The Children of Lir & Allihies, Co. Cork

Feb. 2023

What will be my first blog post, well here it is and what was the inspiration….……

Sitting here at the computer today in proximity to a lake and river I heard the all too recognisable sound of swans flying overheard, looking out the window- there they were the three that are nesting in the nearby river and lake. When you live near their habitat you come to know their movements from the lake to the river. That sound so instantly recognisable, gave me the inspiration I needed for this post. Teachers, parents, children and literary enthusiasts, those interested in monastic history and mythology might get some inspiration to visit this West Cork Village of Allihies.

 

The sound of the swans’ beating wings reminded me of a visit to Allihies which was originally a family day around the Beara Peninsula, through Glengarriff, Castletownbere, Allihies, Eyeries and onto Kenmare. Dare to say the drive took longer than anticipated with what I call the Children of Lir detour- but it was worth it. Having visited Allihies on a few occasions I was familiar with the Copper Mines and the wonderful interpretative centre that is in the village, documenting a time when Allihies little village was at the forefront of the copper-mining industry in Ireland. Vestiges of the tall chimneys and associated buildings still dot the landscape of Allihies. In the seascape the triangular peaks of the Skelligs are visible in the Atlantic as you approach the village. The Skelligs to me represent Irish monastic culture and belie a time of beehive huts, St. Patrick, round towers and the Book of Kells. However, this trip to Allihies was different as I noticed a fingerpost pointing to the burial ground of the Children of Lir. The Children of Lir was a favourite story-myth of mine in national school and was made all the more vivid by our teacher who somehow managed to get us to equate the presence of swans on Dunmanway Lake to the Children of Lir. Maybe it was those nature walks which she took us on back then that reinforced the connection.

Children of Lir and Allihies- their burial ground? this was a new historical quest for me and those with me. How did I miss it on previous visits? As you approach Allihies from the Castletownbere road the sign was on the left pointing towards a narrow road and a grassy verge. Parked the car and suddenly my inquisitiveness took over, look what I found …… another signpost on the grass then a rock…. a large rock surrounded by coins and trinkets, a little bit of interpretative signage, (much more could be done on this), why and how more about the Burial Place of the Swans in the Children of Lir has not been addressed, question after question took over? Surely at least school tours would visit in addition to visiting the Copper Mines. Surely Tourism Ireland would think this a nice site to advertise and recognise its potential.  Pausing to look at the rock under which local lore states lie the swans (who had turned back into children – by then elderly people after years trapped in the form a swan). They were freed from their swan bodies by the sound of a Christian bell peeling in a local church along the coast. The myth though somewhat sad, seemed here in Allihies to draw together the strands of our literary and mythological heritage, our monastic culture as evidenced by the proximity of the Skelligs to the Beara Peninsula. It was a somewhat miserable day and I think that made it a more poignant experience. I couldn’t help but wonder why as a historian I had never heard of the location before. Now as with all such mythological sites in Ireland, there is never only one specific site. There is often a counter claim in another village or town ascertaining to have the same burial plot etc. In this instance I went to the search engine that is Google and found some interesting information (links posted at the end of the post), not many villages try to rival the Allihies claim, in this instance mainly Mayo, Connacht. Wondering around the rock which had the appearance of a shrine with coins, rosary beads and trinkets left by those who visited, I too left a coin. This might seem odd but it is often the case when visiting Holy Wells and other ecclesiastical sites. In Irish folklore there appears to be a tradition of leaving something as a mark of respect be it coin, trinket or ribbon. It was a visit that transposed me back to my childhood and to those reading this post I urge you if in Allihies pay the Burial Rock a visit. Off the beaten track lies an intrinsic part of Irish mythology and legend, so much more in terms of its museum potential could be utilised. However, this location surrounded by mountains and waves as you stand by the rock, one does get the sense of the environment to which the Children of Lir swans came ashore and regained their human form at the sound of a peeling bell. Sometimes perhaps less is more and it is more authentic to let a historic site in its natural environment.  The location showcases the difficult terrain in which monastic life existed- as any visitor to this part of Ireland will testify. Nestled amid the Atlantic waves and the rugged mountain-scape, this is a true gem of Irish mythological heritage on the Atlantic Way.

Trinkets, coins , shells and even a glass bell left by visitor around the rock boulder that is supposedly the burial site of the Children of Lir

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