The west bank of the Corrib, by the old Claddagh fishing village, is home to a colony of mute swans and upwards of 100 may be seen in summer. In the 1930s, a Claddagh fisherman told Father Leo Ward of Notre Dame University that the swans were newcomers: “they came here only a few years ago, there was just a pair at first, and now they are very numerous” and that “they say it is not luck to kill wan of them.”
In Irish folk belief swans were thought to represent the souls of the dead so it was considered bad luck to harm or kill them. It was said that anyone who killed a swan would be dead within a year. In the 1940s, a local fisherman scolded a young boy who was throwing stones at the swans in the Claddagh Basin: “Do you know who those birds are? Well I’ll tell you. They are the souls of your ancestors. When the old fishermen died, their souls left their bodies, took the forms of swans and returned to the basin to watch over the boats”.
One widely-held belief was that the mute swan was a silent bird but that it sang sweetly just before it died, and so the word ‘swansong’ came to mean a final performance before retirement or death. In reality, mute swans are not silent – they grunt, whistle and hiss!
To learn more about the local history, legends and folktales of the Corrib come along to Heritage Week 2022 at Galway City Museum. FREE Corrib Talk and Trail events every day from Tuesday 16 August to Saturday 20 August from 12pm until 1pm. BOOK NOW by phoning 091 532460 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . Bain sult as!
Other Corrib related events happening during Heritage Week are listed HERE.