Calling Manannan mac Lir Back Home

Heather Greene —  January 28, 2015 — 22 Comments

LIMAVADY – On Jan. 21, a six-foot sculpture of Manannán mac Lir was stolen from Binevenagh Mountain in County Londonderry in Northern Ireland. The statue, installed only about one year ago, was removed completely, leaving only a boat-structure that served as a base. In its place, as recorded by local police, the thieves left a 5-foot wooden cross etched with the words, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

The Manannán mac Lir statue was installed as part of Limavady’s 2013 sculpture trail project, which was established as a way “to allow visitors to the area to experience [Ireland’s] most celebrated tales.” The Northern Ireland visitor’s site explains:

Limavady and the Roe Valley has a wealth of cultural tradition and heritage, explored in the community through music, song and visual art, and a strong built and natural environmental heritage; the essence and legacy of both is captured within six exceptional individual works of art, depicting and telling local stories in an innovative way along the stunning Causeway Coastal Route. 

The county commissioned Irish sculptor John Darren Sutton to create the Manannán mac Lir statue as one of the six pieces. Sutton was already a celebrated and recognized craftsman for his sculptures installed throughout Northern Ireland and for his work in TV and Film, most notably The Game of Thrones. As shown in a video, Sutton created the Manannán sculpture first using clay and a silicone mold. Then it was cast in stainless steel and fiberglass.

Sutton told the BBC that “it was very heavy and would have taken a long time to remove.” He called the theft “unreal,” noting that some public statues are stolen for their bronze or other material value. But in this case, the sculpture’s materials had little external value.

Regardless of any material worth, the Manannán statue has definite and very tangible cultural and spiritual value. As noted in the area’s tourist page, “Local people believe that [Manannan’s] spirit is released during fierce storms. Some elderly folk in the area are still heard to remark ‘Manannán is angry today,’ when the Foyle is rough and refer to the angry waves as ‘Manannán’s seahorses.’ ”

Annie Loughlin, a Gaelic Polytheist living in Scotland, explained this local meaning further. She said, “Manannán mac Lir is an important part of the shared cultural heritage of Ireland, Man and Scotland.” She added:

It is… a beautiful work of art and symbol of the history and heritage of the area, for both Christians and non-Christians alike. The statue’s become a place of pilgrimage and a popular site with tourists and photographers alike, and in spite of the apparently fundamentalist Christian motives, I think it’s important to stress that the people responsible for this horrible, disrespectful act are very obviously in the minority. Limavady is a primarily Christian community and Manannán mac Lir is a well-loved, integral figure in the landscape and lore, and the locals are just as outraged and upset as we are – even more so.

One local is so upset that he is offering his own monetary reward for the safe return of the statue. Local Limavady funeral director Aaron J. McGrotty proposed to his fiancee, now wife, in front of this statue. He was horrified to learn that it had been stolen and is now hoping this reward will “prompt someone to do the right thing.”

[Courtesy of PSNI Limavady]

[Courtesy of PSNI Limavady]

Loughlin also noted, “We’ve been told that there’s a very real sense of anger and disgust among the police who are investigating the theft.” Just yesterday the police, showing a sense of humor, stepped up their investigation by sending out a “missing person’s report.”  It read, in part:

A well known six foot tall striking local male with an athletic build. He has shoulder length hair held back with a headband and has a beard. We have concerns for his health in this weather as he is bare chested with only a thin shawl held at the neck with a decorative clasp to keep his top half warm. Evidence at the scene suggests he has injuries to his feet! He is a very striking fella so if you have seen him please let us know …

Photographer Mari Ward, another local resident, has created a Facebook page, called Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea,” dedicated to photographs of the statue. On Jan. 24 Ward said, “I set up this page Thursday night [Jan. 22]. The response has been overwhelming – now almost 4,000 Followers.” The page now boasts close to 6,000 followers and continues to grow. As a result she has been inundated with interview and radio requests from journalists and people throughout the world.

The global community, or more specifically the global Pagan community, has been keenly focused on the religious implications of theft, which the local police are now taking very seriously. Investigators are currently working with the idea that these thieves are religious extremists, as suggested by the wooden cross left behind.

Manannán mac Lir is an integral part of a mythology that is sacred to people around the world. Loughlin said, “Manannán mac Lir is widely considered to be a founding force of the Celtic Reconstructionist and Gaelic Polytheist communities, as well as a guide and guardian for many of us. He is as much a god of the Otherworld as he is the sea. Under the circumstances, the theft of the statue can only be seen as an act of desecration, and it’s hit the Gaelic Polytheist community incredibly hard. There has been a huge outpouring of anger, sadness and disbelief since the news broke Wednesday.”

Loughlin is part of Gaol Naofa, an international, not-for-profit Gaelic Polytheist organisation. She said, “many of us within the Gaelic Polytheist community have joined in with the outpouring of Limavady, from here in Scotland and across Ireland, and from all over the world. ” Like the members of Gaol Naofa, international communities of Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens have been touched by the theft and have been expressing their sadness and outrage.

[art by Joanna Powell Colbert]

[art by Joanna Powell Colbert]

SInger/songwriter Celia has just released a new song, written only in the past day, specifically to honor Manannán mac Lir and call him back home. She said, “I was stunned into writing a song. Not since I wrote Symbol … have I felt my blood rise up into music and lyrics. My Celtic Heart Breaks.” She has made the song available via a free download. She wrote, “I believe the powerful magick of the Celtic Legend of Manannán with the powerful vibration and frequency of music can manifest mysterious pathways of bringing him home.”

Loughlin made a similar comment, saying, “Many of us have been singing his songs to call him home.” Last year Gaol Naofa produced a video on Manannán mac Lir, which includes a traditional song and prayer sung by the Manx band Skeeal. The group has posted that video on its Facebook page, along with other links to help inspire any personal spiritual work being performed in an effort to call back Manannán mac Lir. Loughlin said, “A line in one of the songs we use is:

C’raad ta’n Ree? – Where is the King?
Quoi ta’n Ree? – Who is the King?
Ta’n Ree Mannanan. – The King is Manannán


The Wild Hunt has been in touch with local police and will report any updates as they are made available.

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • T Thorn Coyle

    Thank you for reporting on this.

  • Jonathan Eells

    Ní féidir leat a shocrú dúr.

    • Nick Ritter

      B’fhéidir gur féidir leat é a shocrú le casúr.

      • Jonathan Eells

        Thanks to Thor, I’ve got several handy. When do I start?

        • Nick Ritter

          Whenever you find them, I suppose. May Thor guide your hand, as well as the Dagda, of course.

  • Lynn Anne Brown

    Excellent Article, Heather, thank you for writing it.
    However I have one small but important critique. The reward from the undertaker as reported in the article you reference is 3 figures.

    Also though, since I don’t wish a minor typo to become a talking point on an otherwise excellent article. Once you have read this please feel free to delete my comment.

  • Tauri1

    Regardless of the religious connotations, this is one heck of an awesome sculpture done by an incredibly talented local artist. The theft should anger everyone who appreciates art, whether it is meaningful to you as a religious emblem, or a mythological piece, and the ones who stole that statue should be ashamed of themselves.

  • How I hope he comes home.

  • dantes

    Aren’t christians forbidden to steal?

    • o0Seraphim0o

      they’re forbidden from a lot of things… but generally christians don’t apply the rules to themselves, because “they’ve repented” or it becomes a “faith vs. works” argument.

      sin is only sin for the non-believers… they get a free ride to do as they please.

      <- ex christian.

      • dantes

        I mostly asked sarcastically but you make a good point as well.

  • Sophia Boann

    Thanks for spreading the word! Funny typo though, it’s Londonderry, not Londonberry 😉

  • Christians around the world still regularly engage in acts of criminal vandalism and violence against other religions. These actions are explicitly and repeatedly encouraged in their theology and throughout their sacred scriptures.

    “By their fruits shall ye know them.”

    • Genexs

      This reminds me somewhat of how the remaining leg stumps of the ‘Wicker Man’ (fthe orginal movie) were sawed off in the night. Authorities said it was not an easy task, so I always suspected it was more than just a prank.

  • g75401

    Not surprising. The xtians first ran afoul of Roman authorities by defacing temples of Roman deities.

    • Franklin_Evans

      Citation, please. Christains “ran afoul” of Roman civil law and corrupt Roman politicians jumping at the opportunity to make them scapegoats.

      Nero blaming Christians for the great fire in Rome:

      Roman anti-Christian propaganda included claims of ritual cannabalism, stealing Roman babies to be used in blood sacrifices and orgies that included demons (from the Roman POV).

      We should all find that familiar. When the Christians took over the reins of power, they didn’t hesitate to use the same propaganda against other religions.

      • g75401

        A google search “Roman temple defacement christians” brings up 353,000 results. Have at it….

  • Selena Fox

    Thankful for your research & this article. Continued support to the growing local & global community seeking the return & restoration of the statue of Manannan Mac Lir!

  • Thanks for writing this up, Heather!

  • Diana Sinclair

    Reminds me of what happened at the Nevada Sekhmet Temple last year. Her statue was stolen and destroyed; turned out some kids did the theft as a prank, became afraid of getting caught once the news picked up the story and destroyed the statue.

  • Kirsten Wilson

    I am confounded by supposed “Christians” who would vandalize a beautiful sculpture because it might have spiritual significance to those who may not adhere to their faith, ignoring the cultural and national significance of this piece of art. “Oh ye of little faith”, Don’t you have more respect in the power of your god? Allowing a symbol of national, cultural and pagan spirituality to be enjoyed by all should not intimidate the true followers of Christ.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    I was looking over the Pagan Federation England and Wales site, also the Pagan Federation International page, and the page for bringing back the statue, and they are quite excited over the coverage on this crime.