Ler (mythology)

For other uses, see LIR (disambiguation).
The Children of Lir, sculpture in the Garden of Remembrance (Dublin)

Ler (meaning "Sea" in Old Irish; Lir is the genitive form) is a sea god in Irish mythology. His name suggests that he is a personification of the sea, rather than a distinct deity. He is named Allód[1] in early genealogies, and corresponds to the Llŷr of Welsh mythology. Ler is chiefly an ancestor figure, and is the father of the god Manannán mac Lir, who appears frequently in medieval Irish literature. Ler appears as the titular king in the tale The Children of Lir.

Gaelic references

Ler, like his Welsh counterpart, is a god of the sea, though in the case of the Gaelic myths his son Manannán mac Lir seems to take over his position and so features more prominently. It is probable that more myths referring to Ler which are now lost to us existed and that his popularity was greater, especially considering the number of figures called 'son of Ler'.

In the 9th century AD Irish glossary entitled Sanas Cormaic, famed bishop and scholar Cormac mac Cuilennáin makes mention of Manannan and his father Ler, who Cormac identifies with the sea:

Manannan mac lir .i. cennaige amra bói aninis Manand. ise luam as deach boi aniarthar Eorpa. noḟindad tre nemgnacht (.i. gnathugrud nime) inoiret nobíd insoinind in do[i]nind ⁊ intan nosclæchlóbad cechtar don dá résin, inde Scoti et Brittones eum deum vocaverunt maris. et inde filium maris esse dixerunt .i. mac lir mac mara.
"Manannan mac Lir: i. e. a renowned trader who dwelt in the Isle of Man. He was the best pilot in the west of Europe. Through acquaintance with the sky he knew the quarter in which would be fair weather and foul weather, and when each of these two seasons would change. Hence the Scots and Britons called him a god of the sea, and hence they said he was son of the sea, i. e. mac lir 'son of the sea"[2][3]

Ler is a key character in the mythological story The Children of Lir; however, it is not definitely established whether this is the same person as Manannán's father or a different Ler. The Ler in this story was the rival of Bodb Dearg for the kingship of the Tuatha Dé Danann after their retreat into the fairy mounds. In order to appease Ler, Bodb gave one of his daughters to marry him, Aeb. She bore him four children, one girl, Fionnuala, and three sons, Aed and twins, Fiachra and Conn.

Aebh died and, not wanting the children to remain motherless, Bodb sent another of his daughters, Aoife, to marry Ler. Aoife grew jealous of the children and cursed them to live as swans for 900 years.[4]

See also

Lir is a fictional deity in Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age stories of Conan the Cimmerian.[5]


  1. Macalister, R. A. S (1941). "Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of Invasions vol. 4. ed". www.maryjones.us. Dublin: Irish Texts Society. Retrieved 2016-11-11.
  2. Stokes, Whitley (ed.), Three Irish glossaries: Cormac's glossary codex A. O'Davoren's glossary and a glossary to the calendar of Oingus the Culdee, Williams & Norgate, 1862, pp. xxxiv-xxxv.
  3. O'Donovan, John (trans.), Stokes, Whitley (ed.), "Sanas Chormaic: Cormac's glossary", O. T. Cutter for the Irish Archeological and Celtic Society, Calcutta, 1868, p. 114.
  4. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Miranda J. Green, Thames and Hudson, Ltd, 1997
  5. The Slithering Shadow
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