Irish Myths And Legends
A Few Irish Myths And Legends
The legend of Cu Chulainn
Long ago, a king called Conor MacNessa had warriors called the Red Branch Knights. He trained them to be strong men. King Conor also had a nephew called Setanta who wanted to be a Red Branch Knight. From a very early age he showed superhuman qualities of wisdom, warfare, magic and poetry.
One night he said to his mother, “I want to be a Red Branch Knight.” But she said he was too young.
Setanta was a happy child who played the game of hurling [the national sport of Ireland – like lacrosse or field hockey] with his friends. His team always won. When Setanta was ten he said to his father, “I want to join the Red Branch Knights.” His father said he was still too young. So he stayed on milking cows, carrying water to his house and chopping wood.
One night a man came to the house to tell stories. He told lots about King Conor and his knights. That night, while everyone was asleep, Setanta got his hurling stick and ball and left for King Conor’s castle.
It was a long trip but when he got there, a hurling match was on. Setanta joined in and the other boys did not like it because he was such a good hurler. He went to meet King Conor and King Conor said he could stay.
Some days later, the king said to Setanta, “I am going to a party at Culain’s, do you want to come?” Setanta replied, “I will come later as I am playing a hurling match.”
Later that night he set off. It was a long trip. He got to the fort and found a wolfhound guarding the fort. He hit the ball and killed Culain’s hound. The man heard the dog’s cry and ran out. He said, “I am sorry to see my dog go but glad you are okay. But who is going to guard my house now?” “I’ll be your guard dog until you can replace the one I killed. I’ll be the “Hound of Culain” [“CuChulain”],” said Setanta.
So that’s how Cuchulainn got his name. Soon he became the best guard of all and joined the knights. He was the best Red Branch Knight ever.
The legend of The Children of Lir
The Children of Lir Irish story – Long ago there lived a king called Lir. He lived with his wife and four children: Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn. They lived in a castle in the middle of a forest. When Lir’s wife died they were all very sad. After a few years Lir got married again. He married a jealous wife called Aoife.
Aoife thought that Lir loved his children more than he loved her. Aoife hated the children. Soon she thought of a plan to get rid of the children.
One summer’s day Aoife took the children to swim in a lake near the castle. The children were really happy to be playing in the water. Suddenly Aoife took out a magic wand. There was a flash of light and the children were nowhere to be seen. All there was to be seen was four beautiful swans, with their feathers as white as snow.
Aoife said, “I have put you under a spell. You will be swans for nine hundred years,” she cackled. “You will spend three hundred years in Lough Derravaragh, three hundred years in the Sea of Moyle and three hundred years in the waters of Inish Glora,” Aoife said. She also said, “You will remain swans for nine hundred years until you hear the ring of a Christian bell.”
She went back to the castle and told Lir that his children had drowned. Lir was so sad he started crying. He rushed down to the lake and saw no children. He saw only four beautiful swans.
One of them spoke to him. It was Fionnuala who spoke to him. She told him what Aoife had done to them. Lir got very angry and turned Aoife into an ugly moth. When Lir died the children were very sad. When the time came they moved to the Sea of Moyle.
Soon the time came for their final journey. When they reached Inish Glora they were very tired. Early one morning they heard the sound of a Christian bell. They were so happy that they were human again. The monk (some even say it was St. Patrick himself) sprinkled holy water on them and then Fionnuala put her arms around her brothers and then the four of them fell on the ground. The monk buried them in one grave. That night he dreamed he saw four swans flying up through the clouds. He knew the children of Lir were with their mother and father.
The Brown Bull of Cooley
Queen Maeve was queen of a place in Ireland called Connacht. She was a fierce and powerful woman. She was jealous of her husband Ailill. She was always fighting about who had more riches, herself or her husband. They were equal in wealth, but for one thing – she didn’t have a fierce bull called the white bull of Connacht and it belonged to Ailill.
Ailill was boasting about this mighty bull, so she asked one of her knights was there any other bulls like the white bull anywhere in Ireland. He said that there was a bull called the brown bull of Cooley which was to be found in Ulster. So she sent out a messenger to Ulster. This messenger asked the owner, an old man, if Queen Maeve could have the bull for one year. The messenger said “If you don’t give the bull to her she will take it by force anyway”. So the old man said “I’m not going to give you the bull”. Queen Maeve was raging and set off to Ulster with her army to get the brown bull.
At that time The Red Branch Knights were under a spell but Cúchulainn was not under the spell because his father was a member of the fairylike Tuatha De Danann.
One by one Maeve’s army went out to fight Cúchulainn and one by one Cúchulainn killed them. In the end there was one man left and that was Cúchulainn’s friend Ferdia.
They fought for 3 days and at the end of each day they hugged each other and wept. In the end Cúchulainn killed Ferdia. Cúchulainn was so sad at killing his best friend. He went back to The Red Branch Knights with a broken heart. Queen Maeve cheated then and stole the brown bull of Cooley even though she had been defeated. She went back to her home and she was delighted. When she went home the bulls had a huge fearsome fight when they saw each other. Queen Maeve thought the noise of their bellowing and pounding was thunder coming towards her castle. In the end the brown bull won and headed home for Ulster. When it got half way home it died. Queen Maeve and King Ailill said that they were even at last.
Oisin in Tir na N’Og
One day Oisín was out hunting with the Fianna when he saw a cloud of mist over the sea. And out of it came a beautiful woman on a snow-white horse. He asked her what her name was. “It is Niamh,” she replied, “and I am from Tír na nÓg. I have come to bring Oisín to the land of youth.”
Fionn Mac Cumhail, Oisín’s father,didn’t want Oisín to go but he could se that Oisín had fallen in love with Niamh so he let him go with her to the land of youth. They had a banquet. After a while they got married and they lived a happy life until Oisín got a little home sick and wanted to go back to Ireland to see his father and the Fianna but Niamh didn’t like the idea of that. After a while of begging Niamh let him go. Niamh said “Take my white horse and visit Ireland.” But she warned him not to put his foot on the soil of Ireland because if he did he would turn old and he would never be able to return to Tír na n-Óg. So he went with Niamh’s horse and he was delighted. When he arived in Ireland he was disappointed not to see the Fiannas’ castle. He didn’t know that the last of the Fianna died over 300 years before this. He asked a man did he know where they were and the man replied “Do you not know that they all died over 300 years ago?”
He saw some men trying to shift a rock the men asked if you could help them so he leaned over to help them and the saddle girth broke, so therefore he fell off and put his foot on the soil of Ireland. And straight away he turned old and weak and he fell to the ground and died.
The Salmon of Knowledge
Long ago in the River Boyne, there lived a famous salmon called the Salmon of Knowledge. It was called this because if you caught it,and tasted it, you would get all the knowledge in the world.
But there are many ways you can taste something and this is what caused the problem in this story.
There was a man called Finnéigeas that was trying to catch this fish all his life.He eventually caught it. He felt very very happy when he caught it.
He had a young boy with him when he caught the fish.The boy’s name was Fionn. Fionn was staying with Finnéigeas to learn all about poetry from him, because he was very wise. He sent Fionn to light a good fire and while the salmon was cooking on the spit Finnéigeas was preparing the table.
While Fionn was watching over the salmon cooking he noticed a big blister on the side of the fish. He put out his finger to burst the blister and when he did he burnt his finger. Then he started to suck his thumb. Because of that he got all the knowledge in the world. Finnéigeas was sad but in a way it is better because Fionn was a lot younger than Finnéigeas.
The Cry of the Banshee
If you heard a banshee’s wail, you knew that someone in your family had died! She is sometimes seen as an old woman in rags and sometimes as a beautiful young girl but there is never any question about her powerful and dreaded wail. Throughout Irish history there are many examples of the Banshee.
The image of the Irish Leprechaun has endured throughout the ages. The Leprechaun is the most famous of Irish myths. He is reputed to be a type of fairy, who makes shoes for all the fairy folk. A leprechaun is never female. Legend has it that when the Danes invaded Ireland, the fairies hid all there treasure from them with the Leprechauns being given the task of guarding the treasure. Unfortunately, rainbows always point to the location of the leprechauns’ treasure, so they must constantly move it. As we have plenty of rain in Ireland, we have plenty of rainbows so the leprechauns are kept busy! Myth has it that if you catch a Leprechaun, he must either give you his treasure or grant you three wishes..
The myth is that fairies often gave birth to deformed children. They would be so upset by this that they would sneak into the mortal world and “change” their child for a human baby. These changelings were only happy when misfortune or grief happened in the house. This Irish myth is considered responsible for the changeling in William Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
Myth has it that the shamrock is a sacred plant which can ward off evil. The Celts believed the Shamrock had mystical properties due it’s three heart-shaped leaves as they also believed that three was a sacred number. Myth also has it that the Shamrock’s three leaves represent the Holy Trinity.