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 foud 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 tree magical crane 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!
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Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland
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Sometimes when out and about travelling the lesser known byways of Ireland, you might come across a little stone arrowhead or piece of flint shaped by hands long gone, and people would tell you not to touch it for fear it might carry the tinneas sióg, the sickness of the fairy mounds! For it was that fairies, the sidhe, were known to hurl ... [more]
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A fair witch crept to a young man's side, And he kissed her and took her for his bride. But a shape came in at the dead of night, And filled the room with snowy light. And he saw how in his arms there lay A thing more frightful than words may say. And he rose in haste, and followed the Shape Till morning crowned an eastern cape. ... [more]
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They do say that once upon a time, long ago, there lived a lady of great beauty in a castle on a lake, and her hair was fair as gold, shining in the summer sun. She had been promised to a king's son, the lord of a nearby kingdom, but as he was coming to see her one dark November evening, who should come upon him but the warriors of a jealous lo ... [more]
One evening in late November, which is the time of year when the spirits of Ireland have the most power, the prettiest girl in all the land was going to the ancient well for water. Then, as chance would have it, her foot turned on a loose stone, and she fell. It was bad luck, but when she got back to her feet, it seemed as though she was in a stran ... [more]
Baile the son of Buan was renowned through Ulster and all of Ireland for his tale-telling, and loved for his his kindly nature, but most of all by by Aillinn, daughter of Lughaidh. From afar they shared sweet messages and poetry, and as time passed she grew to love him more and more, and he in kind. Everyone spoke well of them and looked forward to ... [more]
In the olden days there was a man who played the pipes, but he was not famous for it, or if he was it was for the wrong reasons, since he had but the one tune, a jaunty jig called The Black Rogue. Now it happened one dark night that he was on his way home after entertaining the gentlemen, and with a few pence in his pocket and a few drinks under hi ... [more]
Times were hard in Ireland back years ago, and while some might say they've had it tough today, it was not a patch on the hardships people endured in times gone by. And so it was with Michael McGovern, a poor farmer with hardly an acre of stony soil to rent, who looked upon his three young sons with love for the life of them and fear for their ... [more]
There was a prince in Ireland a long, long time ago, back when Ireland still had princes, and O'Donall was his name. A brave fellow he was, and powerful, but given to risk and heedless thrills in his hunting and leaping and running and swimming, all the better to impress his friends. He was lord of a wide land, and he wasn't hard on the poo ... [more]
A woman was out one day looking after her sheep in the valley, and coming by a little stream she sat down to rest, when suddenly she seemed to hear the sound of low music, and turning round, beheld at some distance a crowd of people dancing and making merry. And she grew afraid and turned her head away not to see them. Then close by her stood a you ... [more]
They say that in Ireland you will enjoy all four seasons in a day, but on this day the four seasons were high and glorious summer, or so it seemed to Tom Fitzpatrick as he walked along a narrow road between two tall hedges in harvest time. As he walked, he chanced to hear a strange ringing like a tiny bell, and he paused, puzzled as to what it migh ... [more]
Connla of the Fiery Hair was one of the sons of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and his favourite son, a swift and agile warrior with a voice that could make the mountains tremble. Himself and his father climbed the heights of Usna on Samhain, when he saw coming towards them a slender maiden of great beauty, clad in strange clothes. “Where do ... [more]
Strange are the ways of the Fairies of Ireland, and strange the look about them, but for all their wild and untamed manner they follow rules written in the ripples of willow-branches on still ponds, and laws murmured by the echo of birdsong in deep wells. Once there was a woman sitting in her cottage, a humble enough abode, and she was making wo ... [more]
There are many types of fairy in Ireland, some more risky than others, and some to be avoided due to their habits rather than out of any particular malevolence. Such a one is the Gan Ceanach, whose name means “Without Love”. Although you might think such a title would indicate a friendless creature of a lonely nature lacking in socia ... [more]
There are a great many raths or fairy forts of old scattered throughout Ireland today, numbering in the tens of thousands, and it is here, the wise say, that the good people or fairy folk gather to hold their revels. Nobody would dare to cross, let alone build on a fairy dwelling in the past, marking as they did the boundary between our civilise ... [more]
Near to the town of Fermoy in Ireland lies the great stack of Cairn Thierna, not as wide about nor as tall as some mountains perhaps but feared and respected by the local people nonetheless. For all around it and along its flanks are tall heaps of stones they say are the work of the fairy folk, or the old people who lived here long ago. And you ... [more]
On the road going down to Cork there's an old set of four walls that used to once be called Ronayne's Court. Although there's little enough to see of it nowadays still the stack of the chimneys stands proud, and on it can be seen the coat of arms of the family that built it and used to live there. They were a fine couple and had one ... [more]
It was known in times past in Ireland that there were men and women who could talk to the fairies, ask favours from them, and even live among them, and some used this acquaintance to work their will on the world, for good or for ill. Most famous, perhaps, among these people were the fairy healers of old. Biddy Early is the best known of their ki ... [more]
James Mac Neill was as strapping a young fellow as you could hope to meet, and likely with it. Never did he walk away from a tussle or a drink, and never far from his hand was his shillelagh. He had no fears save the lacking of a pint, no cares except for who would pay for it, and not a thought in his head but how to have fun after it. One cold ... [more]
Maurice Mulreaney was well known for travelling about the countryside without fear of anything living or otherwise, as quick to cross a graveyard or fairy mound as you or I would be to cross the street, for he didn't believe in that which he couldn't see with his own two eyes or touch with his own two hands, and he didn't bother with ol ... [more]
It wasn't a bad life for Fergus O'Hara in Owenmore, for all that himself and his wife Rose had little, the little they had was enough for them. Some goats, pigs and poultry ranged far and wide about their few acres, and a field of oats and potatoes kept them busy for the harvest and brought in a few pennies. It so happened that there lay ... [more]
In many cultures those that used to be called insane held a special place of reverence, and were treated almost as envoys from another place, or as though they could see something nobody else could, or were dancing to music only they could hear and the rest of us were deaf to. From far-off India and China to more familiar shores people would doff t ... [more]
The children of De Danann once ruled the island of Ireland, before they departed back to their own lands in the farthest west or went below the earth in their fairy mounds to dance and sing forevermore, but if you're lucky – or unlucky! – you might still come across them in the wild places and those deep forests yet untouched. An ... [more]
Some of the Sidhe in times of old would take a fondness for one particular family, protecting it and helping it rise in the world, and so it was with the O'Briens, who were known as the Dál gCais, or the Dalcassians. Their fairy guardian was called Aoibhell, whose name means burning ardour or beauty, depending on who you ask. She had ... [more]
Irish legends from time immemorial have a great deal to say about the land of the fairies, the home of the Tuatha De Danann, or the world of the Sidhe. There are those who claim it lies beneath fairy mounds or on the other side of deep caves where Druids once held tryst and shared magical secrets, while other tales tell of heroes and adventurers, e ... [more]
While most people nowadays believe fairies to be gentle creatures, prone to mischief perhaps and capricious by their natures yet well intended for all that, in Ireland they have a more sinister reputation. Some say, and some still believe, that the fairies will take small children and young people, leaving in their place creatures known as changeli ... [more]
It's well known among those who know of such things that fairies love to dance more than anything else, and they take it ill should anything interfere with their merriment. And if someone wanted to spoil a dance, they could come up with few better ways of doing so than to send a herd of cattle wandering through! The hill atop Knockshegowna w ... [more]
The cheerful Leprechaun is about as well known an emblem of Ireland as you could want, but what truth lies behind the stories? Well the truth is nobody really knows the truth, for leprechauns are are a cagey bunch at the best of times, not prone to gossip or holding forth on the important events of the day or the local hurling results, even after a ... [more]
After the Tuatha De Dannan were defeated in battle by the great race of Milesians, who held sway in Ireland long after, some of the Tuatha decided to leave and go elsewhere while some chose to stay in Ireland. Those that stayed agreed that they must live beneath the earth, and they were led by a great King in the west, Finnbhear son of Dagda, who i ... [more]
The Pooka or Puca is one of the most ancient fairy creatures of Ireland, and is known further abroad as well, called Puck or Pook. In some places he is feared and in others respected. He can take many shapes, most commonly that of a wild horse wrapped in chains with sulfurous or blazing crimson eyes - the night mare - a huge dog, a raging bull, a h ... [more]
Old Jack Doherty was a kindly and good natured sort of fellow, as well he might be for he had chosen to live in a strange and desolate part of the country, by a coast of jagged rocks and sucking tides. And why might that be cause for merriment, you may ask? Well, it was many's the night and many's the storm that blew an unfortunate ship too ... [more]
Some might wonder, who or what are the fairy folk? There are stories upon stories of them and their doings in many places, but most of all in Ireland, where it was said they lived longest and if they still walk the earth, where they can yet be found! The country folk claim they are fallen angels lacking the merit to stay in heaven while being kindl ... [more]