Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Liban the Sea Woman

The time Angus Og sent away Eochaid and Ribh from the plain of Bregia that was his playing ground, he gave them the loan of a very big horse to carry all they had northward. And Eochaid went on with the horse till he came to the Grey Thornbush in Ulster; and a well broke out where he stopped, and he made his dwelling-house beside it, and he made a cover for the well and put a woman to mind it.

But one time she did not shut down the cover, and the water rose up and covered the Grey Thornbush, and Eochaid was drowned with his children; and the water spread out into a great lake that has the name of Loch Neach to this day. But Liban that was one of Eochaid's daughters was not drowned, but she was in her sunny-house under the lake and her little dog with her for a full year, and God protected her from the waters.

And one day she said "O Lord, it would be well to be in the shape of a salmon, to be going through the sea the way they do." Then the one half of her took the shape of a salmon and the other half kept the shape of a woman; and she went swimming the sea, and her little dog following her in the shape of an otter and never leaving her or parting from her at all.

And one time Caoilte was out at a hunting near Beinn Boirche with the King of Ulster, and they came to the shore of the sea. And when they looked out over it they saw a young girl on the waves, and she swimming with the side-stroke and the foot-stroke.

And when she came opposite them she sat up on a wave, as anyone would sit upon a stone or a hillock and she lifted her head and she said "Is not that Caoilte Son of Ronan?" "It is myself surely" said he. "It is many a day" she said "we saw you upon that rock, and the best man of Ireland or of Scotland with you, that was Finn son of Cumhal. "Who are you so girl?" said Caoilte. "I am Liban daughter of Eochaid, and I am in the water these hundred years, and I never showed my face to anyone since the going away of the King of the Fianna to this day. And it is what led me to lift my head to-day" she said "was to see yourself Caoilte."

Just then the deer that were running before the hounds made for the sea and swam out into it. "Your spear to me Caoilte!" said Liban. Then he put the spear into her hand and she killed the deer with it, and sent them back to him where he was with the King of Ulster; and then she threw him back the spear and with that she went away.

And that is the way she was until the time Beoan son of Innle was sent by Comgall to Rome, to have talk with Gregory and to bring back rules and orders. And when he and his people were going over the sea they heard what was like the singing of angels under the currach. "What is that song?" said Beoan. "It is I myself am making it" said Liban. "Who are you?" said Beoan. "I am Liban daughter of Eochaid son Mairid, and I am going through the sea these three hundred years.' Then she told him all her story, and how it was under the round hulls of ships she had her dwelling-place, and the waves were the roofing of her house, and the strands its walls.

"And it is what I am come for now" she said "to tell you that I will come to meet you on this day twelve-month at Inver Ollorba; and do not fail to meet me there for the sake of all the saints of Dalaradia." And at the year's end the nets were spread along the coast where she said she would come, and it was in the net of Fergus from Miluic she was taken.

And the clerks gave her her choice either to be baptized and go then and there to heaven, or to stay living through another three hundred years and at the end of that time to go to heaven; and the choice she made was to die. Then Comgall baptized her and the name he gave her was Muirgheis, the Birth of the Sea. So she died, and the messengers that came and that carried her to her burying place, were horned deer that were sent by the angels of God.

A Book of Saints and Wonders
by Lady Gregory (1906)


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