CHILDREN OF LIR

Long ago there was a king in Ireland called Lir who was the father of four beautiful children, a son, a daughter and twin sons. Their mother (daughter of the High King of Ireland) died when they were still young and needing loving care. And so it came about that King Lir, who dearly loved his four children and wanted them to have a new mother, married his wife's sister, Aoife, and gave them into her charge.

Aoife, seeing King Lir playing with the children and giving them so much of his time became jealous of them and thought how she might have her King all to herself and the children out of the way. One night she secretly bargained with a druid for the use of his magic wand and made her plans while the children were asleep.

Next morning when they woke to a beautiful summer's day, Aoife had perfected her plan. "Come with me" she said to the children, "Today I am going to take you to the lake and when the sun gets hot you can all go into the cool water for a swim"

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 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 of 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, O 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." Eva said; "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 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 ablez 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!Lough Derravaragh"

Lake of Sorrow: Lough Derravaragh, in Westmeath, is where the Children of Lir were doomed to spend 300 years as swans.

A sad and sorrowful heart had Lir when he heard about his children. He went and spoke to them at the lake and understood what Eva had done. He allowed Bove Derg use his druidical magic wand, and turned her into a demon of the air. She opened her wings, and flew with a scream upwards 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.

And so at the end of 300 years on Lake Davra, 300 years on the sea of Moyle and another 300 years on the lake isle of Glora in Mayo, 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. The three brothers were more affrighted than Finola so she explained to them "This is the voice of the Christian bell 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 they changed 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. He went to the shore of the lake and 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" 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.

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.

Queen Decca 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. The King went to Kemoc who refused to allow him to have them and the King became very wroth and seized the two silver chains, one in each hand, he drew the birds from the altar, and turned towards the door of the church. The kind 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. Finola turned towards Kemoc and spoke...

"Come, holy cleric, and baptize us without delay, for our death is near. You will grieve after us, 0 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. Then the children of Lir were baptized and they died immediately. And when they died, Kemoe 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 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.

Come Holy Priest, with book and prayer
Baptize 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 deal
Were soothed 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 bothers dear and I Haste
Clerics, haste, baptize and shrive
For death at last is night