Clíodhna (Clídna,Clionadh, Clíodna, Clíona, but sometimes Cleena in English) is a Queen of the Banshees of the Tuatha Dé Danann. In Irish literature, Cleena of Carrigcleena is the potent banshee that rules as queen over the sheoques (fairy women of the hills) of South Munster, or Desmond. She is the principal goddess of this country. It is said the wails of the banshee can be heard echoing the valleys and glens at night, scaring those who hear as the wail of a banshee is potent and instills fear in good people.
In some Irish myths Clíodhna is a goddess of love and beauty. She is said to have three brightly coloured birds who eat apples from an otherworldly tree and whose sweet song heals the sick. She leaves the otherworldly island of Tir Tairngire (“the land of promise”) to be with her mortal lover, Ciabhán, but drowns as she sleeps in Glandore harbour in County Cork: the tide there is known as Tonn Chlíodhna, “Clíodhna’s Wave”.
In the Dinnsenchus, there is an ancient and heartwrenching story about Cleena, wherein ‘it is related that she was a foreigner from Fairy-land, who, coming to Ireland, was drowned while sleeping on the strand at the harbour of Glandore in South Cork. In this harbour the sea, at certain times, utters a very peculiar, deep, hollow, and melancholy roar, among the caverns of the cliffs, which was formerly believed to foretell the death of a king of the south of Ireland. This surge has been from time immemorial called Tonn-Cleena, ‘Cleena’s wave.’ Cleena lived on, however, as a sheoque. She had her palace in the heart of a pile of rocks, five miles from Mallow, which is still commonly known by the name of Carrig-Cleena, and numerous legends about her are told among the Munster peasantry.
The story of Clíodhna exists in several versions, which do not agree with each other except insofar as she seems to have been a Danaan maiden once living in Manannán mac Lir’s country, the Land of Youth beyond the sea. Escaping thence with a mortal lover, as one of the versions tells, she lands on the southern coast of Ireland, and her lover, Keevan of the Curling Locks, goes off to hunt in the woods.
Clíodhna, who remains on the beach, is lulled to sleep by fairy music played by a minstrel of Manannán, when a great wave of the sea sweeps up and carries her back to Fairyland, leaving her lover desolate. Hence the place is called the Strand of Cleena’s Wave. One of the most notable landmarks of Ireland remains the Tonn Clíodhna, or “Wave of Cleena,” on the seashore at Glandore Bay, in County Cork.
In general, it has been observed that Cleena is especially associated with noble families (Monaghan 2004), and has been less a goddess for “commoners”, at least in certain aspects.
She is associated with the MacCarthy dynasty of Desmond, who adopted her as their fairy woman, and the O’Keeffes and FitzGerald dynasty, with whom she has had amorous affairs (MacKillop 1998; Monaghan 2004). The O’Keeffes especially count her as an ancestor.
Interestingly, Clíodhna appears in the name of one O’Leary in a medieval pedigree, as Conor Clíodhna or “Conor of Clíodhna”, and it is notable that the family were originally based in the area of Rosscarbery, very near to Glandore, before moving north to Muskerry. The O’Learys belong to the ancient Corcu Loígde. One of Clíodhna’s palaces is very close to Rosscarbery.
Finally, Cleena has long been associated with the O’Donovans, as they held all of the territory surrounding Glandore for nearly four centuries and had dues in the harbour. She will wail, as many once knew, over the death of a member of this family, and did so for the grandfather of John O’Donovan. Cleena is also referred to in Edward Walsh’s poem, O’Donovan’s Daughter. In a 1639 ode celebrating his accession to the chiefship of Clancahill, Donal III O’Donovan is referred to as the “Dragon of Clíodhna”.
The most traditional story of the famous Blarney Stone involves Clíodhna. Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, being involved in a lawsuit, appealed to Clíodhna for her assistance. She told him to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court, and he did so, with the result that he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won. Thus the Blarney Stone is said to impart “the ability to deceive without offending”. He then incorporated it into the parapet of the castle.