Once upon a time Manannan Mac Lir was in charge of the oceans around here. He didn’t look after them very well because he liked to go off partying. When he was away, there was no one to command the sea to behave itself. Great storms wrecked boats, battered the land, ripped up seaweed where the fish sheltered and left them cowering in sea caves and under rocks.
Eventually the fish held a meeting and sent a delegation to Manannan asking him to appoint a deputy who could take over when he was away.
‘Do it yourself,’ said Manannan who was really very lazy. ‘Appoint one of yourselves to be king of the sea.’
When the fish heard this they got very excited. ‘Of course, it has got to be me,’ said the shark, ‘We’re a large family. We include the tope and the dogfish and many others’.
‘But we are the most numerous,’ said the mackerel and the herring, swimming round and round in circles.
‘What about me,’ said crab, ‘I pick up the pieces from all the mess you others make. I’m the most important.’
No one noticed that Salmon had slipped away to pay a visit to his cousin the trout in the River Bann. ‘But that’s nothing to do with us,’ said Trout when Salmon told him what was happening. ‘We are river fish. You and I are the only ones who go to sea.’
‘True’, said Salmon but how will you feel about it if big sharks or shoals of mackerel begin invading your territory. If you vote for me, I will promise never to harm your young and to leave my children with you in the river, as hostages, until they are old enough to go to sea.’
And so when Manannan called another meeting there was a great gathering of fish in the bay.
‘Are you ready to vote?’ he asked.
‘We are,’ called a voice from the back of the crowd.
‘Who are you?’ asked Shark in surprise because he could see many fish that he didn’t recognize.
‘We are the river fish.’ they said.
‘Go back to your rivers,’ snarled Shark, baring his teeth. ‘This is none of your business.’
A big pike, who lived in Lough Neagh, swam forward showing he had teeth too. ‘We’re making it our business,’ he said. ‘We are fish too.’
Mannanan had to agree and Octopus with his many tentacles was appointed to count the vote. Shark voted for himself and went off in a huff. The mackerel swam round and round in frantic circles and each one voted for himself. The other fish only voted for their own species but the river fish, the pike, the roach, the bream and many more, all voted for Salmon. When the votes were counted Salmon had the most votes and that is how Salmon became king of the fish, and his cousin the trout lord of the river.
And so the salmon visit the river every year to lay their eggs and leave their young there until they are old enough to go to sea. The trout can leave their rivers, swim out into salty water and become sea trout.
Adapted from a story by Soinbhe Lally in ‘Song of a River.’
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