A Mermaid Saint

Two mermaid dolls



27th January is the feast day of St Muirgen, also known as Li Ban or Liban. She appears in a number of old Irish annals, such as the Martyrology of Donegal and the Annals of the Four Masters. There's nothing unsual about that: the history of Ireland is crammed to bursting with saints and martyrs. But what's unusual about Miurgen is that she is a mermaid.

According to the stories, she was three hundred years under the sea, until the time of the saints. At that time, a man called Beoan was on a mission to Rome, at sea in his curragh (ship) when the ship caught a mermaid (liban) in its nets. She told him she was the the daughter of Eochaidh from Lough Neagh, who was changed to a mermaid when her family was drowned. They brought her to land, where she was baptised by St Comhgall under the name Muirgen (traverser of the sea).

The calendar of St Oengus says of her:
My God loved Muirgen, A miraculous triumphant being.

I love it that there is a mermaid saint! That someone so unusual - not even completely human - is accepted into the flock. It speaks to us all about accepting difference.

The figure of the mermaid has been used by many groups and individuals to express difference of identity, be that disablity or sexuality/gender. I think of Jen Campell's short story, "Bright White Hearts", Kirsty Logan's The Gloaming, and the gender-diverse youth charity Mermaids, to name but a few. I myself often identify mer-folk with asexuality, as in my fairy tale, "The Ice Queen and the Mer-King", or my retelling, "The Little Mermaid Speaks". In light of all this, it's important to remind ourselves of a mermaid being welcomed into the church. Being welcomed into society generally, wherever that may be and whatever our beliefs.

27th January is also Holocaust Memorial Day. So, I think the story of Muirgen should also remind us how important it is to never let another person or group of people be seen as less than human. Instead, let's strive to see each one as "A miraculous triumphant being"!


A woman's torso with a coral necklace & snowflakes



 "The Ice Queen and the Mer-King is in Asexual Fairy Tales (SilverWood, 2019).

"The Little Mermaid Speaks" is in Asexual Myths & Tales (SilverWood, 2020).

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