Feb 28, 2011

The Legend of the Mermaid

Photo:Trounce/Wikimedia Commons
There is an Irish legend about a mermaid named Liban that appears the Book of the Dun Cow. This book, Lebor na h Uidre in Irish, is the oldest of the ancient book of legends believed to have been written in the late 10th to early 11th century. The photo above is of a wall in Clonfert Cathedral in Galway. Clonfert was founded by St. Brendan the Navigator, so this image appears here in honor of his famous voyage.
Liban was the daughter of a man named Eochaidh, who along with the rest of his family was drowned--probably a judgment for running off with his stepmother. Liban and her dog survived by the grace of God, but could not leave the water (Loch Neagh.) After a year she told God she wished to be like a salmon, and God granted her wish and turned her dog into the form of an otter. She roamed the water like that for 300 years, saying, "The wave is my roof and the shore my wall." Then she happened upon the boat of Beoan mac Innle, a follower of St. Comgall. He heard her singing, and she appeared to him. She explained her situation and her desire to be brought to the saints. They caught her in a net, where, as you can imagine, she became a spectacle. There was disagreement over to whom she belonged. Comgall thought that because she was caught in his country, she should be his charge. Fergus, a fisherman it is assumed, thought that because he caught her in his net, she should be his. But Beoan said she was his because of his initial conversation with her. These men decided to let God make the decision and fasted and prayed. An angel appeared and said the matter would be settled this way: two stags would appear and they should hitch them to the chariot where Liban's makeshift water tank was. They should let the deer pull her wherever she should go. The animals brought her to tech Dabheoc (a church.) There the clergy gave her a choice: she could be baptized and go immediately to heaven, or she could continue to live on for 300 more years and then go to heaven. She chose the first option and when she baptized she was named Muirghein or "sea birth." In that place many miracles occurred because of her.

That's the story. Kind of sad. It's as though she'd had a curse on her and had to somehow get on dry land to reach the clergy where they could take it off so that she could finally die.  I'm not sure what we're supposed to learn from it. What do you think?


  1. Cindy, I have no answer for your question, unless some wrongs we may be forgiven, but always have to pay?

    Good story, tho.

  2. I think it all goes back to God will make the final decision and we should place our faith in Him.

  3. I know I'm writing two years after the fact, but I thought you'd be interested in a long poem I wrote about Liban and her descendants (the latter part newly imagined of course)--it's been published by Whale Sound Press and can be found here: http://wschap6.wordpress.com/68-2/

    Enjoy! And take care,

    Jennifer Jean

  4. Interesting, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing.