Discover the Locations of Some of Ireland’s Most Famous Myths and Legends
Ireland is famous for its myths and legends that have been passed on from generation to generation. From goddesses to high kings, giants to leprechauns, Ireland is overflowing with stories that have very much become a part of the history and culture of Ireland. Wherever you travel in Ireland, you’re guaranteed to come across a myth or legend connected to the area. With that in mind, below are seven famous myths and legends to look out for as you journey across Ireland.
1 The Children of Lir
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The Children of Lir is an old Irish myth that goes back as far as the ancient tribes of Ireland and is supposedly the inspiration for the famous ballet Swan Lake.
The story starts with the introduction of King Lir and his four children and the news that their mother, King Lir’s wife, has passed away. Lir then decides to marry his wife’s sister, Aoife, to help him get over the loss of his wife. However, in a jealous rage, Aoife uses her magical powers to transform the children into swans for 900 years; three hundred on Lake Derravaragh, three hundred on Straits of Moyle, and three hundred more on Isle of Inish Glora. The children, although swans, still have their voices and are admired for their singing by locals.
There are then different versions of how the story ends but a popular one is that the children hear a bell from a Godly man (the ultimate breaking of the spell) and they are reunited with their father, whilst Aoife is banished by King Lir.
Check out the latest hotel deals in County Mayo and immerse yourself in the story of The Children of Lir with a visit to Inishglora island.
2 Brian Boru
One of Ireland’s most famous Kings, Brian Boru was born Brian Mac Cennétig in the town of Killaloe in County Clare. He ruled as the King of Ireland for 12 years from 1002 to 1014. He had several wives and children, the most famous of his wives being Gormlaith, and is thought to have fathered at least six sons and three daughters with four wives, who today, descendants of Brian Boru are thought to be those with surnames like Ó Briain, O’Brien or O’Brian.
Brian’s most famous battle was The Battle of Clontarf against Norsemen (Vikings). It was this battle were Brian brutally lost his life after being slain by Brodir, a Viking from the Isle of Man.
Today, many can follow in the footsteps of Brian Boru by visiting different sites across Ireland. This includes the Rock of Cashel, which Brian and his brother (Mahon) recovered from the Vikings in 968. There is also the site of the Battle of Clontarf in Dublin, or St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, where Brian was laid to rest when he died.
Find out the latest hotels deals in County Armagh and visit the burial place of Brian Boru.
3 Finn Mac Cool
A mythological warrior and giant, Finn Mac Cool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill) features in several Irish myths and legends. However, he is probably most famous for his connection with the Giant’s Causeway along Ireland’s north coast.
The Giant’s Causeway story tells of how Finn lived along Antrim’s north coast with his wife Oonagh and of the rivalry with Benandonner, a giant who lived across the water in Scotland. It is said that Finn challenged Benadonner to a fight one day and decided to build a causeway of enormous stepping stones across the sea to Scotland, so that he could walk across without getting his feet wet. However, as he reached Scotland and caught sight of Benandonner, he realised he was a much bigger giant than he was and hurried back to the north coast.
On his return, Finn asked his wife Oonagh to help him hide from the great Benadonner. Oonagh disguised Finn as a baby and put him in a huge cradle, so when Benandonner saw the size of the sleeping ‘baby’, he assumed the father must be enormous in comparison. Benandonner ran away for fear of his life and ripped up the Causeway steps on his way back.
And so, legend has it that this is the reason the Giant’s Causeway exists in north Antrim (there is, of course, a geological explanation… but it’s just not as exciting!)
Find out the latest hotels along the north coast and enjoy a few days of escapism in the land of giants!
4 Cú Chulainn
Cú Chulainn is an ancient Gaelic hero warrior who is said to possess superhuman strength, speed and skill. His original name is Setanta and his parents were Dechtire and Lugh. At the age of five Setanta left home to join the Red Branch Knights, the army of his uncle King Conchobar Mac Nessa. He was known to outrun and outplay anyone on the hurling field and could throw a javelin, spear and ball and catch them all at the one time.
There are many stories featuring Cú Chulainn, many of which are still told in schools and at homes across Ireland. Louth is known as Cúchulainn country because Cúchulainn is reputed to have grown up there and many of the most famous stories involving him happened there.
Find out the latest hotel deals in County Louth and soak up the stories of Cúchulainn.
Image via Flickr
Ireland’s mythical leprechauns have become iconic all over the world, with many donning their leprechaun hat on St Patrick’s Day. The sprite-like characters feature in legends, myths and tales and in many of these tales they are portrayed as mischievous and untrustworthy characters. Some believe that the name leprechaun derives from the word ‘leath bhrogan‘, meaning shoemaker and supposedly the leprechaun’s main vocation. Leprechauns are also known to store a pot of gold that is hidden at the end of the rainbow. On a journey across Ireland, you’re guaranteed to spot a statue or picture of a leprechaun.
Check out the latest hotel deals in Dublin and discover the National Leprechaun Museum that is based there.
6 Queen Maedh
Queen Maedh (or Medb (Old Irish spelling)) is one of the most famous queens in Ireland. Much of her story is featured in the Tain Bo Cuilnge (Cattle Raid of the Cooley) saga.
She is known as the ‘Warrior Queen of Connacht’, and is believed to have taken over from her father who was the King of Connacht when he became High King of Ireland. Maedh’s first husband was Conchobar Mac Nessa, the High King of Ulster, with whom she had a son, Amalghad. Maedh supposedly left Conchobar after taking a disliking to him and went on to marry four other kings during her lifetime.
The mystery that surrounds Maedh is probably what makes her such an interesting character. To some, she was a goddess and the very reason behind many of her different husbands becoming kings. To others, she was a feisty and belligerent character who set out only to cause trouble. Whatever her true character, Maedh is certainly a memorable figure in Irish history.
It is believed that Maedh is buried in County Sligo on the summit of Knocknarea. There is, in fact, a Knocknarea Queen Maedh Trail which can be taken towards Maedh’s supposed burial site.
Find the latest hotels deals in County Sligo and enjoy the Queen Maedh Trail.
7 Oisín and Tír na nÓg
Oisín and Tír na nÓg is the story Oisín, the son of Fionn MacCumhail leader of the Fianna, who longed to live in the otherworldly Tír na nÓg – ‘The Land of the Young’, a place where people never grow old and the land is perfect.
One day when Oisín was hunting with his father along on the shores of Lough Leane in County Kerry, a beautiful girl rode towards them on a white horse. She announced, “I am Niamh of the Golden Hair and my father is King of Tír na nÓg. I have heard of a great warrior named Oisín. I have to come to find him and ask him to return with me to the Land of the Young.”
Fionn was sad but allowed Oisín to go with Niamh to Tír na nÓg. The king and queen of Tír na nÓg welcomed Oisín and it wasn’t long before he married their daughter.
After many hundred years of living happily in Tír na nÓg with Niamh, Oisín longed to return to Ireland and see his family. Niamh didn’t want him to go but she eventually agreed and gave him the white horse to go back to Ireland. Niamh warned Oisín not to set foot on Irish soil or he would never return to Tír na nÓg.
When Oisín reached Ireland he passed through Gleann na Smol, the valley of the thrushes, where he helped a few men move a large stone. With his great strength, Oisín was able to move the stone whilst staying in his saddle but as reached down his strap broke and he stumbled to the ground. His horse disappeared and he became a withered old man.
Legend has it that Oisín was brought to Saint Patrick by the men for guidance and comfort. Oisín was sad to learn that the Fianna and his father died many hundreds of years. Oisín was never able to return to Niamh in Tír na nÓg and died soon after.
Sadly Tír na nÓg does not exist but some would say there are certain parts of Ireland that come close to it!
Find the latest hotel deals in County Kerry and explore Lough Leane, one of the largest lakes in Killarney and where Oisin and his father hunted together.
Do you know any other Irish myths and legends?
Tell us your Irish myths and legends in the comment section below.