Clann Lir/Plant Lyr
The Family of Ler/Llyr
In Insular Celtic mythology, the family of Ler/Llyr/Lear (henceforth "L") plays out a tragic fate of familial betrayal and destruction, usurption, and death. There is some debate as to whether they are the enemies of the Plant Dôn of Gwynedd.
In Irish tradition, L has numerous children, but only two who have a happy life:
In British tradition there are two versions of the Family of L, though they both feature family feudes and ingratitude which lead to war; the version best known to English readers is that of Geoffrey's King Leir and his three daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. The familiar plot is as follows: Leir, getting on in years, decides to divide up his kingdom. To do so, he asks his daughters how much each one loves him. Goneril and Regan essentially "butter up" their father, while Cordelia speaks with him honestly. Leir banishes Cordelia to Gaul while
Shakespeare's play King Lear diverges from Geoffrey and (whether known to the playwrite or not) keeps more in the tradition of the tragic ends for L's children; Cordelia does not gain the throne after her father's death, but dies after being imprisioned by her sisters, who also die, as do their husbands (save for Albany).
The other version of tradition is that found in the Mabinogion and some genealogies. Here we find Bendigedfran, Branwen, and Manawyddan (sort of the Welsh Manannan), as well as the stepsons Efniessin and Niessin. Llyr is given two wives, Penardun and Iweradd ("Ireland"). They are often given as the founders of various lines in the Welsh genealogies, namely tracing through Bendigedfran and his son Caradawg. There is also reason to believe that they are to be associated with the Grail myth.
Again, we see the tragedy played out Branwen uerch Lyr, wherein Efniessin's mischief causes a war between Britain and Ireland. All the children of Llyr are killed except for Manawyddan, who then returns to Britain to find that the kingdom, which would now be his, has been usurped by Caswallawn. Given this, and the later treachery of Gwydion fab Dôn against Pryderi, the stepson of Manawyddan (and thus stepgrandson to Llyr), it is thought that the Mabinogi may show elements of a war between the clthonic forces of the family of Llyr (who have no continental equivalents, and thus may be local, pre-Celtic deities) and the family of Dôn and Beli, who may be analogous to the Tuatha Dé Danann. Whether this would put the Family of Llyr in the role of Fomorians, or in the Germanic model Vanir to the Plant Dôn Æsir, is something for the scholars to debate.
What we do know is that the family of L. is often the subject of some of the most moving tragedies in Insular literature.
Mary Jones © 2004