As was the case elsewhere in the maritime world, mermaids were part of the ancient Irish seascape. One of the most famous of these was a mermaid named Libran who, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, was caught in the net of a fisherman from Bangor Monastery on the strand at Glenarm or Larne in AD 558. She was subsequently baptised by St. Comgall as Muirgen (daughter of the sea) and after her death was venerated as a saint.

MermaidIn the same area the Belfast Commercial reported the stranding of a mermaid in 1814 at Portmuck in Islandmagee, where hundreds of people flocked to see her. In his excellent book, The Fishermen of Dunseverick, James McQuilken recounts the sighting of a mermaid by the crew of one of Dunseverick’s fishing boats, while returning from their fishing grounds off Rathlin. One spring morning in the 1880s she was spotted on the rocks at Keardy’s Port. On landing the crew walked quickly to the rock, but she had disappeared. The cynical, of course, may blame the local seal population as the source of these apparitions.

Another sea mammal, the whale, was a source of wonderment. A very interesting whale stranding is recorded in the Annals of Ulster under the year AD 753,along the Mourne coast. This large creature had three gold teeth, each weighing fifty ounces, one of which was presented to the monastery of Bangor. There is an ancient tale which links the inspiration for the invention of the Irish harp to the noise made by the wind blowing through the sinews of a whale skeleton which had been stranded in the Bann estuary.