Ancient Lough Neagh mermaid makes a comeback
A SCHOOLS' creative writing project has breathed life into a forgotten local legend - the story of Lough Neagh mermaid Lí Ban.
The origin tale of the lake, known as The Death of Eochaidh son of Mairid is more than one thousand years old in oral tradition.
It has now been brought up to date in a new telling by children's author Máire Zepf.
Lí Ban's story is tale bursting with colour, from giant horses and ancient gods to mermaids and monks.
It tells of a young girl who is transformed into a mermaid when a magical curse floods their ringfort, creating Lough Neagh - Loch nEathach, named after her father, Eochaidh.
Six Irish-medium primary schools in the Mid-Ulster area have been working on the story with Ms Zepf over the past months, writing their own creative responses and drawing original illustrations.
The schools involved are Gaelscoil Aodha Rua, Gaelscoil Eoghain, Gaelscoil an tSeanchaí, Bunscoil Naomh Bríd, Gaelscoil na Spéiríní and Gaelscoil Uí Néill.
The young people from Dungannon, Coalisland, Magherafelt, Ballinscreen, Cookstown and Tirkane came together at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy for a collaborative showcase performance of their work, to celebrate the project and to hear the story told in its entirety.
The story of Lí Ban is deeply rooted in the locality of the area, mentioning places by name. References to the legend can also be spotted in many place names.
The project has been funded by a partnership between the Irish Writers' Centre in Dublin and Mid-Ulster District Council.
Co Down author, Máire Zepf has written 10 books for children and young people.
"It was such a joy to unearth this gem of a local story with the children and to see their intense excitement about such an ancient tale," she said.
"Hopefully, we can be assured now that Lí Ban will live on now for the next generation."
Hilary Copeland, Acting Director of the Irish Writers' Centre said she was delighted to support the project.
"Our writer-led programme offers writers the opportunity to develop their own creative projects, making use of their skills and experience with language and storytelling. We are grateful to Foras na Gaeilge for their continued support of Irish literature projects as Gaeilge," she added.
Martin Kearney, Chairman of Mid-Ulster District Council said: "The story of Eochaidh and Lí Ban shows just how rich and deep our local culture really is. Watching the children take it to their hearts has been a lovely experience."