Today’s Guest Post is written by visiting writer Ali Isaacs, who lives and writes in a world of history and myth and magic—in other words, Ireland. I was enchanted by the way she mixed all of that in her books, especially her YA series, The Tir Na Nog Trilogy, which I reviewed at 5-stars here. Please welcome Ali as she takes us on a tour of some of her favorite legendary Irish rivers.
River Legends of Ireland
Ireland is a land of many lakes, rivers and mountains, shrouded as much in mythology as it is in its gentle misty climate. It is a fertile breeding ground for tales of mystical Gods, powerful warriors and the beautiful, enchanting folk of the Sidhe.
Our ancient ancestors believed that through water lay the way to the Otherworld. There are many sacred springs scattered around the country, adopted by the Christians but with more ancient, pagan origins. In legend, almost every lough, of which there are said to be one for every day of the year in my home county of Cavan alone, bears a tale of magic and intrigue.
Ireland’s rivers are no exception. They have been used since ancient times as a means of transport, a source of food, even boundaries between kingdoms, and bear their own, often tragic, stories
Ireland’s longest river is the Shannon, Abhainn na Sionainne in Irish. It flows south and west from Co Cavan for 386km, touching seventeen of Ireland’s counties and forming three lakes en-route, Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg, before finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
Its source is said to be a small pool on the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain in Co Cavan, where I live, known as the Shannon Pot. It is also known as the Legnashinna, or Lag na Sionna in Irish, meaning ‘the hollow of the Shannon’. The pool is about sixteen metres wide, and said to be almost as deep.
Legend has it that one day, Manannán the Sea-God’s grand-daughter, Sionann, came to the well seeking wisdom. The pool was surrounded by the Nine Hazel Trees of Knowledge, which were said to fruit, flower and seed all at the same time. The nuts fell into the water and were eaten by the Salmon of Knowledge.
It was forbidden for anyone but the King to visit the well. In response to her impertinence, the waters of the pool rose up in a huge wave and carried the poor girl out to sea, where she drowned. Thus the River Shannon was formed and named after her.
The River Boyne, in Irish An Bhóinn or Abhainn na Bóinne, bears a similar story. It rises at Trinity Well near Carbury, County Kildare, and flows for 112km through County Meath to the Irish Sea.
The Boyne is considered a major river in Ireland’s history, archaeology and mythology. It passes close to Trim Castle, the Hill of Tara (ancient seat of the High King), the Hill of Slane (where St Patrick is said to have lit his paschal fire in defiance of pagan High King Laoighaire), Newgrange (Ireland’s most famous archaeological site), Mellifont Abbey, and the medieval city of Drogheda.
The River Boyne is named after the Goddess Boann, and is thought to mean ‘white cow’ (in Irish bó fhionn). According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, an ancient document detailing Ireland’s origins, she was the daughter of Delbáeth of the Tuatha De Danann.
Much like the Shannon Pot, Trinity Well was fringed with sacred hazel trees, and salmon swam in the cool pool waters. Despite her husband’s orders to the contrary, Boann challenged the power of the well by walking around it counter clockwise, which caused the waters to surge up and rush down to the sea.
Boann was caught up in the violent sweep of water and carried out to sea, losing an arm, leg and eye, and ultimately her life. So the River Boyne was formed, and named in her honour.
The River Bann, An Bhanna in Irish, means the ‘white river’. At 159km, it is Ulster’s longest river, rising in the Mourne Mountains in Co Down and flowing into Lough Neagh, from which the Lower Bann then flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Portstewart.
Magilligan Strand, Trá mhic Giollagáin in Irish, is a seven mile stretch of sandy beach near to the mouth of the Bann, popular with walkers, swimmers and surfers alike. Just off the coast of Magilligan Strand lies a three mile long sandbank, known as Tonn’s Bank.
Here, legend has it that the Storm God is buried. He was once a Denann chieftain who was killed fighting the Milesians. After his death, he became associated with the Irish Sea-God, Manannán mac Lir, and it is said that when storms blow up off the coast off Inishowen Head, his spirit walks free. A local saying goes, ‘Manannán is angry today,’ whenever the seas are rough.
The mouth of the River Bann has other names, too. It is sometimes called Inbher Glas, which means ‘green harbour’ in Old Irish, but it is also named Inbher Tuag after the tragic Princess Tuag of Tara.
Tuag was the daughter of High King Conall Collamhrach, but he was killed after only five years of rule. Tuag was fostered at Tara by the High King Conaire, and had a great retinue of ladies and waiting women to serve her. She was so beautiful that no man was allowed near her, for she was destined to be married to a great King, perhaps to Conaire himself.
When she was just fifteen, however, Manannán the Sea-God decided he would take her for himself. He sent his druid, Ferdia, to steal her away from Tara. Ferdia disguised himself as a woman, and sang a sleeping spell over her, and thus managed to escape with her.
He carried her to the mouth of the River Bann, and set her down on the sand whilst he went to get a boat in which to take her to Manannán’s land. She was still sleeping. As the tide rose, a great wave washed over the Tonn and carried her out to sea, where she was sadly drowned.
Ferdia did not get off lightly, though, for Manannán was so furious, he had his druid killed.
Author Ali Isaac
As a child… I always had my nose in a book, in several, actually, all at the same time. I spoke a unique hybrid language of English, French, Greek, Italian and Arabic. I had a pet donkey, rode a chopper bike, and was (fairly) fearless on a skateboard. I didn’t go to school until I was seven years old. I had a phobia about scorpions, swam every day, went barefoot even in winter, and was almost betrothed to an Arabian Bedouin prince.
Fast forward… and life is much more conventional. I am married with three children and a dog. I live in rural Ireland, where I get to hang out with my imaginary friends. I fear spiders instead of scorpions. I never go shoe-less. I walk, rather than swim. I spend much of my time visiting ruined ancient buildings, and dreaming of the distant past. It’s easy to do that in Ireland; you’re never more than a footstep away from history.
I always dreamed… of watching the sun rise over Macchu Picchu on the morning of the Millennium. I’m proud to say I achieved that, although a few months early. It was as magical a moment as I had anticipated. I always dreamed of writing a book. I’m proud to say I have achieved that too, in fact, I’ve written two. I always dreamed that Victor Ambrus would illustrate my books, and that my books would one day be made into a blockbuster movie. Yeah, I’m still dreaming…
I write for many reasons… to tell a story, of course. Every writer has their own story to tell. I write to challenge my reader’s perceptions, because sometimes, things are not at all how they appear. I write to educate, because my life has taught me things no one else knows, and its my duty to share. I write for sheer pleasure, but mostly, I write to be read.
I read… all the time, mostly on my Kindle Android app. I especially love to read in bed at night. I have discovered a whole new world of wonderful Indie authors, such as Jay Howard, Rachele Baker, Kathy Krisko, Jane Dougherty, Craig Boyack, Nickolas C Rossis, Peyton Reynolds, Grace Jolliffe, Allie Cresswell, Patrick de Moss, Mira Prabhu, Dax Christopher, and many others. Other writers I admire are George RR Martin, Rick Riordon, Alex Scarrow, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Early, David Eddings, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Richard Adams, among others.
I blog… on subjects of Irish interest relating to Irish mythology, archaeology, and history on my blog www.aliisaacstoryteller.com. I also blog about my experiences raising a child with special needs.
Contact Links For Ali Isaac