Cliodhna’s Wave

This week’s addition to the ‘Stories Speak’ collection comes from Ireland.  The story influenced two characters that I created for the purposes of role play.  One had the gift of healing through song, the other was a tragic figure of a siren.  I thought I’d share the myth here.


And Ciabhán went on in the curragh, and great white shouting waves rose up about him, every one of them the size of a mountain; and the beautiful speckled salmon that are used to stop in the sand and the shingle rose up to the sides of the curragh, till great dread came on Ciabhan, and he said: “By my word, if it was on land I was I could make a better fight for myself.”

And he was in this danger till he saw a rider coming towards him on a dark grey horse having a golden bridle, and he would be under the sea for the length of nine waves, and he would rise with the tenth wave, and no wet on him at all. And he said: “What reward would you give to whoever would bring you out of this great danger?” “Is there anything in my hand worth offering you?” said Ciabhan. “There is,” said the rider, “that you would give your service to whoever would give you his help.” Ciabhán agreed to that, and he put his hand into the rider’s hand.

With that the rider drew him on to the horse, and the curragh came on beside them till they reached to the shore of Tir Tairngaire, the Land of Promise, They got off the horse there, and came to Loch Luchra, the Lake of the Dwarfs, and to Manannan’s city, and a feast was after being made ready there, and comely serving-boys were going round with smooth horns, and playing on sweet-sounding harps till the whole house was filled with the music.

Now Gebann, that was a chief Druid in Manannan’s country, had a daughter, Cliodhna of the Fair Hair, that had never given her love to any man.  She went her way with three songbirds, which feasted upon the apples of the tree of life.  Their song, it was told, could heal the sick.  But when Cliódhna saw Ciabhan she gave him her love, and she agreed to go away with him on the morrow.

And they went down to the landing-place and got into a curragh, and they went on till they came to Teite’s Strand in the southern part of Ireland. It was from Teite Brec the Freckled the strand got its name, that went there one time for a wave game, and three times fifty young girls with her, and they were all drowned in that place. And as to Ciabbán, he came on shore, and went looking for deer, as was right, under the thick branches of the wood; and he left the young sidhe in the boat on the strand.

But Ciabhán had made a promise to the rider of the waves and the people of Manannan’s house came after them, having forty ships. And Iuchnu, that was in the curragh with Cliódhna, did treachery, and he played music to her till she lay down in the boat and fell asleep. And then a great wave came up on the strand and swept her away.

And the wave, which upon occasion sounds to announce the passing of a king, got its name from Cliódhna of the Fair Hair, that will be long remembered.

Adapted from the story as told here


4 thoughts on “Cliodhna’s Wave

    1. Yes, my understanding of the story is that Cliodhna was a leannan sidhe. ‘Sidhe’ roughly translates as a fairy people. A leannan sidhe is one who takes a human lover. The sidhe seem to be a synonymous term for the Tuatha de Dannan. Cliodhna is directly linked in the story to Mannanan Mac Lir, who is the Tuatha’s rider of the waves, who transports the souls of the dead to the Tir na n’Og (a place of eternal youth – heaven, so to speak).
      The underlying meaning? The importance of one’s words and promises? The importance of respect for one’s ancestral wisdom? The possibility of losing your life to desiring what you cannot have?
      I think though, the story is a romantic explanation of the natural phenomenon of a sound that is created in a particular cove off the coast of Co. Cork. It occurs when certain weather and tidal conditions co-occur. Hence, known as Cliodhna’s wave.


      1. Thanks, Safar. I think you are probably right about the sound in the cove. But I also believe that myths have elements of truths in them, often expressing calandric, seasonal, or astronimcal changes. The Tuatha de Danaan have always intrigued me. thanks for this lovely story.


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