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.”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.”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.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.