Pic: Goddess A Day

Cliodhna of Irish mythology, was one of the otherworld goddesses of love and beauty. It was said that she possessed three very fine, magical birds which could sweetly sing the sick into a deep sleep and cure them. The goddess was passionately in love with a mortal man named Ciabhan, a youth with curling locks of hair. One day, when Ciabhan was hunting and Cliodhna was walking along the shore near Cork, the sea god Manannan Mac Lir put her into a magic sleep and then sent a wave, which pulled her back to the Land of Promise. We cover the story in Episode 28, The Realm of the Ever-Living but here is a brief summary of her story. She is also known as the Fairy Queen of Munster and has strong associations with the Blarney Stone.

The Meeting with Manannan

And Ciabhan went on in the curragh, and great white shouting waves rose up about him, every one of them the size of a mountain; and the beautiful speckled salmon that are used to stop in the sand and the shingle rose up to the sides of the curragh, till great dread came on Ciabhan, and he said: “By my word, if it was on land I was I could make a better fight for myself.”

And he was in this danger till he saw a rider coming towards him on a dark grey horse having a golden bridle, and he would be under the sea for the length of nine waves, and he would rise with the tenth wave, and no wet on him at all. And he said: “What reward would you give to whoever would bring you out of this great danger?” “Is there anything in my hand worth offering you?” said Ciabhan. “There is,” said the rider, “that you would give your service to whoever would give you his help.” Ciabhan agreed to that, and he put his hand into the rider’s hand.

With that the rider drew him on to the horse, and the curragh came on beside them till they reached to the shore of Tir Tairngaire, the Land of Promise, They got off the horse there, and came to Loch Luchra, the Lake of the Dwarfs, and to Manannan’s city, and a feast was after being made ready there, and comely serving-boys were going round with smooth horns, and playing on sweet-sounding harps till the whole house was filled with the music.

Cliodhna and Ciabhán Elope

Now Gebann, that was a chief Druid in Manannan’s country, had a daughter, Cliodna of the Fair Hair, that had never given her love to any man. But when she saw Ciabhan she gave him her love, and she agreed to go away with him on the morrow.

And they went down to the landing-place and got into a curragh, and they went on till they came to Teite’s Strand in the southern part of Ireland. It was from Teite Brec the Freckled the strand got its name, that went there one time for a wave game, and three times fifty young girls with her, and they were all drowned in that place. And as to Ciabban, he came on shore, and went looking for deer, as was right, under the thick branches of the wood; and he left the young girl in the boat on the strand.

But the people of Manannan’s house came after them, having forty ships. And Iuchnu, that was in the curragh with Cliodna, did treachery, and he played music to her till she lay down in the boat and fell asleep. And then a great wave came up on the strand and swept her away.

And the wave got its name from Cliodna of the Fair Hair, that will be long remembered.

Gods and Fighting Men

Many Variants of the Story

In the Dinnsenchus, there is an ancient and heart-wrenching story about Cleena, wherein ‘it is related that she was a foreigner from Fairy-land, who, coming to Ireland, was drowned while sleeping on the strand at the harbour of Glandore in South Cork. In this harbour the sea, at certain times, utters a very peculiar, deep, hollow, and melancholy roar, among the caverns of the cliffs, which was formerly believed to foretell the death of a king of the south of Ireland. This surge has been from time immemorial called Tonn-Cleena, ‘Cleena’s wave.’ Cleena lived on, however, as a sheoque. She had her palace in the heart of a pile of rocks, five miles from Mallow, which is still commonly known by the name of Carrig-Cleena, and numerous legends about her are told among the Munster peasantry.

The story of Clíodhna exists in several versions, which do not agree with each other except insofar as she seems to have been a Danaan maiden once living in Manannán mac Lir’s country, the Land of Youth beyond the sea. Escaping thence with a mortal lover, as one of the versions tells, she lands on the southern coast of Ireland, and her lover, Keevan of the Curling Locks, goes off to hunt in the woods.

Clíodhna, who remains on the beach, is lulled to sleep by fairy music played by a minstrel of Manannán, when a great wave of the sea sweeps up and carries her back to Fairyland, leaving her lover desolate. Hence the place is called the Strand of Cleena’s Wave. One of the most notable landmarks of Ireland remains the Tonn Clíodhna, or “Wave of Cleena,” on the seashore at Glandore Bay, in County Cork.



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