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crane


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The large wading bird with long legs, neck, and bill of the family Gruidae has widespread representation in Celtic tradition. It appears to have been perceived as a transformed human, usually a woman. Carved figures of cranes appear on Gaulish monuments dedicated to Esus. The ancient Britons, reported Julius Caesar (1st cent. bc), refused to eat the bird's flesh for fear that it had been human in an earlier life. Giraldus Cambrensis (12th cent.) observed the same taboo in Ireland. Representations of the crane appear in Celtic iconography as early as the Urnfield period (c.800 bc), although the nature of possible early cults is imperfectly known. The crane of the Continental Celts may have had associations with healing. Those cranes not thought to be transformed humans were perceived as parsimonious and unpleasant. To see a crane was thought to be ill luck to a battle-bound warrior. In some representations the crane is confused with the egret, also celebrated in Celtic tradition but with different associations.

A number of cranes are known in Celtic narratives, of whom the most important is probably Aífe (3). She was transformed into a crane by a jealous rival, and Manannán mac Lir, sometimes described as her ‘husband’, used her skin to make the crane bag. Midir of Brí Léith owned three cranes. A lone crane lives on the isle of Inishkea near Erris, Co. Mayo, and will remain there until the end of time. Fionn mac Cumhaill is associated with cranes in several stories from oral tradition, and is the inheritor of the crane bag. St Colum Cille was described as having transformed two women into cranes when he was evangelizing Scotland.

The glám dícenn [Ir., poet's execration], an extempore satire, required the speaker to stand on one foot with one arm extended and one eye closed, i.e. like a crane. The word for crane in Old Irish is corr; ModIr. corr mhóna; ScG còrra-mhonaidh; Manx coar; W garan; Corn. garan; Bret. garan. See Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain (London, 1967), 279–92.

Subjects: Religion.


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