Themes in Mad Sweeney

The story of Mad Sweeney is thought to have originated in Strathclyde in Scotland in the eight century. The Mad Sweeney character also exists in the Old Irish Tradition of Mad Sweeney (Suibhne Geilte). Sweeney has been compared with Merlin in the Arthurian legend. His link with St. Moling is probably as a result of a fusion with a historic and unhistoric traditions. Another important link is that with the story of The Children of Lir.

St Moling was chosen as the Saint in the Sweeney legend because the association between a Wild Man and a Saint was a necessary part of the story and also because St. Moling was roughly comtemporaneous with the Battle of Mag Roth. Furthermore there was also a crossover between the religious themes in Sweeney's earliest poem. There is a Sweeney type of character in St. Moling's work.
In an earlier version of the Sweeney tale the causes of Sweeney's madness was not the curse of St. Rónán but the noise of battle and a vision in the sky which caused him to go into a frenzy.

The Moling tradition and its link with Sweeney is also manifested in the jumping and leviatation found in the Sweeney character. Molling's name also conjured up the idea of leaping Molling Luaimneach.

The tale of the Children of Lir is based on the Sweeney legend. Both tales contain pathos, a longing for better days and conflict with the elements of nature. Feathers grow on the Children of Lir as they are turned into swans and Sweeney grows feathers on his body as he becomes a bird. Other parallels include the fact that Sweeney has three periods of madness and the Children of Lir have three periods of exile. They are each also befriended by a Saint. In the case of the Children of Lir that saint is St. Mocaomhóg.

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