Irish Mythology and Folklore – Your Guide, William Mc Evilly

As a Child I grew up in Connemara where we would listen to the storytellers spinning wonderful stories of heroes and heroins and the Fairy tales of magical lands and enchanted people where sometimes mortal people would venture and receive special gifts of magic of wisdom. In Connemara we still have a healthy respect for the fairy folk and observe certain traditions and taboos such as protecting Fairy forts and  sacred fairy trees such as Hawthorn and Oak. I have many fond childhood memories when both young and old would gather around a turf fire in my grandparents house and listen to the story teller spinning magical tales of princesses and heroes, and goblins and Leprechauns  which were supernatural beings associated with the other world. The Divine Tuatha De Danann, The royal family of the Fairy were a magical tribe who came to Ireland during the Bronze Age around 1500 BC and brought freedom prosperity back to the people of Ireland when they were freed from oppression at the hands of a demonic race called the Fermorians. We would end the evening gathering with Irish songs and music and often couples would dance to the fiddle and the accordion,  I look back with fond memories and look forward to keeping these ancient traditions alive for future generations.

The Legend of Tir na nog

The story of Tir Na Nóg tells of Oisin the son of a Fionn Mac Cool , the leader of of the legendary Irish warriors called the Fenians, falling in love with Niamh, a princess of the fairy race who lived on a magical island. Tir Na Nóg is the fairy island of eternal youth and happiness  and legend tells that it situated of the coast of Connemara in county Galway. The Gaelic sea god ‘Mannannan Mac Lir’  had a  beautiful daughter called Niamh who often came to the mainland across the ocean riding on the back of a beautiful white mare (Gabhara) and was enchanted by Osin’s wonderful stories and beautiful songs.  The Fianna were exceptional warriors of great skill and courage, similar to Akilies and Hercules of Greek legend. There were were also wonderful poets, musicians and hopeless romantics. Niamh fell in love with Oisin and his beautiful poetry and wonderful songs and they both agreed to return to home in the land of Tir na nOg. Oisin married Niamh from the fairy people and lived happily with Niamh and her enchanted people for many years, but yearned to see his family and home again. Niamh reluctantly agreed but warned him not to set foot upon the land of Ireland for if he did, he would remain there for ever. On returning to the main land we reached Bun Ailean, the fort of Ailean and strong hold of the heroic Fianna. He found the fort and landscape deserted and over grown with brambles and hazel scrub, Oisin became overcome with an immense sadness and sense of longing for his family .

He came upon some farmers and inquired about his beloved home Fianna Clann, and a local farmer told him the Fianna were gone from the land of Ireland for three hundred years. He heart filled with woo and he began to ride back towards the Connemara coast and Tir na nog when he stopped to help some local people move a large bolder in a nearby field. He was amazed how week the men of the land had become and took pity upon them. Oisin offered to help and while still seated on his magnificent white horse, he react out his powerful arm to move the larger bolder. Upon moving the bolder the straps securing his saddle broke and he fell from his mount. As soon as he touched the soil of his ancestral land, he turned into an old man who quickly turned to dust and was scattered on the four winds, never to return to his beloved Niamh and the enchanted land of Connemara. Niamh sensed the moment when she lost Oisin and was filled with a deep sense of loss and her heart broke, for she knew that she would never see her true love again.

There are several tales of with and magic in our Gaelic culture, especially in Connemara and the west coast of Ireland where the Gaelic Language and mythology co exist with modern life and where the Fairy faith is still alive. Tir Na nóg is regularly seen of the west coast of Connemara and has fishermen accounts of visiting a mysterious land is common among the folks of Connemara.

The Children of Lir

Our next tale also part of the Irish Mythological cycle. Bodh Derg was inaugurated the king of the Tuath De Dannan and this angered the great and powerful sea god Mannannan Mac Lir. To appease Mannanana mac Lir, Bodh gave the hand of his daughter Aoibh in marriage. Aoibh was very beautiful and she made her husband, the powerful sea God very happy. Aoibh gave four  beautiful and healthy children, one girl, Fionnuala, and three sons, Aodh and twins, Fiachra and Conn. A great tragedy occurred when Aoibh died, and her  husband and children  were overcome with grief, they missed her terribly. Dobh Derg feared that Manannana mac Lir may become unstable in his grief and bring about flooding and devastate  to the land, and so he sent another of his daughters, Aoife, to marry Lir.
Aoifa was also very beautiful fell madly in love with Mannannana and they all lived happily for some time. However Aoife lacked the good heart of her late sister and gradually became Jealous of the children’s love for each other and for their father, Aoife vowed to be rid of the children. One afternoon Aofie and the children went on a journey with the children to see their grandfather Bodb, where upon she ordered her servant to kill them, but the he refused because of his love for Mannanana mac Lir and his divine children. Upon hearing the news that the children were unharmed she wielding great her great magical power to turn the children into beautiful white swans.

When Bodb Derg heard of this, he transformed Aoife into an air demon where she remained for an eternity as punishment for her unforgivable deed bore from jealousy and anger.
The children of Lir were forced to live as swans, and were doomed to spend 900 years on the sea and Loughs of our Ireland. Legend holds that they spent some time on the shelter and tranquil waters of Lough Corrib which is associated with the divine Tuataha De Dannan. The Children also spent several hundred years o the waters of Lough Derravaragh (a lake near their father’s castle),  and another 300 years in the Sea of Moyle, and 300 years on the waters of Irrus Domnann Erris near to Inishglora island (Inis Gluaire). Legend tells of the children’s hopeless fate. The spell could only be broken when they would have to hear the bells toll for a new god and receive a blessed by a monk. Legend has it that Saint Patrick blessed the swan children and upon hearing the bell of his monastery, were changed back into children where they still live in the faire realm with the Tuataha De Dannan on the Magical island of Tir Na nO´g. Mannanua mac Lir sent an emissary on a white horse and spirited the children over the sea of the coast of Connemara a coast back to Tir Na Nóg, the  ancient Gaelic paradise. This story ties in well with the archaeological recorded which has the Tuatha de Dannan from the Bronze Age retreat into the fairy realm during the coming of the Celts circa 500 BC and their conversion to Christianity and 900 years later circa 430 AD by Saint Patrick. Legend holds that Bobh searched for his grand children but was forced to lead the mainland  as a result of the Celtic invasion in 500 BC which resulted in an end to the ‘Era of the Gods‘ and the beginning of the era of man. legend also holds that the children  of lir flew over their fathers kingdom three hundred years later to find it in ruins.

I like to think that these beautiful Faerie stories are more a living history and less a mythology of our ancient and magical past. I love the way one can compare the evidence of the archaeological record with the wonderful and magical energy of mythology and legend. In the space between fact and fairy tales we can be transported to a magical realm where our heroins and heroes still reside. On these rare and special occasions when we abandoned the ideologies and cynicism’s of the modern world, and we dare to believe in the magic and beauty of the natural world, as in childhood; we may be allowed a glimpse of the other world.