Manannan Mac Lir

Manx Fairy Tales: Manannan Mac Lir

Manannan Mac Lir, the Son of the Sea, was the first Ruler of Mann. He was a great Wizard, and he was so powerful that afterwards he was looked on as a god. He had a great stone fort on Peel Island, and he could make one man, standing on its battlements, seem to be a hundred.

When he saw his enemies' ships sailing, he would cover the island round with a silver mist so that it could not be seen; and if, in spite of the mist, his enemies came near, he would throw chips into the water and change them into ships. He was out walking one day on Barrule, when he saw the warships of the Northmen were in the bay of Peel. And with that he made himself into the shape of three legs and rolled like a wheel down from the mountain top as fast as the wind.

It was about low tide in the harbour, and there ran a stream of sparkling water out to sea. Now the banks of the stream were marshy, and by the river-side grew a quantity of sedge with broad, green leaves. So Manannan made little boats of the sedge, a good number of them, and sailed his boats in the stream. And when the little fleet floated out of the harbour, he caused them to look like great ships of war, well manned with fighting men.

Then terror seized on the Northmen when they saw the Manx fleet, and they cut their cables, hoisted sails, and cleared away as fast as they could, and Manannan and his island were left in peace. Thus did he keep Mann, and not with his sword, or his bow and arrows.

In his fort he had a great banqueting hall, where handsome boys made sweet music, and others played games and did great feats of strength. He had a horse called Enbarr of the Flowing Mane, who could travel like the wind over sea as well as land, swift hounds that could catch ally wild beast, and a sword called The Answerer, whose wound was always fatal - besides his Magic Branch and his wonderful boat, Wave Sweeper.

He governed Mann well for long, long years. Manx people had the best of good treatment from him, and all the rent he wanted was that each one was to bring a bundle of green rushes to him on the Mountain of South Barrule on Midsummer Eve. The island was a happy place, full of sunshine and all pleasant things, and no person there was old or tired or sad.

Manx men have never forgotten Manannan, and fishermen have prayed to him the following prayer, as they have put out to sea:

Manannan Beg Mac Lir -
Little Manannan Son of the Sea,
Who blessed our island,
Bless us and our boat, going out well.
Coming in better, with living and dead in our boat.

Poem

Manannan Beg was son of Leirr,
He was the first that e'er had Mann;
But as it seemeth unto me,
He himself was but a heathen.

'Twas not with his sword he kept her,
Nor with his arrows, nor his bow ;
But when he would see ships sailing,
He hid her right round with a fog.

He 'd set a man upon a brow,
You'd think there were a hundred there;
And thus did wild Manannan guard
That island with all its booty.

The rent each paid out of the land
Was a bundle of green rushes;
And that was on them for a tax
Throughout the country each John's Eve.

Some went up with the rushes to
The great mountain up at Barrule;
Others would leave the grass below,
With Manannan above Keamool.

In this way, then, they lived, I think
Myself their tribute very small,
Without care or anxiety,
Or labour to cause weariness.

Source:  Sophia Morrison - Manx Fairy Tales, London 1911