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HIST & MYTH: Sea God Lir

Post 135.   Written by Ben Kesp 

Children of Lir, Dublin. 

In Irish mythology we often conjure images of great heroes and gods, powerful in stature, magical and fierce protectors of the lands and its people.  The Sea God Lir is a god we associate more with the beautiful tale, The Children of Lir.  Lir is more of an ancestor figure in Irish myth and is better known as the father of the Irish Sea God Manannán mac Lir who frequently appears in Irish literature as a powerful figure. 

Following the banishment of the Tuatha Dé Danann to the otherworld having been defeated by the Milesians, it was Manannán mac Lir that hid parts of Ireland under a spell of invisibility protecting the Danann that would remain living beneath their magical palaces, hidden from view but not forgotten hence creating “The Spiritual” and “The Earthly” Ireland allowing them to remain immortal. 

In the tale of The Children of Lir, Lir was the rival of Bodb Dearg for the kingship of the Tuatha Dé Danann after their retreat into the fairy mounds. Bodb gave Lir one of his daughters named Aebh in marriage to keep the peace.  Aebh and Lir had four children; a girl named Fionnuala and three sons, Aed and twins, Fiachra and Conn.

Aebh died and Bodb Dearg did not want his grandchildren to be without a mother so he sent another of his daughters named Aoife to marry Lir and care for the children.   Aoife became jealous of the children and had ordered one of her servants to kill them.  The servant refused and being unable to carry out the task herself, she cursed the children to live as swans for 900 years.  The swans were to live for 300 years on Lough Derravaragh (Co. Westmeath), 300 years in the sea of Moyle (waters between Northern Ireland and Scotland) and 300 years on the waters of Irrus Domnann (Co. Mayo). There are slight variations to the tale however the children were returned to the rightful form from the help of a monk following the long period wandering the lakes and seas of Ireland. 

Fitting Lir into the Tuatha Dé Danann family tree places him as one of five brothers: 

  • Dagda (Father of the Gods) 
  • Dian Cécht (God of Healing
  • Lir (God of the Ocean/Sea)
  • Nuada (King of the Danann)
  • Ogma (Champion of the Danann)
The Goddess Danu is seen as the mother of the Danann, while Dagda or the Great Dagda is seen as the father of the Gods.  It is not clear if Dagda is the son or the husband of Danu. In other variations of the family tree, Dagda and Bridgit are seen as the son and daughter of Danu, sent to Ireland to be the protector of its people. 

The Sea God Lir has also made appearances in other tales of Irish myth however The Children of Lir will remain one of his strongest tales.   A beautiful statue of the children of Lir can be seen today in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin City. To catch a glimpse of the Manannán mac Lir, the son of Lir, you will find him in Co. Derry staring out to sea protecting the waters of Ireland.  

Sea God Manannán mac Lir 
Image: Wikipedia 

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