'Any time I drove along the Antrim Coast Road, by the Sea of Moyle, I thought of the Children of Lir '

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'Any time I drove along the Antrim Coast Road, by the Sea of Moyle, I thought of the Children of Lir '


Mary remembers the landscape of Co. Antrim where she grew up. In particular she describes the story of the Children of Lir as it reminds her of her childhood and the county in which she was reared.


Mary Dynan


Trinity College Dublin




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There were other fairy places like Loughareema, the vanishing lake near Fair Head, not to mention the fairy forts and fairy thorns that were all around. (One never brought hawthorn into the house, even though it was usually out in all its glorious blossom when you would be looking for flowers for your May altar). There was some relic or site of significance in nearly every field. Standing stones, a lot of which had been knocked over, burial grounds, raths and forts and other monuments like the remains of monasteries that had been damaged or distroyed. However people knew that these sites had particular significance. They were probably some of the places that had yarns attached to them when I was young. Lough Geil or the White Lough was a little lake near to our village, and nearby was what was called Gallows Hill. On the other side of the road was the more mysterious Black Lough. It really was not much more than a moss (bog) hole but it was reputed to be bottomless. We used to look into the black murky waters and tremble at what would happen if you fell in. Maybe I would have arrived in Australia sooner! (A bit like the film The Navigator in which a group of medieval people from the north of England going on pilgrimage to pray for preservation from the plague, fell through a mine shaft to land up in modern New Zealand?) Any time I drove along the Antrim Coast Road, by the Sea of Moyle, I thought Of the children of Lir, who were turned into white swans by their wicked step mother Aoife and condemmed to spend 300 years on that stormy and bleak sea. Aoife was jealous of Fionnuala and her brothers Aodh, Fiachra and Conn. She felt that they were taking their father's attention away from her so she got the help of a druid to tranform them into swans. She granted them 2 consolations that they could still think like human beings and would not be distressed by being swans, and they would sing the sweetest songs that ever were heard in the world. They were condemned to spend three hundred years on Lough Derg on the Shannon, three hundred years on the Sea of Moyle and then three hundred years in Erris. No power could free them until Patrick came to Ireland bringing with him a pure faith, and they should hear the sound of a Christian bell. The story goes that Fionnuala had an arrangement with her brothers whom she sheltered under her wings, that if ever they should get separated in the storms on the Sea of Moyle they would meet at a rock called Carricknarone on the Antrim coast. On one occasion she arrived there and they were missing and so she sang her saddest and sweetest song which Thomas Moore wrote about in his plaintive 'Song of Fionnualala After they spent 300 years on the sea of Moyle, they had to fly off to the Isle of Glora in Erris and it was there that they heard the bell which rang for the first Mass there and this restored them to human form. They were baptised, but as they were now very old they soon died and their suffering was over. Thomas Moore captured Finola's sadness in his song: Silent 0 Moyle be the roar of thy water Break not ye breezes your chain of repose While murmuring mournfully, Lir's lonely daughter Tells to the night star her tale of woes. Despite what anyone else says - the story of the Old Age of Oisin, as recorded by Flood, says he arrived at Gleann na Smoll and having touched earth there became an old man and was brought to Dublin to meet Patrick - the Glensfolk knew better - Oisin, the son of Finn McCool, came back from Tir na nOg to our part of country. He died and was buried here. On Lubitavish you can see his reputed grave, a great stone cairn in a beautiful spot. (It is not really his grave, but a Neo lithic court tomb. They say that a Franciscan friar in the area translated the poems of Oisin so expertly that the people thought he must still be around the place.) Deirdre and the Sons of Uisneach are associated with my part of the country too. The Gaelic name for the Pan rocks at Ballycastle was Carraigh Uisneach - This was the place where they landed in Ireland when King Conor McNessa called them back to his court , where despite Deirdre's premonitions and warnings the sons of Usneach were treacherously murdered. Near Carnmoney on the side of Cave hill is the cave where there were said to have sheltered as well.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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