From cursed siblings to lost lovers, here are our five favourite statues in Ireland depicting figures from Irish folklore.
The Emerald Isle is steeped in folklore—from fairies and banshees to cursed siblings and lost lovers. And though natural landscapes, castles, pubs, and other attractions may be at the top of your Irish travel itinerary, you might consider stopping along your way to see some of the stunning statues in Ireland inspired by Irish folklore.
We’ve got a few favourites that we recommend, though there are many more to choose from. Whether you’re a folklore enthusiast, an art appreciator, or just someone interested in Irish culture, you’ll no doubt stand in awe of these five stunning statues.
5. Manannán mac Lir – the Celtic god of the sea
When you’re a sea god, your statue should most certainly be facing the sea. Sure enough, a sculpture of Manannán mac Lir in County Derry stands with arms outstretched toward Lough Foyle and beyond.
This depiction of the Celtic god of the sea (considered the Irish equivalent of Neptune) was built by John Sutton as part of the Limavady Sculpture Trail, which the Limavady Borough Council created for visitors to explore and discover some of the area’s myths and legends.
The statue was sadly stolen a few years ago but has since been replaced, allowing passersby to continue admiring and striking poses with this magnificent god from Irish mythology. And with such a scenic view lying before him, Manannán mac Lir is certainly Instagram-worthy!
Address: Gortmore Viewpoint, Bishops Rd, Limavady BT49 0LJ, United Kingdom
4. Midir and Étaín – the fairy king and queen
As often happens in myths and legends, people fall in love. It doesn’t always go smoothly, though, and Midir and Étaín are a case in point. Midir, it is said, was a sort of fairy warrior who fell in love with Étaín, a mortal princess (daughter of King Ailill of the Ulaid), while married to another woman.
When Midir took Étaín as his second wife, his jealous first wife transformed Étaín into various creatures, including a butterfly. As a butterfly, Étaín stayed close to Midir, and he took her with him wherever he went. After many other trials and transformations, Midir came to the palace of Tara, where Étaín was being held, and together they turned into swans and took flight.
A statue of the winged lovers stands on the grounds of the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre in Ardagh, County Longford. Sculpted by Eamon O’Doherty and unveiled in 1994, the statue, according to its plaque, depicts “the transformation of Midir and Étaín as they escape from the palace at royal Tara and fly to Bri Leith (Ardagh Mountain).” At least they get a happy ending!
Address: Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre, Ardagh Village, Co. Longford, Ireland
3. Finvola – the gem of the Roe
Also part of the Limavady Sculpture Trail, a young woman is frozen in time in front of the Dungiven Library in County Derry. Who is she, this girl playing a harp with the wind in her hair?
The local legend of Finvola, the gem of the Roe, is another tale of lovers, but it is a tragic one for the girl in question. Finvola was the daughter of Dermot, the chieftain of the O’Cahans, and fell in love with Angus McDonnell of the McDonnell Clan from Scotland.
Dermot consented to the marriage on the condition that on his daughter’s death, she would be brought back to Dungiven for burial. Tragically, Finvola died young, soon after reaching the isle of Islay. Created by Maurice Harron, the sculpture depicting Finvola is both mournful and beautiful at once.
Address: 107 Main St, Dungiven, Londonderry BT47 4LE, United Kingdom
2. Molly Malone – the sweet fishmonger
If you’ve spent time in Irish pubs with live music, you’ve probably heard the folk song ‘Molly Malone’: “In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty…” Sounds familiar, right?
There’s no evidence that Molly Malone was a real person, but her legend has been passed on through this popular song, for which the earliest recording dates back to 1876. The rhyming song relates the story of “sweet Molly Malone,” a fishmonger in Dublin who died of a fever and whose ghost now “wheels her barrow through streets broad and narrow.”
Some elements of the song appear in earlier ballads, and the phrase “sweet Molly Malone” was mentioned in a 1791 copy of “Apollo’s Medley,” though aside from her name and residence in Howth (near Dublin), there’s no hint that this Molly and the fishmonger are one and the same.
Whether she was real or not, Molly Malone is now a well-known figure in Irish folklore, and a statue of her stands in the centre of Dublin. Designed by Jeanne Rynhart and unveiled in 1988, the statue depicts a young woman wearing a low-cut 17th-century dress and pushing a wheelbarrow. It’s no surprise that she frequently appears in tourist photos.
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1. The Children of Lir – siblings turned into swans
Topping our list of folklore-inspired statues in Ireland is ‘The Children of Lir’. Standing in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, the statue immortalizes an Irish legend in which a jealous stepmother turns her husband’s children into swans.
The oldest known recorded copy of this tale, entitled ‘Oidheadh Chlainne Lir’ (The Tragic Fate of the Children of Lir), was written in or around the 15th-century. The statue, sculpted by Oisín Kelley in 1971, in Dublin depicts the moment in which the four children of Lir, one girl and three boys, are transforming into swans.
It’s a mesmerizing sculpture—one that catches your eye from the street. And as you walk around it, you will feel as if you have been transported to the very instant when the children are cursed. Prepare to have goose bumps!
Address: 18-28 Parnell Square N, Rotunda, Dublin 1, Ireland