have ye been oppressed in this manner!” and so saying, he attacked the Fomorians, dealing red slaughter among them. Neither did he hold his hand till he had slain them all except nine. These he spared, because they ran with all speed and sat nigh the king, that he might protect them from Lugh’s wrath.

Then Lugh put his sword back into its scabbard, and said, ‘I would slay you also, only that I wish you to go and tell your king, and the foreigners in general, what you have seen.”

These nine men accordingly returned to their own country, and they told their tale to the Fomorian people from beginning to end — how the strange, noble-faced youth had slain all the tax-collectors except nine, whom he spared that they might bring home the story.

When they had ended speaking, the king, Balor of the Mighty Blows and of the Evil Eye, asked the chiefs, “Do ye know who this youth is?”

And when they answered, “No,” Kethlenda, Balor’s queen, said —

“I know well who the youth is: he is the Samildanach, Lugh of the Long Arms, the son of your daughter and mine; and it has been long foretold that when he should appear in Erin, our sway over the Tuatha Dé should come to an end.”

Then the chief people of the Fomorians held council; namely, Balor of the Mighty Blows, and his twelve sons, and his queen Kethlenda of the Crooked Teeth; Ebb and Sencab, the grandsons of Neid; Sotal of the Large Heels; Luath the Long-bodied; Luath the Story-teller; Tinna the Mighty, of Triscadal; Loskenn of the Bare Knees; Lobas, the druid; besides the nine prophetic poets and philosophers of the Fomorians.

After they had debated the matter for some time, Bres, the son of Balor, arose and said, “I will go to Erin with seven great battalions of the Fomorian army, and I will give battle to the Samildanach, and I will bring his head to you to our palace of Berva.”

The Fomorian chiefs thought well of this proposal, and it was agreed to.

So the ships were got ready for Bres; abundant food and drink and war stores were put into them, their seams were calked with pitch, and they were filled with sweet-smelling frankincense. Meantime the two Luaths, that is to say, Luath the Story-teller and Luath of the Long Body, were sent all over Lochlann to summon the army. And when all the fighting men were gathered together, they arrayed themselves in their battle-dresses, prepared their arms, and set out for Erin.

Balor went with them to the harbour where they were to embark, and when they were about to go on board, he said to them —

“Give battle to the Samildanach, and cut off his head. And after ye have overcome him and his people, put your cables roimd this island of Erin, which gives us so much trouble, and tie it at the stems of your ships: then sail home, bringing the island with you, and place it on the north side of Lochlann, whither none of the Tuatha Dé will ever follow it.”

Then, having hoisted their many-coloured sails and loosed their moorings, they sailed forth from the harbour into the great sea, and never slackened speed or turned aside from their course till they reached the harbour of Eas-Dara.3 And as soon as they landed, they sent forth an army through West Connaught, which wasted and spoiled the whole province.

Joyce, Old Celtic Romances Translated from the Gaelic, 1879, pp37-42.



1 The Hill of Uisneach, in the parish of Conry, in Westmeath, one of the royal residences of Ireland. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the navel of Ireland’; the omphalos, or spiritual centre of Ireland. This is represented by a special stone, the Aill na Mireann, or ‘Stone of Divisions,’ with each division representing one of Ireland’s provinces.

2 The Land of Promise – Tír Tairngire – is often referred to as one of the chief homes of the Tuatha Dé Danann in later legends, and is a sort of Otherworldly fairyland. Joyce notes that it is sometimes identified with the Isle of Man, giving it associations with Manannán, who often plays a prominent role in the later myths and legends.
3 Eas-Dara, now Ballysodare in County Sligo.
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Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Shield of Fionn

Ah me! thou shield of my bright king, ’tis hard that thou shouldst be defaced: woe that thy sturdy lord no longer lives, thou foreguard of the shields of Ireland.

Many a spoiling, many a brave battle thou and thy lord have given: good was the cover of thy chalk round spearheads, thou staunch protection against strokes.

There was not on the firm earth in the time when he possessed thee, there seized not shield a braver man than thy chieftain and thy lord.

He was a poet, a man of science, a battle-hero of assemblies: none was found like him for gifts: he was a brave warrior in stern battles.

He was a craftsman, an excellent metal-wright, a happy ready judge: woe to him that met him in anger: he was a master in every free craft.

Hardly is there on solid earth, unless there be some seer or sage, thou shield of the king of frosty Sígear, one that knows thy career.

Scarce are they too on the same earth, man or woman, that can tell the reason why thy name abroad is called the Dripping Ancient Hazel.

There is not, except myself and Caoilte, man of wisdom, and Fionntan of Dun Fearta, one that knows thy career.

From of old the shield of my king — I tell you it is a true matter — is unknown of men, grieves me no man, until the great battle of Magh Tuireadh.

‘Twas Balor that besought Lugh a short time before his beheading: ‘Set my head on thy own comely head and earn my blessing.

‘The triumph and the terror that the men of Inis Fail found in me, well I wish that henceforth they may be found in my daughter’s son.’

That blessing nevertheless Lugh Longarm did not earn: he set the head above an eastern wave in a fork of hazel before his face.

A poisonous milk drips down out of that tree of strong hardness: through the drip of the bane of no slight stress, the tree splits right in two.

For the space of fifty full years the hazel remained unfelled, but ever bore a cause of tears, being an abode of vultures and ravens.

Manannán of the round eye went to the wilderness of the White-hazel Mountain, where he saw a leafless tree among the trees that vied in beauty.

Manannán sets workmen at work on this tree without slackness: to dig it out of the firm earth: this were a mighty deed.

A poisonous vapour rises up incessantly from the root of that tree until it killed — perilous consequence — nine men of the working folk.

It killed nine others of them of the people of smooth Manannán — the story of the tree well I wot — and blinded a third nine.

Now I say to you, let the prophecy be sought out: around that mighty hazel uncontemned was found the source of many an ‘ah me!’

Lucra was the wright that wrought the plaited blossom-light shield — lord of the Marannmháls of the plain — for Manannán the warrior.

Two virtues of the virtues of the shield, to be untouched in battle or in fray — few were the shields its equal — before it ’twas a rush of utter rout.

A battle in Pict-land that was not weak was the first battle fought by thee, when Mothla son of Meilge was slain, the mighty high-king of Egypt.

Not inferior was the next battle fought by thee, whereof the grief was great, when Dubhthach son of Daire was slain, the mighty high-king of Spain.

‘Twas a quest on which noble Manannán went into Asia with a numerous host, when he slew Fiodhabhlach the active, the many-weaponed high-king of Asia.

These were noble Manannán’s share in thy struggles south and north, till he gave thee, that wert a beloved goodly screen, a marriage-gift to the king of Sigear.

Cairbre made a song of praise on the beauty-scarlet shield — a man of sweetness and delight was he — for the king of the noble island of Sigear.

Fifty ounces of the pure gold Gola gave him for his praising: the better was his worth and the greater his fame, both his and the beauty-clear shield’s.

Cairbre the generous prince, son of Eadaoin, whose honour was good, bestowed the shield on the brave lord on whom it brought no sorrow, on the Daghdha of majestic face.

The Daghdha gave to tall Eitheor the hue-ruddy brown-red shield — to the rod of many a feat in fight, to the son of Conn son of Cearmaid.

It was from that shield that Eitheor of smooth brown face was called “Son of Hazel” — the man of deeds whereof the fame was not feeble — for this was the hazel that he worshipped.

On the day when MacCuill was slain in the battle of Taillte of the great muster, a man whose heavy slaughters abroad were not slight, Sgorán possessed that shield.

For the space of two hundred full years was the golden ancient shield, after a still longer life, in the possession of the kings of Fir Menia (Armenia?).

Manannán of the heroes went after it into the country of Fir Menia, where he gained nine glorious battles over the people of shield-bright Sgorán.

He killed three brave battalions of the splendid oversea army: it was a great affair beyond despite, whereof arose cause for cries of ‘ah me!’

Fifty ounces of the red gold, fifty horses of waving mane, brown-red, a [chess] board that was not shaky (?) in his house, and the chessmen of shield-bright Sgorán [were paid by him].

He gave him a still greater ransom — for Manannán it was no distress — for giving battle with the fifty battalions, thrice fifty shields along with that same shield.

Manannán himself kept it, the much-adorned terrific shield: the cunning man of never feeble deed kept it till Tadhg, son of Nuadha came.

Manannán gave to Tadhg the hue-ruddy, brown-red shield, to Nuadha’s son the well-knit craftsman, together with the chessmen.

The day that comely Cumhall carried off Muirn of the lovely neck by force, the lord of every manly honour, he obtained the shield of onsets.

When comely Cumhall fell in Cnucha above Liffey of the Leinster-men, the smooth steady prince of no small frame, Criomhall obtained that shield.

When Fionn the manly succeeded (?) to handsome, splendid Criomhall, that bright great grasp to which each battle yielded took from Tréanmhór the stout shield.

What of battles were fought by thee under Cumhall’s son of the bright hands, thou brightest shield that hast not been defamed, ’twere hard to number them.

By thee was given the battle of Ceann Cluig, when Dubhthach, son of Dubh, was slain: the battle of Móin Mafaidh without woe, when Deidgheal hard-mouth was slain.

The battle of Luachair, the battle of Ceann Aise, and the battle of Inbhear Dubhglilaise, the battle of Teathbha, stiff was its entanglement, the battle of Cluain Meann of Muirisg.

The battle of Lusga, the battle of Ceann Claire, and the battle of Dun Maighe, the battle of Sliabh Fuaid, whose heat was tense, the rout in which fell rough grey-eyed Garbhán.

The battle of Fionntraigh, whereby the warsprite was sated, where blood and booty were left behind, two bloody battles round Ath Móna, and eke the battle of Cronnmhóin.

The battle of Bolgraighe of great deeds, in which fell Cormac the exact, the battle of Achad Abhla that was not slack, the battle of Gabhair, the battle of the Sheaves.

The battle of Ollarbha, where the strife was fierce, wherein generous Fathadh was slain, the battle of Eise, great were its deeds, and the battle of Ceis Corainn.

The battle of Carraig, the battle of Srubh Brain, and the battle of Beann Eadair, the battle of Sliabh Uighe that was not slack, and the battle of Magh Málann.

The battle of the brave Colamhnaigh, and the battle of Inbhear Badhna, the battle of Ath Modhairn, clear to us, and the battle of Beirge above Boyne.

The battle of Magh Adhair not belittled, and the battle of Dún Fraochan, the battle of Meilge of the mighty struggle, that caused loud cries and wails of woe.

The battle of Beirbhe, great was its deed, the after-battle with the King of Lochlainn of the ships, the battle of Uighe, undoubtful were its tidings, and the battle of the Isle of Gaibiel.

The battle of Móin, the battle of Ceann Tire, and the fortunate battle of Islay; the battle of the Saxons, great was its glory, and the battle of sturdy Dún Binne.

The battle where tall Aichil was slain, the ready-handed high-king of Denmark, the battle of Inbhear Buille in truth, and the battle of fierce firm Buinne.

Twenty battles and twelve outside of Ireland in full sooth as far as Tír na n-Dionn of fame not small, Fionn fought of battles with thee.

Eight battles in Leinster of the blades thou and thy side-slender lord fought: in thy space of grace, no falsehood is this, sixteen battles in Ulster.

Thirty battles without reproach thou gavest in Munster of MacCon — it is no lie but sooth — and twelve battles in Connacht.

Twenty-five victorious battles were fought by thee, thou hardy door, eighteen battles, a rout that was not slack, thou didst gain over the Tuatha De Danann.

Not reckoning thy fierce indoor fights and thy duels of hard swords, these while thy success lasted strong were thy share of the battles of Ireland.

Broken is my heart in my body: I have mourned for many a good equal: thou undefended on the plain, burned by the swineherd.

Thrice nine were we on Druim Deilg after the blood-red battle: sad to relate was our plight: we raised three cries of “ochán.”

Since the forbidden tree that was in Paradise on account of which, alas! transgression was done, never was shaped tree on ground that caused more cries of uchán.

The King of Heaven save me, the good Son of Mary maiden, from Hell of sharpest peril that has caused laments and ucháns.

MacNeill, Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Finn, 1908, pp134-139.

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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Crane-Bag

A poem from the Duanaire Finn, ‘The Poem-Book of Finn’. There’s a huge amount of interest in these poems, not least this one here, which describes the magical crane-bag of Manannán: Aoife, the daughter of Delbaeth, had been turned into a crane by the jealous Iuchra, and she went to live in Manannán’s household until she died. Manannán made the magical bag out of her skin, and it held many things and passed through many hands – some of which are detailed below.

The poem is not complete, but illuminating nonetheless.

I have a question for thee, Caoilte, man of the interchanged weapons: to whom did the good Crane-bag belong that Cumhall son of Treanmhor had?

A crane that belonged to gentle Manannan — it was a treasure of power with many virtues — from its skin, strange thing to prize — from it was made the Crane-bag.

Tell us what was the crane, my Caoilte of many exploits, or, tell us, man, why its skin was put about the treasures.

Aoife, daughter of dear Dealbhaoth, sweetheart of Ilbhreac of many beauties — both she and luchra of comely hue fell in love with the man.

luchra, enraged, beguiled Aoife to come swimming, it was no happy visit: when she drove her fiercely forth in the form of a crane over the moorlands.

Aoife then demanded of the beautiful daughter of Abhartach: ‘How long am I to be in this form, woman, beautiful breast-white luchra?’

‘The term I will fix will not be short for thee, Aoife of the slow-glancing eyes: thou shalt be two hundred white years in the noble house of Manannan.

‘Thou shalt be always in that house with everyone mocking thee, a crane that does not visit every land: thou shalt not reach any land.

‘A good vessel of treasures will be made of thy skin — no small event: its name shall be — I do not lie — in distant times the Crane-bag.’

Manannan made this of the skin when she died: afterwards in truth it held every precious thing he had.

The shirt of Manannan and his knife, and Goibhne’s girdle, altogether: a smith’s hook from the fierce man: were treasures that the Crane-bag held.

The King of Scotland’s shears full sure, and the King of Lochlainn’s helmet, these were in it to be told of, and the bones of Asal’s swine.

A girdle of the great whale’s back was in the shapely Crane-bag: I will tell thee without harm, it used to be carried in it.

When the sea was full, its treasures were visible in its middle: when the fierce sea was in ebb, the Crane-bag in turn was empty.

There thou hast it, noble Oisin, how this thing itself was made: and now I shall tell its faring, its happenings.

Long time the Crane-bag belonged to heroic Lugh Long-arm: till at last the king was slain by the sons of Cearmaid Honey-mouth.

To them next the Crane-bag belonged after him, till the three, though active, fell by the great sons of Mile.

Manannan came without weariness, carried off the Crane-bag again; he showed it to no man till the time of Conaire came.

Comely Conaire slept on the side of Tara of the plains: when the cunning well-made man awoke, the Crane-bag was found about his neck. Etc.

MacNeill, Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Finn, 1908, pp118-120.


Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Manannán and Colum Cille’s Golden Cup

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.

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The first ruler of Man

Manannan mac y Leirr, the Son of the Sea, was the first Ruler of Mann. He was a great Wizard, and he was so powerful that afterwards he was looked on as a god. He had a great stone fort on Peel Island, and he could make one man, standing on its battlements, seem to be a hundred. When he saw his enemies’ ships sailing, he would cover the island round with a silver mist so that it could not be seen ; and if, in spite of the mist, his enemies came near, he would throw chips into the water and change them into ships. He was out walking one day on Barrule, when he saw the warships of the Northmen were in the bay of Peel. And with that he made himself into the shape of three legs and rolled like a wheel down from the mountain top as fast as the wind. It was about low tide in the harbour, and there ran a stream of sparkling water out to sea. Now the banks of the stream were marshy, and by the river-side grew a quantity of sedge with broad, green leaves. So Manannan made little boats of the sedge, a good number of them, and sailed his boats in the stream. And when the little fleet floated out of the harbour, he caused them to look like great ships of war, well manned with fighting men. Then terror seized on the Northmen when they saw the Manx fleet, and they cut their cables, hoisted sails, and cleared away as fast as they could, and Manannan and his island were left in peace. Thus did he keep Mann, and not with his sword, or his bow and arrows.

In his fort he had a great banqueting-hall, where handsome boys made sweet music, and others played games and did great feats of strength. He had a horse called Enbarr of the Flowing Mane, who could travel like the wind over sea as well as land, swift hounds that could catch any wild beast, and a sword called The Answerer, whose wound was always fatal, besides his Magic Branch and his wonderful boat, Wave Sweeper.

He governed Mann well for long, long years. Manx people had the best of good treatment from him, and all the rent he wanted was that each one was to bring a bundle of green rushes to him on the Mountain of South Barrule on Midsummer Eve. The island was a happy place, full of sunshine and all pleasant things, and no person there was old or tired or sad.

Manx men have never forgotten Manannan, and this thousand years our fisher-men have prayed to him the following prayer, as they have put out to sea. Even up to the days of our fathers it has been used:

Manannan Beg Mac y Leirr
Little Manannan Son of the Sea,
Who blessed our island,
Bless us and our boat, going out well.
Coming in better, with living and dead in our boat.

From Sophia Morrison’s Manx Fairy Tales, 1911, pp171-173.

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Paying the rents to Manannán

Here is an excerpt of a sixteenth century Manx poem, which mentions the custom of paying the rents to Manannán at Midsummer:

Dy neaishtagh shin agh rish my skeayll, If you would listen to my story,
As dy ving lhieu ayns Chant; I will pronounce my chant;
Myr share dy voddyms lesh my Veeal, As best I can; I will, with my mouth
Yinnin diu geill dán ellan Sheeant. Give you notice of the enchanted Island.
Quoi yn chied er ee row rieau ee, Who he was that had it first,
Ny kys eisht myr haghyr da; And then what happened to him;
Ny kys hug Parick ayn Creestiaght, And now St. Patrick brought in Christianity,
Ny kys myr haink ee gys Stanlaa. And how it came to Stanley.
Mannanan beg va mac y Leirr, Little Mannanan was son of Leirr,
Shen yn chied er ec row rieau ee; He was the first that ever had it;
Agh myr share oddym’s cur-my-ner, But as I can best conceive
Cea row eh hene agh an-chreestee. He himself was a heathen.
Cha nee lesh e Chliwe ren eh ee reayll It was not with his sword he kept it,
Cha nee lesh e Hideyn, ny lesh e vhow; Neither with arrows or bow;
Agh tra aikagh eh lhuingys troailt But when he would see ships sailing,
Oallagh eh ee my geayrt lesh kay. He would cover it round with fog.
Yinnagh eh doinney ny hassoo er brooghe, He would set a man, standing on a hill,
Er-lhieu shen hene dy beagh ayn keead; Appear as if he were a hundred;
As shen myr dreill Mannanan keole, And thus did wild Mannanan protect
Yn Ellan shoh’n-ayn lesh Cosney bwoid. That island with all its booty.
Yn mayll deeck dagh unnane ass e cheer, The rent each landholder paid to him was
Va bart dy leaogher ghlass dagh bleiu; A bundle of coarse meadow grass yearly;
As eisht shen orroo d’eeck myr keesh, And that, as their yearly tax,
Trooid magh ny cheery dagh oie-lhoine. They paid to him each midsummer eve.
Paart ragh lesh y leaogher seose, Some would carry the grass up
Gyn yn slieau mooar ta heose Barool; To the great mountain up at Barool;
Paart elley aagagh yn leoagher wass, Others would leave the grass below,
Ec Mannanan erskyn Keamool. With Mannanan’s self above Keamool.
Myr shen eisht ren adsyn beaghey, Thus then did they live;
O er-lhiam pene dy by-veg nyn Geesh; O, I think their tribute very small,
Gyn kiarail as gyn imnea, Without care and without anxiety,
Ny doggyr dy lhiggey er nyn skeeys. Or hard labour to cause weariness.
Eisht haink ayn Parick nyn meayn, Then came Patrick into the midst of them;
She dooinney-noo, véh lane dy artue, He was a saint, and full of virtue;
Dimman eh Mannanan er y tonn He banished Mannanan on the wave,
As e grogh vooinjer dy lieh-chiart. And his evil servants all dispersed.

The original poem can be found in William Harrison’ Mona Miscellany, 1863, pp26-46, although I’ve followed Charles MacQuarrie’s capitalisations of certain words in Manx – see Macquarrie’s The Waves of Manannán, 1997, pp292-293.

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


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