The tale of the Children of Lir
Long ago in Ireland, there lived a magical race called the Tuatha Dé Danann. Their king’s name was Bodh Dearg, who was disliked immensely by one of his nobles, Lir. To keep the peace, Bodh Dearg gave Lir one of his daughters to be his wife.
Of the two daughters, Lir chose Aoibh, and though a marriage of convenience, the two fell in love and had four beautiful children: a daughter called Fionnghuala, and three sons named Aodh, Conn, and Fiachra.
Sadly, Aoibh fell ill and died. Bodh Dearg, saddened by the family's heartbreak, offered his second daughter, Aoife, to Lir. Lir hoped that Aoife would be as kind as Aoibh, but Aoife was not the same gentle soul as her sister. She was jealous of the love and attention Lir showered on his children – she wanted that love all for herself. So she decided that the children must go.
One day, she took the children to swim in Lough Derravaragh. When they were in the water, she cast a terrible spell on them. The children vanished, and in their place were four beautiful swans. One of the swans asked with Fionnghuala’s voice “What have you done to us?”“I have put a spell on you. You will be swans for nine hundred years. You will spend three hundred years on this lake, three hundred on the Sea of Moyle, and three hundred on the waters of Inishglora. Only the sound of the Christian church bell can break the spell.”
When the children did not return home, Lir went looking for them beside the lake, but all he saw were four beautiful swans. Then one of the swans called out – it was Fionnghuala. She told him what Aoife had done to them. Lir pleaded with Aoife to reverse the spell, but she refused. Lir went to visit Bodh Dearg, to tell him of his daughter’s evil act. Bodh cursed her, saying her suffering would be greater than that of the children. He asked her what would be the worst form of being, and she replied “a demon of the air”. And so Bodh turned her into such a demon, banishing her from all mankind.
For 300 years, the four swans lived on the calm waters of Lough Derravaragh. Their father, whose love for them never waned, spent his time with them until it was his turn to leave this world, leaving the children heartbroken. The time then came for them to fly north to the stormy Sea of Moyle. Here they did not have their father to comfort them. When the time came to fly to Inishglora, the swans were old and tired. Life was easier there, with warmer weather and plenty of food.
Then one day, they heard the sound of a Christian church bell. They swam to shore, where a monk named Caomhóg met them. He was stunned to see the four swans turn into humans in front of him. Now 900 years old, the children were dying of old age, so Caomhóg baptised them before they died. Caomhóg dreamt that night that he saw them flying through the clouds, and knew they were now with their father and mother.Children of Lir sculpture, Ballycastle