Descended from a Sea God?

Mac Lir means “Son of the Sea.”  Manannan Mac Lir (In Welch  Manawydan fab Llŷr) was the Celtic God of the sea and sometimes guardian of the underworld, kind of a Celtic combination of Poseidon and Hades.  Mac Lir is not exactly McClear, and I know our surname came from McAleer but I will claim Manannan as part of my heritage.  Why not? it’s a good story.

Manannán mac Lir sculpture by John Sutton at Gortmore, Magilligan, County Londonderry

There are many, sometimes conflicting, legends about Manannan.  One is that he was not a god at all, but rather a merchant whose ships controlled the Irish Sea.  Some say the Isle of Man is named after him.   But real people sometimes inspire epic legends, especially among the Celts, witness St. Patrick, or St. Brigid, who took on the aspects of an earlier pagan goddess.

The legendary Manannan was a member of Tualtha de Danann, the race of fairy folk who were conquered by the humans.  Manannan, as de Danann’s protector, arranged for them to live below ground while humans lived above.  Fairy folk occasionally visit human folk, sometime in the form of leprechauns.  One story about Manannan Mac Lir was that he appeared as a Druid to challenge St. Patrick but Patrick was warned in advance and avoided what would have been a fatal encounter.

Mak Lir rode the seas in a chariot like boat and had had a horse that galloped over the waves.  Legend in Donegal has it that Manannán is buried in the Tonn Banks off the coast of Inishowen.  When Lough Foyle becomes rough the local saying is “Manannan is angry today” and older locals refer to whitecaps as “Manannan’s seahorses.”  This connection with Lough Foyle may be the reason that John Sutton (a designer for Game of Thrones) placed a statue of him at Gortmore, Magilligan in County Derry looking toward the Inishowen, facing directly across to Greencastle, the town where my family (on my mom’s side, not the McClears) are from.  The statue is part of a “Myths and Legends” Sculpture Trail.

On this trip I spent time tracing Manannan Mac Lir.  On the Isle of Man, we visited the “House of Manannan” which outlined the history of the Island, narrated by an actor playingManannan Mac Lir in a series of interactive video exhibits. 

But one of my goals was to get a family picture at the statue.  The statue has a controversial and strange history.  It was stolen in 2015.  Sutton said cutting through the fiberglass and stainless steel would have taken several hours and, being made of common materials and not bronze, was of little value as scrap.  The motivation may have been religious.  In place of the statue was a wooden cross with the words “Thou shall have no other Gods before me.” 

A Facebook group “Bring Back Manannan Mac Lir, the Sea God” agitated for the statue’s replacement and the local police issued a missing person’s appeal for Manannan. A rambling group (hikers) found the statue and flagged down military patrol from the Royal Irish Regiment, on training exercises who recovered the statue.

Replacement of the statue was controversial in the local council. Sinn Fein supported replacement, the Social Democratic Labor Party wanted it replaced, bigger, with a full boat as a base.  The Ulster Unionist member of the council said that while it was a “fine piece of art” it was paganistic.  On a split vote the council decided to replace it with the same size and design but reinforced to make it harder to steal.  People from all over the world contributed to its replacement. (From BBC reports.)

So now the Far North McClear clan has gathered at the feet of Manannan Mac Lir to have a picture for our Christmas Letter.

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