The Legend of Manannán Mac Lir

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Manannán Mac Lir was the legendary sea-god of the Tuatha Dé Danann. These were the people that lived in Ireland during the Bronze Age. He also appears in lots of the Scots and Manx ( Isle of Man ) mythology.

Manannán Mac Lir is said to have been the first ruler of the Isle of Man, and the Tuatha Dé Danann believed he had a great palace and throne there.

In fact, this is where he got his name, as ‘Manand’ is the Old Irish name for the Isle of Man. As his surname suggests, he was the son of Lir. Lir, meaning ‘sea’, was a great sea-god and it seems that Manannán eventually took over that role.

The Celtic people believed that Manannán was connected through mists with the other worlds, where the souls journeyed in the after-life. Emhain Ablach was one of the islands of the other world, and according to Irish tradition, Manannán ruled over it.

As a master of tricks and illusions, Manannán had many magical possessions. His horse, called Aonbarr, could gallop across the waves of the sea as if they were solid ground. He also had a ship called ‘wave sweeper’ that needed no oars or sails to travel. Manannán’s great cloak could change to any colour he wanted. He could shroud himself in mist and disappear from his enemy’s sight. It was with this magical cloak that he was able to protect the Isle of Man.


The children of Lir were turned into swans for 300 years.
Courtesy of An Post

One of his Manannán’s most powerful possessions was his sword. It was called Fragrach, or ‘answerer’. It was said that the very sight of Fragrach would fill men’s hearts with fear and weakness, and that any person wounded by it would not survive.

Manannán carried more of his possessions in his crane bag: language, birds, hounds and very magical pigs. Any pig that was slaughtered for eating would magically appear in his crane bag again the next day!

While Manannán Mac Lir was a great sea-god, his children had a very tragic fate. Their story is told in the myth of The Children of Lir.