The Sea in Ancient Ireland

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XXVI....continued

9. The Sea.

The sea was called muir (gen. mara); fairrge [farriga]; and more rarely lér or léar. If a man brought in a valuable article floating on the sea, nine waves or more out from land, he had a right to it, no matter to whom it belonged, and whether the owner gave permission or not. But if it was less than nine waves out, the owner's permission was necessary (i. e. permission to rescue and keep it); and the man who rescued it without this permission could not claim it as his own.

The Three Tonns or Waves of Erin are much celebrated in Irish romantic literature. They were Tonn Cleena in Glandore harbour in Cork (see p. 111, above); Tonn Tuaithe [tooha] outside the mouth of the Bann in Derry; and Tonn Rudraidhe [Rury] in Dundrum Bay off the County Down. In stormy weather, when the wind blows in certain directions, the sea at these places, as it tumbles over the sandbanks, or among the caves and fissures of the rocks, utters an unusually loud and solemn roar, which excited the imagination of our ancestors. They believed that these sounds had a supernatural origin, that they gave warning of the deadly danger, or foreboded the approaching death, of kings or chieftains, or bewailed a king's or a great chief's death. Sometimes when a king was sore pressed in battle and in deadly peril, the Three Waves roared in response to the moan of his shield (see p. 62, supra). The Welsh people had a similar legend: when the young Welsh hero Dylan was killed, "he was lamented by the Wave of Erin, the Wave of Man, the Wave of the North, and the Wave of Britain of the comely hosts." Though the three Irish Waves named above were the most celebrated, there were several other noted Tonns round the coast. Scotland also had its voiceful waves, as our old books record.

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