The Fate of the Children of Lir

After the battle of Tailltenn, the Dedannans of the five provinces of Erin assembled in one place of meeting, to consider on their state, and to choose a king. For their chiefs said it was better for them to have one king over all, than to be divided, as they were, serving sundry lords and princes.

Now of those who expected the sovereignty for themselves, the following chiefs were the noblest, namely : Bove Derg, son of the Dagda ; his brother Angus, of Bruga on the Boyne, who, however, had no earnest wish to become king, preferring to remain as he was; Ilbrec of Assaroe; Lir of Shee Finnaha ; and Midir the Haughty of Bri-Leth.

Then the chief people went into council, all except the five above named ; and the decision they came to was to elect Bove Derg, son of the Dagda, king over the whole of the Dedannan race. When the election was made known, none of those who were disappointed took the matter to heart except Lir of Shee Finnaha alone. And when Lir found that the chiefs had chosen Bove Derg, he was greatly offended, and straightway left the assembly in anger, without taking leave of any one, and without showing any mark of respect or obedience to the new king.

When the chiefs heard this, they were wroth; and they said they would follow him to Shee Finnaha, and slay him with spear and sword, and burn his house, because he did not yield obedience to the king they had elected in lawful council.

But Bove Derg would not permit them to do so. " This man," he said, " will defend his territory, and many will be slain; and I am none the less your king, although he has not submitted to me."

Matters remained so for a long time. But at last a great misfortune happened to Lir, for his wife died after an illness of three days. This weighed heavily on him, and his heart was weary with sorrow after her. Her death, moreover, was a great event at that time, and was much spoken of throughout Erin.

When the tidings reached the mansion of Bove Derg, where the chief men of the Dedannans were then assembled, the king said

"As Lir's wife is now dead, my friendship would be of service to him, if he were willing to accept it. For I have in my house three maidens, the most beautiful and the best instructed in all Erin, namely, Eve, Eva, and Alva, my own foster children, and daughters of Allil of Ara."

The Dedannans agreed to this, and said that their king had spoken wisely and truly.

Messengers were accordingly sent to Lir, and they were told to say to him

"If thou art willing to submit to the king, he will give thee for a wife one of his three foster children ; and thou shalt have his friendship for ever."

It was pleasing to Lir to make this alliance ; and accordingly he set out next day from Shee Finnaha with a company of fifty chariots ; and they never halted or turned aside till they reached the palace of Bove Derg, on the shore of the Great Lake. Their arrival gave much joy and happiness to the king and his household ; for although Lir did not submit at first to Bove Derg, he was a good man, and was greatly beloved by the king himself and by all his subjects. So Lir and his followers got a kindly welcome, and they were supplied with everything necessary, and were well attended to that night.

Next day, the three daughters of Allil of Ara sat on the same couch with the queen their foster mother; and the king said to Lir

"Take thy choice of the three maidens, and whichever thou choosest, she shall be thy wife."

"They are all beautiful," said Lir, " and I cannot tell which of them is best ; but I will take the eldest, for she must be the noblest of the three."

Then the king said, " Eve is the eldest, and she shall be given to thee if it be thy wish."

So Lir chose Eve for his wife, and they were wedded that day.

Lir remained a fortnight in the king's palace, and then departed with his wife to his own house, Shee Finnaha, where he celebrated his marriage by a great royal wedding feast.


IN course of time, Lir's wife bore him two children at a birth, a daughter and a son, whose names were Finola and Aed. A second time she brought forth twins, two sons, who were named Ficra and Conn : and she died in giving them birth. This was a cause of great anguish to Lir ; and he would almost have died of grief, only that his mind was turned from his sorrow by his great love for his four little children.

When the news of Eve's death reached the mansion of Bove Derg, the king was in deep grief, and the people of his household raised three great cries of lamentation for her. And when their mourning was ended, the king said :

"We grieve for our foster child, both on her own account, and for the sake of the good man to whom we gave her; for we are thankful for his alliance and his friendship. But our acquaintance shall not be ended, and our alliance shall not be broken ; for I will give him her sister to wife, my second foster child, Eva."

Messengers were sent to Lir to Shee Finnaha, to tell him of this ; and he consented. So after some time he came to the king's house to espouse her, and they were united ; and he brought her home with him to his own house.

The four children grew up under Eva's care. She nursed them with great tenderness, and her love for them increased every day. They slept near their father; and he would often rise from his own bed at the dawn of morning, and go to their beds, to talk with them and to fondle them.

The king, Bove Derg, loved them almost as well as did their father. He went many times every year to Shee Finnaha to see them ; and he used to bring them often to his palace, where he kept them as long as he could on each occasion, and he always felt sad when he sent them home.

At this time, too, the Dedannans used to celebrate the Feast of Age at the houses of their chiefs by turns ; and whenever it happened that the festival was held at Shee Finnaha, these children were the delight and joy of the Dedannans. For nowhere could four lovelier children be found; so that those who saw them were always delighted with their beauty and their gentleness, and could not help loving them with their whole heart.


Now when Eva saw that the children of Lir received such attention and affection from their father, and from all others that came to his house, she fancied she was neglected on their account ; and a poisonous dart of jealousy entered her heart, which turned her love to hatred; and she began to have feelings of bitter enmity for her sister's children.

Her jealousy so preyed on her that she feigned illness, and lay in bed for nearly a year, filled with gall and brooding mischief; and at the end of that time she committed a foul and cruel deed of treachery on the children of Lir.

One day she ordered her horses to be yoked to her chariot, and she set out for the palace of Bove Derg, bringing the four children with her.

Finola did not wish to go, for it was revealed to her darkly in a dream that Eva was bent on some dreadful deed of fratricide ; and she knew well that her stepmother intended to kill her and her brothers that day, or in some other way to bring ruin on them. But she was not able to avoid the fate that awaited her.

When they had gone some distance from Shee Finnaha on their way to the palace, Eva tried to persuade her attendants to kill the children. " Kill them, and you shall be rewarded with all the worldly wealth you may desire; for their father loves me no longer, and has neglected and forsaken me on account of his great love for these children."

But they heard her with horror, and refused, saying, " We will not kill them. Fearful is the deed thou hast contemplated, O Eva ; and evil will surely befall thee for having even thought of killing them."

Then she took the sword to slay them herself ; but her woman's weakness prevented her, and she was not able to strike them.

So they set out once more, and fared on till they came to the shore of Lake Darvra, where they alighted, and the horses were unyoked.

She led the children to the edge of the lake, and told them to go to bathe ; and as soon as they had got into the clear water, she struck them one by one with a druidical fairy wand, and turned them into four beautiful snow-white swans. And she addressed them in these words :

Out to your home, ye swans, on Darvra's wave ;
With clamorous birds begin your life of gloom :
Your friends shall weep your fate, but none can save ;
For I've pronounced the dreadful words of doom.

After this, the four children of Lir turned their faces to their stepmother ; and Finola spoke

"Evil is the deed thou hast done, Eva ; thy friendship to us has been a friendship of treachery ; and thou hast ruined us without cause. But the deed will be avenged; for the power of thy witchcraft is not greater than the druidical power of our friends to punish thee ; and the doom that awaits thee shall be worse than ours."

Our stepmother loved us long ago;
Our stepmother now has wrought us woe :
With magical wand and fearful words,
She changed us to beautiful snow-white birds ;
And we live on the waters for evermore,
By tempests driven from shore to shore.

Finola again spoke and said, " Tell us now how long we shall be in the shape of swans, so that we may know when our miseries shall come to an end."

"It would be better for you if you had not put that question," said Eva; "but I shall declare the truth to you, as you have asked me. Three hundred years on smooth Lake Darvra ; three hundred years on the Sea of Moyle, between Erin and Alban; three hundred years at Irros Domnann and at Inis Glora on the Western Sea. Until the union of Largnen, the prince from the north, with Decca, the princess from the south ; until the Taillkenn shall come to Erin, bringing the light of a pure faith ; and until ye hear the voice of the Christian bell. And neither by your own power, nor by mine, nor by the power of your friends, can ye be freed till the time comes."

Then Eva repented what she had done ; and she said, "Since I cannot afford you any other relief, I will allow you to keep your own Gaelic speech ; and ye shall be able to sing sweet, plaintive, fairy music, which shall excel all the music of the world, and which shall lull to sleep all that listen to it. Moreover, ye shall retain your human reason ; and ye shall not be in grief on account of being in the shape of swans."

And she chanted this lay :

Depart from me, ye graceful swans ;
The waters are now your home :
Your palace shall be the pearly cave,
Your couch the crest of the crystal wave,
And your mantle the milk-white foam !
Depart from me, ye snow-white swans
With your music and Gaelic speech :
The crystal Darvra, the wintry Moyle,
The billowy margin of Glora's isle ;

Three hundred years on each !
Victorious Lir, your hapless sire,
His lov'd ones in vain shall call ;
His weary heart is a husk of gore,
His home is joyless for evermore,
And his anger on me shall fall !
Through circling ages of gloom and fear
"If our anguish no tongue can tell ;
Till Faith shall shed her heavenly rays,
Till ye hear the Taillkenn's anthem of praise,
And the voice of the Christian bell !

Then ordering her steeds to be yoked to her chariot she departed westwards, leaving the four white swans swimming on the lake.

Our father shall watch and weep in vain ;
He never shall see us return again.
Four pretty children, happy at home ;
Four white swans on the feathery foam ;
And we live on the waters for evermore,
By tempests driven from shore to shore.


WHEN Eva arrived at the house of Bove Derg, the chiefs bade her welcome ; and the king asked her why she had not brought the Children of Lir to him.

"Because," she replied, " Lir no longer loves thee ; and he does not wish to intrust his children to thee, lest thou shouldst harm them."

The king was greatly astonished and troubled at this, and he said, "How can that be? For I love those children better than I love my own."

But he thought in his own mind that Eva had played some treachery on them. And he sent messengers with all speed northwards to Shee Finnaha, inquire for the children, and to ask that they might be sent to him.

When the messengers had told their errand, Lir was startled; and he asked, "Have the children not reached the palace with Eva ? "

They answered, " Eva arrived alone, and she told the king that you refused to let the children come."

A sad and sorrowful heart had Lir when he heard this ; and he now felt sure that Eva had destroyed his four lovely children. So, early next morning, his chariot was yoked for him, and he set out with his attendants for the king's palace ; and they travelled with all speed till they arrived at the shore of Lake Darvra.

The children of Lir saw the cavalcade approaching ; and Finola spoke these words :

I see a mystic warrior band
From yonder brow approach the strand ;
I see them winding down the vale,
Their bending chariots slow advancing ;
I see their shields and gilded mail,
Their spears and helmets brightly glancing.

Ah ! well I know that proud array ;
I know too well their thoughts to-day :
The Dannan host and royal Lir ;
Four rosy children they are seeking :
Too soon, alas ! they find us here,
Four snowy swans like children speaking!

Come, brothers dear, approach the coast,
To welcome Lir's mysterious host.
Oh, woful welcome ! woful day,
That never brings a bright to-morrow!
Unhappy father, doomed for aye
To mourn our fate in hopeless sorrow !

When Lir came to the shore, he heard the birds speaking, and, wondering greatly, he asked them how it came to pass that they had human voices.

"Know, Lir," said Finola, " that we are thy four children, who have been changed into swans and ruined by the witchcraft of our stepmother, our own mother's sister, Eva, through her baleful jealousy."

When Lir and his people heard this, they uttered three long mournful cries of grief and lamentation.

After a time, their father asked them, " Is it possible to restore you to your own shapes ? "

"It is not possible," replied Finola ; " no man has the power to release us until Largnen from the north and Decca from the south are united. Three hundred years we shall be on Lake Darvra; three hundred years on the sea-stream of Moyle; three hundred years on the Sea of Glora in the west. And we shall not regain our human shape till the Taillkenn come with his pure faith into Erin, and until we hear the voice of the Christian bell"

And again the people raised three great cries of sorrow.

"As you have your speech and your reason," said Lir, " come now to land, and ye shall live at home, conversing with me and my people."

"We are not permitted to leave the waters of the lake, and we cannot live with our people any more. But the wicked Eva has allowed us to retain our human reason, and our own Gaelic speech; and we have also the power to chant plaintive, fairy music, so sweet that those who listen to us would never desire any other happiness. Remain with us to-night, and we will chant our music for you."

Lir and his people remained on the shore of the lake; and the swans sang their slow, fairy music, which was so sweet and sad, that the people, as they listened, fell into a calm, gentle sleep.

At the glimmer of dawn next morning, Lir arose, and he bade farewell to his children for a while, to seek out Eva.

The time has come for me to part :
No more, alas ! my children dear,
Your rosy smiles shall glad my heart,
Or light the gloomy home of Lir.

Dark was the day when first I brought
This Eva in my home to dwell !
Hard was the woman's heart that wrought
This cruel and malignant spell !

I lay me down to rest in vain ;
For through the livelong, sleepless night,
My little loved ones, pictured plain,
Stand ever there before my sight.

Finola, once my pride and joy ;
Dark Aed, adventurous and bold ;
Bright Ficra, gentle, playful boy ;
And little Conn, with curls of gold ;

Struck down on Darvra's reedy shore,
By wicked Eva's magic power :
Oh, children, children, never more
My heart shall know one peaceful hour!

Lir then departed, and travelled south-west till he arrived at the king's palace, where he was welcomed ; and Bove Derg began to reproach him, in presence of Eva, for not bringing the children.

"Alas ! " said Lir ; "it was not by me that the children were prevented from coming. But Eva, your own foster child, the sister of their mother, has played treachery on them ; and has changed them by her sorcery into four white swans on Lake Darvra."

The king was confounded and grieved at this news ; and when he looked at Eva, he knew by her countenance that what Lir had told him was true ; and he began to upbraid her in a fierce and angry voice.

"The wicked deed thou hast committed," said he, "will be worse for thee than for the children of Lir ; for their suffering shall come to an end, and they shall be happy at last."

Again he spoke to her more fiercely than before ; and he asked her what shape of all others, on the earth, or above the earth, or beneath the earth, she most abhorred, and into which she most dreaded to be transformed.

And she, being forced to answer truly, said, "A demon of the air."

"That is the form you shall take," said Bove Derg ; and as he spoke he struck her with a druidical magic wand, and turned her into a demon of the air. She opened her wings, and flew with a scream upwards and away through the clouds ; and she is still a demon of the air, and she shall be a demon of the air till the end of time.

Then Bove Derg and the Dedannans assembled on the shore of the lake, and encamped there ; for they wished to remain with the birds, and to listen to their music. The Milesian people came and formed an encampment there in like manner ; for historians say that no music that was ever heard in Erin could be compared with the singing of these swans.

And so the swans passed their time. During the day they conversed with the men of Erin, both Dedannans and Milesians, and discoursed lovingly with their friends and fellow nurselings ; and at night they chanted their slow, sweet, fairy music, the most delightful that was ever heard by men; so that all who listened to it, even those who were in grief, or sickness, or pain, forgot their sorrows and their sufferings, and fell into a gentle, sweet sleep, from which they awoke bright and happy.

So they continued, the Dedannans and the Milesians, in their encampments, and the swans on the lake, for three hundred years. And at the end of that time, Finola said to her brothers:

"Do you know, my dear brothers, that we have come to the end of our time here ; and that we have only this one night to spend on Lake Darvra ? "

When the three sons of Lir heard this, they were in great distress and sorrow ; for they were almost as happy on Lake Darvra, surrounded by their friends, and conversing with them day by day, as if they had been in their father's house in their own natural shapes ; whereas they should now live on the gloomy and tempestuous Sea of Moyle, far away from all human society.

Early next morning, they came to the margin of the lake, to speak to their Father and their friends for the last time, and to bid them farewell; and Finola chanted this lay :


Farewell, farewell, our father dear !
The last sad hour has come :
Farewell, Bove Derg ! farewell to all,
Till the dreadful day of doom !
We go from friends and scenes beloved,
To a home grief and pain ;
And that day of woe
Shall come and go,
Before we meet again !


We live for ages on stormy Moyle,
In loneliness and fear ;
The kindly words of loving friends
We never more shall hear.
Four joyous children long ago ;
Four snow-white swans to-day ;
And on Moyle's wild sea
Our robe shall be
The cold and briny spray.


Far down on the misty stream of time,
When three hundred years are o'er,
Three hundred more in storm and cold,
By Glora's desolate shore ;
Till Decca fair is Largnen's spouse ;
Till north and south unite ;
Till the hymns are sung,
And the bells are rung,
At the dawn of the pure faith's light


Arise, my brothers, from Darvra's wave,
On the wings of the southern wind ;
We leave our father and friends to-day
In measureless grief behind.
Ah ! sad the parting, and sad our flight
To Moyle's tempestuous main ;
For the day of woe
Shall come and go,
Before we meet again !

The four swans then spread their wings, and rose from the surface of the water in sight of all their friends, till they reached a great height in the air, then resting, and looking downwards for a moment they flew straight to the north, till they alighted on the Sea of Moyle between Erin and Alban.

The men of Erin were grieved at their departure, and they made a law, and proclaimed it throughout the land, that no one should kill a swan in Erin from that time forth.


As to the children of Lir, miserable was their abode and evil their plight on the Sea of Moyle. Their hearts were wrung with sorrow for their father and their friends; and when they looked towards the steep, rocky, far stretching coasts, and saw the great, dark wild sea around them, they were overwhelmed with fear and despair. They began also to suffer from cold and hunger, so that all the hardships they had endured on Lake Darvra appeared as nothing compared with their suffering on the sea-current of Moyle.

And so they lived, till one night a great tempest fell upon the sea. Finola, when she saw the sky filled with black, threatening clouds, thus addressed her brothers

"Beloved brothers, we have made a bad preparation for this night ; for it is certain that the coming storm will separate us ; and now let us appoint a place of meeting, or it may happen that we shall never see each other again."

And they answered, "Dear sister, you speak truly and wisely ; and let us fix on Carricknarone, for that is a rock that we are all very well acquainted with."

And they appointed Carricknarone as their place of meeting.

Midnight came, and with it came the beginning of the storm. A wild, rough wind swept over the dark sea, the lightnings flashed, and the great waves rose, and increased their violence and their thunder.

The swans were soon scattered over the waters, so that not one of them knew in what direction the others had been driven. During all that night they were tossed about by the roaring winds and waves, and it was with much difficulty they preserved their lives.

Towards morning the storm abated, and the sea became again calm and smooth; and Finola swam to Carricknarone. But she found none of her brothers there, neither could she see any trace of them when she looked all round from the summit of the rock over the wide face of the sea.

Then she became terrified, for she thought she should never see them again ; and she began to lament them plaintively in these words :

The heart-breaking anguish and woe of this life
I am able no longer to bear :
My wings are benumbed with this pitiless frost ;
My three little brothers are scattered and lost ;
And I am left here to despair.

My three little brothers I never shall see
Till the dead shall arise from the tomb :
How I sheltered them oft with my wings and my breast,
And I soothed their sorrows and lulled them to rest,
As the night fell around us in gloom !

Ah, where are my brothers, and why have I lived,
This last worst affliction to know ?
What now is there left but a life of despair ?
For alas ! I am able no longer to bear
This heart-breaking anguish and woe.

Soon after this she looked again over the sea, and she saw Conn coming towards the rock, with his head drooping, and his feathers all drenched with the salt spray ; and she welcomed him with joyful heart.

Not long after, Ficra appeared, but he was so faint with wet and cold and hardship, that he was scarceable to reach the place where Finola and Conn were standing ; and when they spoke to him he could not speak one word in return. So Finola placed the two under her wings, and she said

"If Aed were here now, all would be happy with us."

In a little time they saw Aed coming towards them, with head erect and feathers all dry and radiant and Finola gave him a joyful welcome. She then placed him under the feathers of her breast, while Conn and Ficra remained under her wings; and she said to them

"My dear brothers, though ye may think this night very bad, we shall have many like it from this time forth."

So they continued for a long time on the Sea of Moyle, suffering hardships of every kind, till one winter night came upon them, of great wind and of snow and frost so severe, that nothing they ever before suffered could be compared to the misery of that night. And Finola uttered these words :

Our life is a life of woe ;
No shelter or rest we find :
How bitterly drives the snow ;
How cold is this wintry wind!

From the icy spray of the sea,
From the wind of the bleak north east,
I shelter my brothers three,
Under my wings and breast.

Our stepmother sent us here,
And misery well we know :-
In cold and hunger and fear ;
Our life is a life of woe !

Another year passed away on the Sea of Moyle ; and one night in January, a dreadful frost came down on the earth and sea, so that the waters were frozen into a solid floor of ice all round them. The swans remained on Carricknarone all night, and their feet and their wings were frozen to the icy surface, so that they had to strive hard to move from their places in the morning ; and they left the skin of their feet, the quills of their wings, and the feathers of their breasts clinging to the rock.

"Sad is our condition this night, my beloved brothers," said Finola, " for we are forbidden to leave the Sea of Moyle; and yet we cannot bear the salt water, for when it enters our wounds, I fear we shall die of pain."

And she spoke this lay :

Our fate is mournful here to-day ;
Our bodies bare and chill,
Drenched by the bitter, briny spray,
And torn on this rocky hill !

Cruel our stepmother's jealous heart
That banished us from home ;
Transformed to swans by magic art,
To swim the ocean foam.

This bleak and snowy winter day,
Our bath is the ocean wide ;
In thirsty summer's burning ray,
Our drink the briny tide.

And here 'mid rugged rocks we dwell,
In this tempestuous bay ;
Four children bound by magic spell ;
Our fate is sad to-day !

They were, however, forced to swim out on the stream of Moyle, all wounded and torn as they were ; for though the brine was sharp and bitter, they were not able to avoid it. They stayed as near the coast as they could, till after a long time the feathers of their breasts and wings grew again, and their wounds were healed.

After this they lived on for a great number of years, sometimes visiting the shores of Erin, and sometimes the headlands of Alban. But they always returned to the sea-stream of Moyle, for it was destined to be their home till the end of three hundred years.

One day they came to the mouth of the Bann, on the north coast of Erin, and looking inland, they saw a stately troop of horsemen approaching directly from the south-west. They were mounted on white steeds, and clad in bright-coloured garments, and as they wound towards the shore their arms glittered in the sun.

"Do ye know yonder cavalcade ? " said Finola to her brothers.

"We know them not," they replied ; " but it is likely they are a party of the Milesians, or perchance a troop of our own people, the Dedannans."

They swam towards the shore, to find out who the strangers were; and the cavalcade on their part, when they saw the swans, knew them at once, and moved towards them till they were within speaking distance.

Now these were a party of the Dedannans ; and the chiefs who commanded them were the two sons of Bove Derg, the Dedannan king, namely, Aed the Keen-witted, and Fergus the Chess-player, with a third part of the Fairy Host. They had been for a long time searching for the children of Lir along the northern shores of Erin, and now that they had found them, they were joyful ; and they and the swans greeted each other with tender expressions of friendship and love. The children of Lir inquired after the Dedannans, and particularly after their father Lir, and Bove Derg, and all the rest of their friends and acquaintances.

"They are all well," replied the chiefs ; " and they and the Dedannans in general are now gathered together in the house of your father, at Shee Finnaha, celebrating the Feast of Age, pleasantly and agreeably. Their happiness would indeed be complete, only that you are not with them, and that they know not where you have been since you left Lake Darvra."

"Miserable has been our life since that day," said Finola ; " and no tongue can tell the suffering and sorrow we have endured on the Sea of Moyle."

And she chanted these words :

Ah, happy is Lir's bright home to-day,
With mead and music and poet's lay :
But gloomy and cold his children's home,
For ever tossed on the briny foam.

Our wreathed feathers are thin and light
When the wind blows keen through the wintry night :
Yet oft we were robed, long, long ago,
In purple mantles and furs of snow.

On Moyle's bleak current our food and wine
Are sandy sea-weed and bitter brine : "
Yet oft we feasted in days of old,
And hazel-mead drank from cups of gold.

Our beds are rocks in the dripping caves ;
Our lullaby song the roar of the waves :
But soft rich couches once we pressed,
And harpers lulled us each night to rest.

Lonely we swim on the billowy main,
Through frost and snow, through storm and rain :
Alas for the days when round us moved
The chiefs and princes and friends we loved !

My little twin brothers beneath my wings
Lie close when the north wind bitterly stings,
And Aed close nestles before my breast ;
Thus side by side through the night we rest.

Our father's fond kisses, Bove Derg's embrace,
The light of Mannanan's godlike face,
The love of Angus all, all are o'er;
And we live on the billows for evermore !

After this they bade each other farewell, for it was not permitted to the children of Lir to remain away from the stream of Moyle. As soon as they had parted, the Fairy Cavalcade returned to Shee Finnaha, where they related to the Dedannan chiefs all that had passed, and described the condition of the children of Lir. And the chiefs answered:

"It is not in our power to help them ; but we are glad that they are living ; and we know that in the end the enchantment will be broken, and that they will be freed from their sufferings."

As to the children of Lir, they returned to their home on the Sea of Moyle, and there they remained till they had fulfilled their term of years.


AND when their three hundred years were ended, Finola said to her brothers " It is time for us to leave this place, for our period here has come to an end."

The hour has come ; the hour has come ;
Three hundred years hare passed :
We leave this bleak and gloomy home,
And we fly to the west at last !

We leave for ever the stream of Moyle ;
On the clear, cold wind we go ;
Three hundred years round Glora's isle,
Where wintry tempests blow !

No sheltered home, no place of rest,
From the tempest's angry blast :
Fly, brothers, fly, to the distant west,
For the hour has come at last !

So the swans left the Sea of Moyle, and flew westward, till they reached Irros Domnann and the sea round the isle of Glora. There they remained for a long time, suffering much from storm and cold, and in nothing better off than they were on the Sea of Moyle.

It chanced that a young man named Ebric, of good family, the owner of a tract of land lying along the shore, observed the birds and heard their singing.

He took great delight in listening to their plaintive music, and he walked down to the shore almost everyday, to see them and to converse with them ; so that he came to love them very much, and they also loved him. This young man told his neighbours about the speaking swans, so that the matter became noised abroad; and it was he who arranged the story, after hearing it from themselves, and related it as it is related here.

Again their hardships were renewed, and to describe what they suffered on the great open Western Sea would be only to tell over again the story of their life on the Moyle. But one particular night came, of frost so hard that the whole face of the sea, from Irros Domnann to Achill, was frozen into a thick floor of ice ; and the snow was driven by a north-west wind. On that night it seemed to the three brothers that they could not bear their sufferings any longer, and they began to utter loud and pitiful complaints. Finola tried to console them, but she was not able to do so, for they only lamented the more ; and then she herself began to lament with the others.

After a time, Finola spoke to them and said, " My dear brothers, believe in the great and splendid God of truth, who made the earth with its fruits, and the sea with its wonders ; put your trust in Him, and He will send you help and comfort."

"We believe in Him," said they.

"And I also," said Finola, " believe in God, who is perfect in everything, and who knows all things."

And at the destined hour they all believed, and the Lord of heaven sent them help and protection ; so that neither cold nor tempest molested them from that time forth, as long as they abode on the Western Sea.

So they continued at the point of Irros Domnann, till they had fulfilled their appointed time there. And Finola addressed the sons of Lir " My dear brothers, the end of our time here has come ; we shall now go to visit our father and our people."

And her brothers were glad when they heard this. Then they rose lightly from the face of the sea, and flew eastward with joyful hopes, till they reached Shee Finnaha. But when they alighted they found the place deserted and solitary, its halls all ruined and overgrown with rank grass and forests of nettles ; no houses, no fire, no mark of human habitation.

Then the four swans drew close together, and they uttered three loud mournful cries of sorrow.

And Finola chanted this lay :

What meaneth this sad, this fearful change,
That withers my heart with woe ?
The house of my father all joyless and lone,
Its halls and its gardens with weeds overgrown,
A dreadful and strange overthrow !

No conquering heroes, no hounds for the chase,
No shields in array on its walls,
No bright silver goblets, no gay cavalcades,
No youthful assemblies or high-born maids,
To brighten its desolate halls !

An omen of sadness the home of our youth
All ruined, deserted, and bare.
Alas for the chieftain, the gentle and brave ;
His glories and sorrows are stilled in the grave,
And we left to live in despair !

From ocean to ocean, from age unto age,
We have lived to the fulness of time ;
Through a life such as men never heard of we'ye passed,
In suffering and sorrow our doom has been cast,
By our stepmother's pitiless crime !

The children of Lir remained that night in the ruins of the palace, the home of their forefathers, where they themselves had been nursed ; and several times during the night they chanted their sad, sweet fairy music.

Early next morning they left Shee Finnaha, and flew west to Inis Glora, where they alighted on a small lake. There they began to sing so sweetly that all the birds of the district gathered in flocks round them on the lake, and on its shore, to listen to them ; so that the little lake came to be called the Lake of the Bird-flocks.

During the day the birds used to fly to distant points of the coast to feed, now to Iniskea of the lonely crane, now to Achill, and sometimes southwards to Bonn's Sea Rocks, and to many other islands and headlands along the shore of the Western Sea, but they returned to Inis Glora every night.

They lived in this manner till holy Patrick came to Erin with the pure faith ; and until Saint Kemoc came to Inis Glora.

The first night Kemoc came to the island, the children of Lir heard his bell at early matin time, ringing faintly in the distance. And they trembled greatly, and started, and ran wildly about; for the sound of the bell was strange and dreadful to them, and its tones filled them with great fear. The three brothers were more affrighted than Finola, so that she was left quite alone ; but after a time they came to her, and she asked them

"Do you know, my brothers, what sound is this ? "

And they answered, "We have heard a faint, fearful voice, but we know not what it is."

"This is the voice of the Christian bell," said Finola; "and now the end of our suffering is near; for this bell is the signal that we shall soon be freed from our spell, and released from our life of suffering ; for God has willed it"

And she chanted this lay :

Listen, ye swans, to the voice of the bell,
The sweet bell we've dreamed of for many a year ;
Its tones floating by on the night breezes, tell
That the end of our long life of sorrow is near !

Listen, ye swans, to the heavenly strain ;
'Tis the anchoret tolling his soft matin bell :
He has come to release us from sorrow, from pain,
From the cold and tempestuous shores where we dwell !

Trust in the glorious Lord of the sky ;
He will free us from Eva's druidical spell :
Be thankful and glad, for our freedom is nigh,
And listen with joy to the voice of the bell!

Then her brothers became calm; and the four swans remained listening to the music of the bell, till the cleric had finished his matins.

"Let us sing our music now," said Finola.

And they chanted a low, sweet, plaintive strain of fairy music, to praise and thank the great high King of heaven and earth.

Kemoc heard the music from where he stood ; and he listened with great astonishment. But after a time it was revealed to him that it was the children of Lir who sang that music ; and he was glad, for it was to seek them he had come.

When morning dawned he came to the shore of the lake, and he saw the four white swans swimming on the water. He spoke to them, and asked them were they the children of Lir.

They replied, "We are indeed the children of Lir, who were changed long ago into swans by our wicked stepmother."

"I give God thanks that I have found you," said Kemoc ; "for it is on your account I have come to this little island in preference to all the other islands of Erin. Come ye now to land, and trust in me ; for it is in this place that you are destined to be freed from your enchantment."

So they, filled with joy on hearing the words of the cleric, came to the shore, and placed themselves under his care. He brought them to his own house, and, sending for a skilful workman, he caused him to make two bright, slender chains of silver ; and he put a chain between Finola and Aed, and the other chain he put between Ficra and Conn.

So they lived with him, listening to his instructions day by day, and joining in his devotions. They were the delight and joy of the cleric, and he loved them, with his whole heart ; and the swans were so happy that the memory of all the misery they had suffered during their long life on the waters caused them neither distress nor sorrow now.


THE king who ruled over Connaught at this time was Largnen, the son of Colman ; and his queen was Decca, the daughter of Finnin, king of Munster, the same king and queen whom Eva had spoken of in her prophecy long ages before.

Now word was brought to queen Decca regarding these wonderful speaking swans, and their whole history was related to her ; so that even before she saw them, she could not help loving them, and she was seized with a strong desire to have them herself. So she went to the king, and besought him that he would go to Kemoc and get her the swans. But Largnen said that he did not wish to ask them from Kemoc. Whereupon Decca grew indignant ; and she declared that she would not sleep another night in the palace till he had obtained the swans for her. So she left the palace that very hour, and tied southwards towards her father's home.

Largnen, when he found she had gone, sent in haste after her, with word that he would try to procure the swans ; but the messengers did not overtake her till she had reached Killaloe. However, she returned with them to the palace ; and as soon as she had arrived, the king sent to Kemoc to request that he would send the birds to the queen; but Kemoc refused to give them.

Largnen became very angry at this ; and he set out at once for the cleric's house. As soon as he had come, he asked the cleric whether it was true that he had refused to give the swans to the queen. And when Kemoc answered that it was quite true, the king, being very wroth, went up to where the swans stood, and seizing the two silver chains, one in each hand, he drew the birds from the altar, and turned towards the door of the church, intending to bring them by force to the queen; while Kemoc followed him, much alarmed lest they should be injured.

The king had proceeded only a little way, when suddenly the white feathery robes faded and disappeared ; and the swans regained their human shape, Finola being transformed into an extremely old woman, and the three sons into three feeble old men, white-haired and bony and wrinkled.

When the king saw this, he started with affright, and instantly left the place without speaking one word ; while Kemoc reproached and denounced him very bitterly.

As to the children of Lir, they turned towards Kemoc ; and Finola spoke :

"Come, holy cleric, and baptise us without delay, for our death is near. You will grieve after us, Kemoc ; but in truth you are not more sorrowful at parting from us than we are at parting from you. Make our grave here and bury us together ; and as I often sheltered my brothers when we were swans, so let us be placed in the grave Conn standing near me at my right side, Ficra at my left, and Aed before my face."

Come, holy priest, with book and prayer
Baptise and shrive us here :
Haste, cleric, haste, for the hour has come,
And death at last is near !

Dig our grave a deep, deep grave,
Near the church we loved so well ;
This little church, where first we heard
The voice of the Christian bell.

As oft in life my brothers dear
Were sooth'd by me to rest
Ficra and Conn beneath my wings,
And Aed before my breast ;

So place the two on either hand
Close, like the love that bound me ;
Place Aed as close before my face,
And twine their arms around me.

Thus shall we rest for evermore,
My brothers dear and I :
Haste, cleric, haste, baptise and shrive,
For death at last is nigh !

Then the children of Lir were -baptised, and they died immediately. And when they died, Kemoc looked up ; and lo, he saw a vision of four lovely children, with light, silvery wings, and faces all radiant with joy. They gazed on him for a moment; but even as they gazed, they vanished upwards, and he saw them no more. And he was filled with gladness, for he knew they had gone to heaven ; but when he looked down on the four bodies lying before him, he became sad and wept.

And Kemoc caused a wide grave to be dug near the little church ; and the children of Lir were buried together, as Finola had directed Conn at her right hand, Ficra at her left, and Aed standing before her face. And he raised a grave-mound over them, placing a tombstone on it, with their names graved in Ogam; after which he uttered a lament for them, and their funeral rites were performed.

So far we have related the sorrowful story of the Fate of the Children of Lir.

Sources : P.W. Joyce, Ancient Celtic Romances