On a journey along the west coast of Ireland last year for his new travel book on the Wild Atlantic Way, Paul Clements became fascinated by the seagod Manannán mac Lir. And he found many twists and turns in the story of one of Ireland’s most captivating mythological figures.
In terms of news stories last year, the theft of the statue of the Celtic seagod ranks as one of the most bizarre. Towards the end of January 2015, a gang vandalised the tall steel and fibreglass statue of Manannán mac Lir. It had been erected near Binevenagh mountain in Co Derry, overlooking Lough Foyle and Donegal, and was part of a myths and legends sculpture trail.
Mystery surrounded its disappearance, but it was believed to have been linked to Christian fundamentalists offended by Celtic idolatry – although this was never established. Those who carried it out used an angle grinder to cut it off from a small boat, leaving behind a wooden cross carved with the words ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’
Manannán was depicted with a belted dress and long robe, while by his side, his sword or fragarach, could, it is said, cut through any armour. At sea, his horse, Enbarr of the Flowing Mane, which pulled his Wavesweeper chariot, galloped over water as though it were solid land.
In Irish mythology, as a divine lord of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Manannán was affiliated with Tír na nÓg and was a fearsome figure who borrowed iconography from Neptune. In Lough Foyle, local people believe his spirit is released during fierce storms and some are still heard to remark ‘Manannán is angry today’.
He is said to inhabit the offshore sandbanks between Inishtrahull Sound and the Magilligan waters.
For my meandering journey along the Wild Atlantic Way, Manannán became a leitmotif and emblematic figure. As I made my way by car, bike and ferry, on foot and on horseback, his presence was a presiding spirit.