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The Children of Lir.

 

 

Irish Myths Home Page.

 

Lir was the father of the sea god Mananan, he married two sisters in succession . His first wife Aobh, died leaving him four children, a daughter Fionuala and three sons Aed, Fichra and Conn. His second wife Aoife, was childless, her jealousy of Lir's love for his children grew and she began to hate her stepchildren. For a year she feigned illness, during this time she plotted their fate.

She took the children on a journey to visit Bodb Derg son of the Dagda, on passing a lonely place in Westmeath called Lake Derryvaragh, (Lake of Oaks), she ordered her servants to kill the children, but they refused. So resolved to kill them herself, but she was too weak to kill them with a sword.

So ordered the children to bathe in the lake, which they did, when she saw them in the water, she struck them with her Druids wand, transforming them, with spells into the shape of swans."Off with You, On the waters wave, your luck is gone forever. Let your friends be sorrowful, but your laments will be lost in the clamor of birds".

Fionuala cried "Witch, it is bad thing you have done, an evil friendship to destroy us, without cause, but vengeance will come upon you from those who love us. Tell us the bounds of this enchantment, that we may know our fate".

"Three hundred years on the clam lake of Derryvaragh, three hundred years on the Sea of Moyle, between Ireland and Scotland and three hundred years in the west on the Atlantic between Erris and Innishglory. When the women of the South is mated with the man of the North then the enchantment will end". laughed Aoife.

"You may keep your own Irish tongues, to sing the sweet music of the Shee and lull men to sleep. There will be no music in the world so sweet, you will also keep your sense and reason in your animal shape. Now be gone you children of Lir, with you faces so pale and your Irish mumblings. Nine hundred years will you be on the waters, a long time of suffering . The heart of Lir, a man of many victories, shall be as a husk of death. His groaning will be a sickness to me, through it is I who has caused this treachery."

When Aoife arrived at the house of Bodb Derg without the children, he was suspicious and sent to Lir, asking news of them. Lir set off to look for his children, as he neared Lough Derryvaragh, he heard swans calling to him. " O Lir, we are your own children, destroyed by Aoife, your wife, our mothers sister. No help for us in this world. Nine hundred years must we be on the waters, till we can take our shape again".

Lir and his people were filled with grief at this news, and stayed by the lake through the night, listening to the sweet music of the swans. At dawn Lir went to the house of Bodb Derg and told him of Aoifes enchantment of his children. Then Bodb sent for Aoife, touching her with his, Druids Wand, cursed her for her treachery and turned her into a demon of the air. In that shape she flew away on the air and will keep that shape till the end of time.

From all over Ireland companies of the Dannan came to listen to the magical music of the swans, all who heard the wonderous singing, slept sound, freed from the troubles of man. For three hundred years these gathering took place, and peace reigned through the island. Till there was but one night left, and they had to say good-bye to their friends. "Farewell friends and kinsfolk, Farewell Bodb Derg, wisest of kings. Farewell dearest father, Lir of the White Field Hill, O Pleasant company it is grief to not see you again, for we are banished to Moyle, of the tormented sea.

It was forbidden to kill swans, from thay day onwards.

There for three hundred years, they lived among the high cliffs on the cold angry northern sea. Here they knew loneliness, cold and wild storms. Forbidden to land their feathers froze and they were often separated by high waves and the tearing winds of winter tempests. Often they struggled to meet at Rock of the Seals, where Fionuala waited with fear untill, her brothers returned in saftey, she was as a mother to them, wrapping her plumage around them on nights of frost. Keeping them together in their doom.

At last it was time to enter the third part of their enchantment, and they flew to the western shore of Mayo. On the stark coast of the western ocean, they are tossed by gales and suffer much hardship; by now the Milesians have come into the land and a man named Evric, dwelling on the shores of Erris Bay, discovers the fate of the swans and befriends them. They tell him their story and it is through him that their tale is preserved. Nearing the end of their enchantment, they resolve to fly to Hill of the White Field in Armagh and the palace of their father Lir. To hear his news, but they are shocked to find nothing but green mounds, nettles and whinn bushes, where once stood their father's palace.

On Erris Bay, they hear for the first time, the thin wailing of a Christian bell, at first they are startled and terrified but get used to the harh sound and begin to sing, attracting the hermit Kemoc, who on learning of their history, has silver chains made to join the swans together.

At this time a Largnen, Chieftain of Connacht was about to marry Decca, a Princess of Munster, she has heard of these wonderful singing swans, and she begs Largnen for them, as a wedding present. The hermit refuses to give up these magic swans and Largnen grabs the silver chains. No sooner has he touched them than the enchantment is broken and their swan plumage falls off, leaving behind four ancient withered bodies, shrunken in their vast old age. Largnen flees in horror, as the hermit prepares to baptize them. Fionuala says "Lay us in one grave, place Conn at my right side, Fiachra on my left and place Aed before my face, in the compass of my arms".

 
So ended the sad tale of the Children of Lir