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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Cana Cludhmor - Inventing an Irish Goddess

I saw a post on Twitter, under the folklore Thursday hashtag, claiming that the Irish goddess of music and the harp is Cana Cludhmor, which was a new one on me, so I decided to research the idea and that figure. I wasn't familiar with her as a name of any of the Tuatha De Danann, Fomoirians, or Fir Bolg, or from the Ulster or Fenian myth cycles but I am certainly not infallible nor do I know everything or every obscure figure from Irish mythology. Cana is a grade of poet and Cludhmor would read as roughly 'greatly famous' so the name itself could fit with the story. So I looked at what the modern idea of her was and tried to trace it back into the older source material.

The most readily available material is a wikipedia article about it, under the name Canola but noting the name Cana Cludhmor as well, claiming she fell asleep on the shore to mysterious music and awoke to realize it was the sound of wind on sinew & bone that had washed up on shore and invented the harp. This article, unsurprisingly, is repeated word for word in almost all the other main internet search hits (people love to plagiarize wiki). However the article lists only three sources: the 1854
Transactions of the Ossianic society, Patricia Monaghan's 2004 'Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore', and Brandi Auset's 2009 'The Goddess Guide'.
We'll get back to that first source in a minute, but let's look at Monaghan to start. Monaghan's book is widely problematic as it offers no sources or citations for any of the material it presents, so that's an immediate concern. The entry on 'Canola' is written in flowery prose and describes not a goddess but a 'legendary woman' who quarreled with her lover, then left his side to fall asleep near the seashore to the sound of gentle music; upon waking she realized it was coming from the remnants of a whale carcass where the wind was singing through the sinew still attached to the bones and was inspired to create the first harp.

Monaghan's story is suspicious but not entirely implausible across the breadth of Irish folklore, and its vital to note she describes 'Canola' as a human figure not a goddess. Digging further I found a single line reference in MacKillop's 1998 'Dictionary of Celtic Mythology' that says 'Canola' was the discoverer of the harp after hearing the musical sound of the wind over sinew attached to a whale skeleton. Very bare bones, if you'll forgive the pun, and no sources listed. However what we have at this point, roughly the early '00's, is a legendary woman who discovered the harp. 

Now back to the first source listed in wikipedia. I tracked down the original story that was reprinted in the Ossianic Society text to the Imtheacht na Tromdháimhe, a satirical work from around the 13th century, in the book of Lismore which is as follows:
""I know it," says Marvan, "and I will tell it thee. In former times there lived a married couple whose names were Macuel, son of Miduel, and Cana Cludhmor (or of great fame) his wife. His wife, having entertained a hatred for him, fled before him through woods and wildernesses, and he was in pursuit of her. One day that the wife had gone to the strand of the sea of Camas, and while walking along the strand she discovered the skeleton of a whale on the strand, and having heard the sound of the wind acting on the sinews of the whale, she fell asleep by that sound. Her husband came up to her, and having understood that it was by the sound she had fallen asleep, he proceeded into an adjacent forest, where he made the frame of a harp, and he put chords in it of the tendons of the whale, and that is the first harp that ever was made.'" 
So what the actual original story says, and what was still being told in the mid 19th century, is that Cana Cludhmor was a woman who fled from her husband and fell asleep to strange music produced through a whale carcass but it was her husband Macuel who found her and understood what was making the sound then recreated it using a wooden frame thus inventing the harp. 

I will note for thoroughness that she cannot be found at all in works by O'hOgain, Green, Waddell, or other reliable sources on actual Irish mythology and folk belief. 

The question becomes how did an obscure story about a man inventing a harp after chasing his wife to the shore get turned into her, under the name Canola, as an Irish goddess of music, and inventor of the harp? Because at this point in 2021 the idea is widespread online and ingrained to the point that there's an Irish tour company (founded in 2017) named Canola after this supposed goddess of music and the harp. It can be difficult to pinpoint the timeline of these things, but by 2011 there are multiple blogs and online articles that list her alongside well-known Irish deities and describe her as a goddess of music, dance, dreams and inspiration. So where did this begin? The answer seems to be wikipedia's third reference Auset's 'Goddess Guide'. This 2009 book by popular publisher Llewellyn - which cites no sources - claims Canola as the Irish goddess of not only music but also dance, and describes her inventing the harp to "capture the glorious sounds she'd heard in her dreams" before claiming she is the patron of musicians and poets and giver of inspiration - a far, far cry from the account in the Imtheacht na Tromdháimhe. While I might personally suppose Auset's creative text is based on Monaghan's that can't be proven as no source or citation is offered for the entry on 'Canola', however I do feel safe in suggesting Auset as the source of the modern idea of Canola or Cana Cludhmor as the Irish goddess of music, dance, dreams and inspiration as the 2011 online material closely follows Auset's Canola entry in both description of Canola and of her supposed purviews. 

So, effectively what we have here is an 'Irish' goddess created in or around 2009 by an author in the US, possibly based off a 2004 work which colorfully altered the story found in a snippet of a 1998 work, based on a very different 13th century Irish myth. The result 10+ years on being widespread online material including this new deity who is largely unknown in Ireland. 

Connellan, O., (1854) Transactions of Ossianic Society 5. Retrieved from 
Ossianic Society (1854) Transactions of the Ossianic society for the years, 1853-1858. Retrieved from
MacKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Monaghan, P., (2004) Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore
Auset, B., (2009) Goddess Guide
Wikipedia (2021) Canola Retrieved from 
O'hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland


  1. Huh. I'm no scholar on the topic, but I certainly had never heard of her before reading this post.

  2. I'd be curious to know where and when she was supposed to have invented the harp. An Dagda had his harp when the TDD went to Ireland and I'm not aware of anyone claiming he invented the harp.

  3. This is fascinating. As I started my own dive into gods and goddess, folklore, and mythology, I've tried to take most modern publications with a grain of salt for exactly this reason. Thank you for sharing your research with us. When publications don't provide primary or secondary sources for this subject matter, they lose a lot of credibility.

  4. I find this interesting cause, around the same time, I discovered this 'goddess' as well while doing research with my then Fiance.
    He was looking for Irish Deities associated with song for a ritual we were doing and I found a mention of her in an online list of Celtic Deities.
    I found her name wierd and so went digging for who she actually was, which was difficult because there were no sources listed on the website or any other I could find with a quick google search.
    My fiance eventually went to bed and spent a long night going down a rabbit hole, which eventually led me to her actual name and story at least as published in a paper in the mid 1800s by the Ossianic Society. It was fascinating how such a mistake could go unnoticed for so long.

    1. I think what really chaps my hide about it is that I don't think it is a mistake. I think that it's a deliberate misappropriation of the material to help pad out an author's wordcount. The book is on "goddesses", after all, so she can't just put in a story about a woman. Instead, she has to make the woman into a goddess, then make the story reflect that status of divinity better than the actual one would.

  5. fantastic. thank you for this. Do you have any idea where the strand of the sea of Camas is in modern Ireland? thank you.