St. Muirgen the Mermaid

13 June 08 | Posted in Global Catholic, Saints

From the various annals of Ireland, including the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of the Four Masters, come reports of the capture of mermaids in the years 558, 571, 887 and 1118. Of these, the most famous tale is that of Liban, daughter of Eochaidh, who was spared when the flooding of Lough Neagh drowned her family around 90 A.D.

The mermaid, Liban, who was caught in 558 A.D. claimed this unusual past. She lived for a year beneath the waves with her little dog. She grew lonely, and prayed to God that she might be turned into a salmon and swim around with the shoals of fish. 400px-clonfert_mermaid_crop_adjusted_2006-06-21.jpg

God granted her prayer to give her the tail of a salmon, but from the navel upwards she retained the shape of a woman. Her dog was turned into an otter, and the two swam around together for over 300 years.  Over that time, Ireland had become Christian.

One day, St. Comgall, Bishop of Bangor, dispatched one of his clergy, Beoc, to Rome to consult Pope Gregory about some matters of order and rule. As they sailed they were accompanied by a very sweet voice singing from under the water. It was so sweet that Beoc thought it must be an angel’s voice.

At that Liban spoke from under the water and said, “It is I who am singing. I am no angel, but Liban, daughter of Eochaid, and for 300 years I have been swimming the seas, and I implore you to meet me, with the holy men of Bangor, at Iver Ollarba. I pray you tell St. Comgall what I have said, and let them all come with nets and boats to draw me out of the sea.” In another version of the encounter, Beoc is so charmed by her singing that he asked her to be buried in the same coffin with him upon her demise.

So men came with boats and nets and captured her.  Three men laid claim to her: Beoc, St. Comgall, and the man who lifted her out of the sea. Following custom, the villagers let God decide where she was to be. Liban was put in a water-filled currach drawn by oxen. The oxen stopped at the church of Beoc.

Liban was given the choice to die immediately and go to heaven, or live as long as she had lived in the sea and then go to heaven. She preferred to die immediately, so Comgall baptised her “Muirgen” (or Murgen) meaning “born of the sea” or “daughter of the sea.”

As a result of several miracles associated with her, she became known as St. Murgen.

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