Emerald Isle

Return of the Cranes

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

An ancient friend of Ireland

The crane is one of the largest birds you might encounter, and once it was common throughout Ireland. Sadly cranes left these shores more than three centuries ago, so a nesting pair being spotted recently is cause for celebration!

They were making their new home on a rewetted raised peat bog, one of many being returned to the wilderness in Ireland today. An adult crane can rise to a man's chest when standing upright, with a wingspan wider than any but a giant is tall.

Cranes dance through the folklore and mythology of Ireland, bowing, pirouetting and bobbing as they do through fairy tales, legends and stories that were old when the hills were young.

From the earliest times, the Tuatha De Danann danced the Crane Curse, as Lugh of the silver arm did when he prepared his warriors for battle with that dread and sorcerous race, the Fomors, who had bound them under heavy taxes and weighty duties like slaves.

Lugh danced around his warriors on one leg, with one eye closed and one arm outstretched, chanting the following verses:

A frenzy of battle invites you to embrace death.
Our hosting in this conflict will defeat the foreigners who have destroyed the prosperity of the land.
Oh people of the Sídhe, defenders of the land, ravens will come upon our enemies with doom!
May the foreigners be hindered, may fear be heard among them and be their shared torment!
They are sad and doomed.

Ninefold brightness is upon us!
Victory or defeat!
Faugh! Sod of Death!
Death Measure! Rod of Aspen!
Circling leftward I curse them!
Oh you my glorious ones!

The gods will sustain you from the clouds of the sky, in the beauty of the land, and through the powerful skills of Druids.
My battle fire will not falter until the victory is won!
What I ask of you is not the work of cowards, in the dealing of death to the enemy, in the burning fields of battle.
The shadow of death has taken form.

Death goes before us to the foe.
Before the people of the Sídhe,
Before Ogma I swear!
Before the sky and the land and the sea, I swear!
Before the Sun and the Moon and the stars, I swear!

Oh warrior band, my host of battle,
My troops here, the greatest of hosts like the sea,
Mighty waves of golden, powerful, boiling fires, and battle lust
Are created in each of you!
May you seek out your foe upon the field,
Embracing death in a frenzy of battle!

In ancient times this was known as the Corrghuineacht, or crane-magic, and the casting of spells in this stance was called the glám dícenn which means “satire of ruin”. The one open eye was meant to be able to see into the other worlds, while standing on one foot like the crane, or corr in Irish, was meant to allow one to walk between worlds, just as the crane stepped between earth, water and sky with ease.

This dance can be found in many places throughout the most ancient Irish legends, such as when Parthalon, one of the first arrivals in Ireland, and his entire army assumed the Corrghuineacht to cast scything magic upon their enemies, the Fomorian sea demons. The Morrigan stood so when she prophecised the doom of Cormac, and one of the Bodb spirits stood the same way when she placed a dread curse on High King Conaire Mór.

Lugh carried his most precious magical relics in a crane skin bag, the corr bolg, as did none other than Manannan mac Lir, prince of the waves! When Aoife nic Daelbeth and Luchra nic Abhartach feuded in jealous fury over Ilbreac, son of Manannan, Aoife was transformed by witchcraft into a crane, and she flew to the lands of Manannan where she lived for two hundred years.

When she died, Manannan made of her skin a bag, “a good treasure of vessels” such as his knife and shirt, the king of Scotland's shears, the king of Lochlainn's helmet, the bones of Assal's swine, and the girdle of the great whale's back. Some have speculated that the bag contained the letters of the ogham alphabet used in writing before the introduction of Christianity. The ogham ciphers may have been suggested by the legs of flying cranes. This crane-bag would only reveal its contents when the tide was full, otherwise it appeared to be empty. The bag was handed down through many famous hands over the the centuries until it came to Cumhaill, who fathered the famous Fionn Mac Cumhaill! When Cumhaill was killed by Goll mac Morna, the bag was stolen and given to Lia, a chieftain of Connacht.

Well when Fionn grew up nothing would do but to take revenge for his father's death, and so he killed Lia and took back the crane skin bag.

When Athirne the penny pinching poet had a legal complaint against Midir, a son of the mighty Dagda Mór, he travelled to Midir's house and fasted against him, which meant refusing food and drink until shame forced Midir into putting right the wrong he had done. This is even mentioned in Brehon law, and it worked, for Midir gave to Athirne the three magical cranes which stood as guardians outside his house.

As odd as it may seem to us today, the crane was a very popular pet in Ireland in times past, being the third most popular after dogs and cats! Tame cranes were kept by the table, and trained to bow their heads when prayers were said. Saint Colmcille earned the name “the crane priest” and they can also be found in the book of Kells.

Moy Tura, where Lugh and his army gave battle to the hideous Fomors, can be found on the map below!

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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