Emerald Isle

The Harps of Cliach

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Mythological Cycle

Unrequited love in The Harps of Cliach

Well known is the ancient tale of the Children of Lir, and how two of the three of Bodb Dearg's daughters by Oilell of Aran married Lir to keep the peace in Ireland, between the rival chieftains of the Tuatha De Dannan. But less well known perhaps is the story of the daughter of the Bodb and one of her admirers, Cliach the Harpist.

Cliach played harp for the Smirdubh Mac Smáil, the king of the three Rosses over the white mountain, or Sliabh Bán in Connacht. He had heard of the great beauty of the daughters of the Bodb but knew that one was married and the other dead, so he set out to find out for himself what the remaining one looked like.

So he travelled to Sidh-ar-Feman on Slievenamon, which is where Bodb Dearg lived, and asked to be allowed in. But the Bobd didn't like the cut of his cloth, and neither did his daughter! The Bodb called up the fog over his rath so that the entrance couldn't be seen, and Cliach wandered lost, calling out forlornly.

But he didn't give up, instead moving back a few miles to the hills, and continued to play and sing. His skill was that he could play two harps at once, and so he did, mixing marvellous melodies into wonderful and enchanting tunes, but to no avail. Still the daughter of the Bodb showed him no interest.

He played thus for a full year, but her heart was not softened, no matter how well he performed. Although she didn't acknowledge him, his singing attracted something else entirely, and that was a dragon from the underworld!

One dark evening it burst up from the fiery depths and dragged him down into the abyss with it, and the Bodb was so alarmed at the inferno so raised that he filled the top of the hills with water, making the lake we know as Loch Crotta, or the Lake of the Harps, where it is said that sometimes the playing of Cliach can still be heard to this day, when the wind is soft.

Marked below is the old house of the Bodb on Slievenamon should you wish to visit and listen for yourself.

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