Other Names/Spellings: Clídna, Clionadh, Clíodna, Clíona, Ceannfhionn (fair-haired)
Associations: the Blarney Stone, Wave (Tonn) of Clíona
Land Specific Associations: Magh Meall (the Pleasant Plain), Cuan Dor (the bay of Glandore, County Cork), Tír Tairngire (the Land of Promise), Trá Théite (the strand at Glandore), Munster, Carriag Chlíona (a large rock surrounded by smaller rocks in Kilshannig, south of Mallow in County Cork)
Known and Suspected Family: Possibly one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, sister Aiobheall
Etymology: most likely “the territorial one” (Ó hÓgáin)
- The Blarney Stone
- Clíona and Poet
- Clíona and Aiobheall
Dáithí Ó hÓgáin has a lot to say about Clíodhna in his The Lore of Ireland. There seems to be a few folktales involving her, and with that, we learn a lot about her character.
The first tale comes from medieval times when she fell in love with Aonghus (Oegus / Angus Óg). She left her dwelling in Magh Meall in a bronze boat to meet him, accompanied by a man named Iuchna. Iuchna acted treacherously towards her and played magic music so that she fell asleep. Then, a great flood came and drowned her at Cuan Dor.
A slightly different account of this tale is also told as thus: Clíodhna lived in Tír Tairngire and eloped away with a warrior named Ciabhán. They came to Trá Théite, where they temporary parted: Ciabhán went onto the land to hunt and Clíodhna stayed in the boat. While parted, a wave came and drowned her.
Both these tales, according to Ó hÓgáin, came from “an actual designation of the tide at the place as the Wave (Tonn) of Clíona.” He goes on to write: “This was one of the great waves of Ireland, according to the ancient topographical system, and her association with it was an expression of the idea that deities resided in, and that goddess were patronesses of, water.” (page 86.)
After medieval times, Clíodhna was thought to be the principal “otherworld woman” of the Munster. Specifically, she was thought to reside in a palace under Carraig Chlíona.
Ó hÓgáin remarks how the poets saw Clíodhna as inspiration for their art, but also a seducer. A poem composed in the 18th century in west Munster, she comes to the poet Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh and inflicts a terrible thirst on him. She promises to lift the thirst if he will “lie with her.” Cearbhall refuses, knowing that to comply would mean certain death.
There’s another folk legend about Clíodhna that involves her sister, Aoibheall. Supposedly they were both daughters of a druid in Castlecot, near Kanturk. They both were in love with the same man: a young chieftain of the Ó Caoimh (O’Keeffe) family. The chieftain chose to marry Aoibheall and so they were engaged, thus Clíodhna got the help of a nurse skilled in magic to put a curse on Aoibheall. This curse put Aoibheall to “pine to the point of death”. Clíodhna told Aoibheall that she would undo the curse if Aoibheall renounced her love for the chieftain. Aoibheall refused, so Clíodhna struck her sister with a magic wand — turning Aoibheall into a white cat. The chieftain — not aware of what Clíodhna did — married Clíodhna in absence of Aoibheall. They actually lived very happily for many years, until the nurse grew sick and on her death bed told the chieftain of what happened to Aoibheall. By this time, the wand was lost and thus no way to restore Aoibheall to her human self. But furious, the chieftain ordered Clíodhna away from his dwelling. She went to live at Carriag Chlíona and remains there ever since. Since she had given birth to a son of Ó Caoimh, she is regarded as the otherworld ancestor of that family.
In more recent stories (the last couple centuries), there is this folktale in Munster: A young man named Seán mac Séamais Mac Gearailt (John fitz-James Fitzgerald) was engaged to a fair lady and thus there was a large dance to celebrate the betrothal. Seán was dancing splendidly when suddenly he dropped dead on the dance floor. It was believed he was “carried away” by the faeries and more specifically by Clíodhna. A young daughter of a wise woman / folk healer, Caitlin Óg Chéitinn, went to the rock Carraig Chlíona to confront Clíodhna. Caitlin spoke in poetic verse and Clíodhna returned in the same metre from within the rock. After a long poetry contest ensued, where Clíodhna insisted on keeping the handsome young man. However, Clíodhna released Seán when Caitlin asked for a large dowry.
According to Ó hÓgáin, the last folk legend was rooted in some facts: a poet named John Fitzgerald suddenly fell ill and died after being engaged, and from his poetic friends came the folk legend.
Last bit of lore that Ó hÓgáin shares is that local lore in north Cork describes Clíodhna leading the faeries in night-time dancing at her rock. No one would go there at night in fear of being abducted by the faeries. She sometimes played about in the form of a large white rabbit.
Outside of Ó hÓgáin, Clíodhna supposedly was petitioned by the builder of Blarney Castle — Cormac Laidir MacCarthy — with help in a legal matter. She instructed him to kiss the first stone he came across, so he did, and he was then able to win his case due to how well he spoke. He then incorporated the stone into the castle he was building.