Home Fairy Tales Manx Fairytale – The Boyhood of Lugh

Manx Fairytale – The Boyhood of Lugh

by Ber Weyde

Long centuries ago, when Manannan Mac Lir was ruling in Mann, and when his court was famous over all the world for brave warriors and wise men, Lugh of the Long Arm was sent over from Erin to be brought up there. Lugh was the son of Kian, a great Lord of the Danaan, the people that had power in Erin in those days.

The boy was beautiful to look on – his curling hair was the colour of the flower of the broom and his eyes were blue and flaming as the sword-blade of a hero. Manannan had him trained with his own sons in the use of arms and he learned to hunt and to fish, to run and to swim. He grew tall and strong, and braver than any young man of his time.

He and the sons of Manannan led a joyous and free outdoor life in the wild places of the Island. There were forests in Mann then, alive with game; there were lakes and rivers full of fish, and curraghs swarming with waterfowl. So they hunted the red deer and the fierce purr in the green woods and the cruel wolf on the mountains. The sound of their hunting horns and the baying of their hounds made music in the dark forest and winding glen, and floated over the lonely mountains, purple with ling and golden with gorse.

They often put to sea in Manannan’s magic boat, Wave Sweeper, which carried them wherever they wished without sail or oars; and sometimes they would climb the houghs behind Peel Hill to take the young falcons from their nests.

So the time wore on.

The home of Manannan was not in the Island itself but in the rocky grey islet lying off the spur of Peel Hill. When the sun was shining on the summer sea, the Islet sparkled like a jewel on the clear green water. When the sunset was blazing behind it, and the red cliffs across the bay were glowing with colour, it seemed to float like a cloud in the radiance of crimson and gold. Around it the white gulls rested on the water as if they were asleep, or circled round it on flashing wings. At all times the home of Manannan was fairer than words can tell. He had also a summer place on South Barrule. It was here that he met his people and received the yearly rent from each landholder of a bundle of green sedge. They brought it to him at the Festival of the Sun, on Midsummer Eve, and as they sat on the slopes of his mountain, they would weave mats for his palace, for they were clever plaiters of rush. And that is why to this day rushes are strewn on the path to Tynwald Hill on Midsummer Day. From this palace Lugh could see his own country, Erin.

When the angry winter sea, grey and misty, surged against Manannan’s home, and the wind shrieked and whistled over the Islet, the waves flew up from the hard rocks and burst in masses of white spray over the great roof of the banqueting hall. At the fall of day, when the men gathered together by the turf fire on the wide hearth, the roar of the sea was always in their ears. Here they listened to the bards chanting their tales to the sound of the harp and they taught Lugh to be a great harpist. He had three wonderful tunes – the Laughing Tune, the Sleeping Tune and the Weeping Tune, which made those that listened laugh, or sleep or weep as he wished. He was taught to write in ogams too, and the rules of poetry. One night, when some of Manannan’s fine dark-eyed young men were playing sweet music, and others, lean and well-trained were casting osier rods, nine at a time, up to the roof and catching them again, Manannan, looking out of his kingdom, saw how the Fomorians were warring against the people of Dana, and making themselves master over them; so he determined to send to their aid his foster son, Lugh. He called Lugh saying:

“Go to the rescue of your people, we can teach you nothing more. But these Fomorians are fierce and cruel and I will send you against them prepared as one of your rank should be.”

So Lugh was sent away with splendid gifts – he wore Manannan’s coat, wearing which he could not be wounded, and also his breastplate, which no weapon could pierce. His helmet had two precious stones set in front and one behind, which flashed as he moved. And Manannan girt him for the fight with his own deadly sword, called The Answerer, from the wound of which no man ever recovered, and those who were opposed to it in battle were so terrified that their strength left them.

He rode Manannan’s horse, Enbarr of the Flowing Mane, which could travel over land or sea as swiftly as the wind. His foster brothers and Manannan’s Fairy Cavalcade went with him, and away he travelled westward over the stormy sea to Erin.

As he went he looked back at the green hills of Manannan’s Island, and he saw his foster father’s noble figure standing on the beach. Manannan was wrapped in his magic cloak of colours, changing like the sun from blue-green to silver, and again to the purple of evening. He waved his hand to Lugh and cried:

“Victory and blessings on you!”

So Lugh, glorious in his youth and strength, left his Island home.

purr = Manx pigs

(source: Manx Fairy Tales (second edition, 1929) by Sophia Morrison; artwork is Solus by Brian Froud from the Fairy Oracle Deck)

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