went on like that for a good while, but at last a great misfortune came on Lir,
his wife died from him after a sickness of three nights. And that came very hard
on Lir, and
there was heaviness on his mind after her. And there was great talk of the death
woman in her own time.
And the news of it was told all through Ireland, and it came to the house
of Bodb, and
best of the Men of Dea were with him at that time. And Bodb said: "If Lir
had a mind for
it," he said, "my help and my friendship would be good for him now,
since his wife is not living to him. For I have here with me the three young
girls of the best shape, and the best
appearance, and the best name in all Ireland, Aobh, Aoife, and Ailbhe, the three
Oilell of Aran, my own three nurslings."
Men of Dea said then it was a good thought he
had, and that what he said was true.
Messages and messengers were sent then from Bodb Dearg to the place Lir
was, to say
that if he had a mind to join with the Son of the Dagda
and to acknowledge his lordship, he
would give him a foster-child of his foster-children. And Lir
thought well of the offer, and he
set out on the morrow with fifty chariots from Sidhe Fionnachaidh; and he went
short way till he came to Bodb's dwelling-place at Loch Dearg, and there was a
before him there, and all the people were merry and pleasant before him, and he
people got good attendance that night.
And the three daughters of Oilell of Aran were sitting on the one seat
with Bodb Dearg's wife, the queen of the Tuatha de Danaan, that was their foster-mother.
And Bodb said: "You may have your choice of the three young girls, Lir."
"I cannot say," said Lir,
"which one of them is my choice, but whichever of them is the eldest, she
is the noblest, and
it is best for me to take her." "If that is so," said Bodb,
"it is Aobh is the eldest, and she will
be given to you, if it is your wish." "It is my wish," he said.
And he took Aobh for his wife
that night, and he stopped there for a fortnight, and then he brought her away
to his own
house, till he would make a great wedding-feast.
And in the course of time Aobh brought forth two children, a daughter and
Fionnuala and Aodh their names were. And after a while she was brought to bed
this time she gave birth to two sons, and they called them Fiachra and Conn. And
died at their birth. And that weighed very heavy on Lir, and only for the way
his mind was set on his four children he would have gone near to die of grief.
The news came to Bodb Dearg's place, and all the people gave out three
cries, keening their nursling. And after they had keened her it is what Bodb
Dearg said: "It is
a fret to us our daughter to have died, for her own sake and for the sake of the
good man we gave her to, for we are thankful for his friendship and his faithfulness.
However," he said,
"our friendship with one another will not be broken, for I will give him
for a wife her sister
When Lir heard that, he came for the girl and married her, and brought
her home to his house. And there was honour and affection with Aoife for her
sister's children; and indeed
no person at all could see those four children without giving them the heart's
And Bodb Dearg used often to be going to Lir's house for the sake of
and he used to bring them to his own place for a good length of time, and then
he would let
them go back to their own place again. And the Men of Dea were at that
time using the Feast of Age in every hill of the Sidhe in turn; and when they came to Lir's hill
those four children
were their joy and delight, for the beauty of their appearance; and it is where
they used to
sleep, in beds in sight of their father Lir. And he used to rise up at the break
morning, and to lie down among his children.
But it is what came of all this, that a fire of jealousy was kindled in
Aoife, and she
got to have a dislike and a hatred of her sister's children.
Then she let on to have a sickness, that lasted through nearly the length
of a year. And at the end of that time she did a deed of jealousy and cruel
treachery against the children of Lir.
And one day she got her chariot yoked, and she took the four children in
it, and they
went forward towards the house of Bodb Dearg; but Fionnuala had no mind to go
she knew by her she had some plan for their death or their destruction, and she
dream that there was treachery against them in Aoife's mind. But all the same
not able to escape from what was before her.
And when they were on their way Aoife said to her people: "Let you
kill now," she
said, "the four children of Lir, for whose sake their father has given up
my love, and I will
give you your own choice of a reward out of all the good things of the
world." "We will not
do that indeed," said they; "and it is a bad deed you have thought of,
and harm will come to
you out of it."
And when they would not do as she bade them, she took out a sword herself
to put an
end to the children with; but she being a woman and with no good courage, and
with no great
strength in her mind, she was not able to do it.
They went on then west to Loch Dairbhreach, the Lake of the Oaks, and the
horses were stopped there, and Aoife bade the children of Lir to go out and bathe in
the lake, and
they did as she bade them. And as soon as Aoife saw them out in the lake she
a Druid rod, and put on them the shape of four swans, white and beautiful. And
she said: "Out with you, children of the king, your luck is taken away from
ever; it is sorrowful the story will be to your friends; it is with flocks of
birds your cries will
be heard for ever."
And Fionnuala said: "Witch, we know now what your name is, you have
down with no hope of relief; but although you put us from wave to wave, there
when we will touch the land. We shall get help when we are seen; help, and all
that is best
for us; even though we have to sleep upon the lake, it is our minds will be
And then the four children of Lir turned towards Aoife, and it is what
is a bad deed you have done, Aoife, and it is a bad fulfilling of friendship,
you to destroy
us without cause; and vengeance for it will come upon you, and you will fall in
for it, for your power for our destruction is not greater than the power of our
avenge it on you; and put some bounds now," she said, "to the time
this enchantment is to
stop on us." "I will do that," said Aoife, "and it is worse
for you, you to have asked it of me.
And the bounds set to your time are this, till the Woman from the South and the
the North will come together. And since you ask to hear it of me," she
said, "no friends and
no power that you have will be able to bring you out of these shapes you are in
length of your lives, until you have been three hundred years on Loch
Dairbhreach, and three hundred years on Sruth na Maoile between Ireland
and Alban, and three hundred years at
Irrus Domnann and Inis Gluaire; and these are to be your journeys from this
out," she said.
But then repentance came on Aoife, and she said: "Since there is no
other help for me
to give you now, you may keep your own speech; and you will be singing sweet
music of the
Sidhe, that would put the men of the earth to sleep, and there will be no music
in the world
to it; and your own sense and your own nobility will stay with you, the way it
so heavy on you to be in the shape of birds. And go away out of my sight now,
of Lir," she said, "with your white faces, with your stammering Irish.
It is a great
on tender lads, they to be driven out on the rough wind. Nine hundred years to
water, it is a long time for any one to be in pain; it is I put this on you
best for you to do as I tell you now.
"Lir, that got victory with so many a good cast, his heart is a
kernel of death in him
the groaning of the great hero is a sickness to me, though it is I that have
And then the horses were caught for Aoife, and the chariot yoked for her,
on to the palace of Bodb Dearg, and there was a welcome before her from the
of the place. And the son of the Dagda asked her why she did not bring the
Lir with her. "I will tell you that," she said. "It is because
Lir has no liking for you, and he
not trust you with his children, for fear you might keep them from him
"I wonder at that," said Bodb Dearg, "for those children
are dearer to me than my own
And he thought in his own mind it was deceit the woman was doing on him, and it
what he did, he sent messengers to the north to Sidhe Fionnachaidh. And Lir
did they come for. "On the head of your children," said they.
"Are they not gone to you
with Aoife?" he said. "They are not," said they; "and Aoife
said it was yourself would
let them come."
It is downhearted and sorrowful Lir was at that news, for he understood
well it was
had destroyed or made an end of his children. And early in the morning of the
horses were caught, and he set out on the road to the south-west And when he was
the shore of Loch Dairbhreach, the four children saw the horses coming towards
what Fionnuala said: "A welcome to the troop of horses I see coming near to
people they are bringing are strong, there is sadness on them; for it is us they
for us they are looking; let us move over to the shore, Aodh, Fiachra, and
that are coming can be no others in the world but only Lir and his household.
Lir came to the edge of the lake, and he took notice of the swans having the
living people, and he asked them why was it they had that voice.
"I will tell you that, Lir," said Fionnuala. "We are your
own four children, that are
after being destroyed by your wife, and by the sister of our own mother, through
the dint of
jealousy." "Is there any way to put you into your own shapes
again?" said Lir. "There is
way," said Fionnuala, "for all the men of the world could not help us
till we have gone
our time, and that will not be," she said, "till the end of nine
When Lir and his people heard that, they gave out three great heavy
shouts of grief
sorrow and crying.
"Is there a mind with you," said Lir, "to come to us on
the land, since you have your
sense and your memory yet?" "We have not the power," said
Fionnuala, "to live with any
at all from this time; but we have our own language, the Irish, and we have the
sing sweet music, and it is enough to satisfy the whole race of men to be
listening to that
And let you stop here to-night," she said, "and we will be making
music for you.
So Lir and his people stopped there listening to the music of the swans,
and they slept
quietly that night. And Lir rose up early on the morning of the morrow and he
"It is time to go from this place. I do not sleep though I am in my
lying down. To be
from my dear children, it is that is tormenting my heart.
"It is a bad net I put over you, bringing Aoife, daughter of Oilell
of Aran, to the
I would never have followed that advice if I had known what it would bring upon
"O Fionnuala, and comely Conn, O Aodh, O Fiachra of the beautiful
arms; it is not
ready I am to go away from you, from the border of the harbour where you are.
Then Lir went on to the palace of Bodb Dearg, and there was a welcome
and he got a reproach from Bodb Dearg for not bringing his children along with
grief!" said Lir. "It is not I that would not bring my children along
with me; it was
there beyond, your own foster-child and the sister of their mother, that put
them in the
of four white swans on Loch Dairbhreach, in the sight of the whole of the men of
but they have their sense with them yet, and their reason, and their voice, and
Bodb Dearg gave a great start when he heard that, and he knew what Lir
and he gave a very sharp reproach to Aoife, and he said: "This treachery
will be worse
yourself in the end, Aoife, than to the children of Lir. And what shape would
worst of being in?" he said.
would think worst of being a spirit of the air," she said. "It is into
that shape I will put you now," said Bodb. And with that he struck her with
a Druid wand, and she was turned
a spirit of the air there and then, and she went away on the wind in that shape,
it yet, and will be in it to the end of life and time.
As to Bodb Dearg and the Tuatha de Danaan they came to the shore of Loch
and they made their camp there to be listening to the music of the swans.
And the Sons of the Gael used to be coming no less than the Men of Dea to
every part of Ireland, for there never was any music or any delight heard in
with that music of the swans. And they used to be telling stories, and to be
men of Ireland every day, and with their teachers and their fellow-pupils and
And every night they used to sing very sweet music of the Sidhe; and every one
that music would sleep sound and quiet whatever trouble or long sickness might
for every one that heard the music of the birds, it is happy and contented he
These two gatherings now of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the
Sons of the
there around Loch Dairbhreach through the length of three hundred years. And it
Fionnuala said to her brothers: "Do you know," she said, "we have
spent all we have to
of our time here, but this one night only."
And there was great sorrow on the sons of Lir when they heard that, for
the same as to be living people again, to be talking with their friends and
Loch Dairbhreach, in comparison with going on the cold, fretful sea of the Maoil
And they came on the morrow to speak with their father and with their
foster-father, and they bade them farewell, and Fionnuala made this complaint:
"Farewell to you, Bodb Dearg, the man with whom all knowledge is in
to our father along with you, Lir of the Hill of the White Field.
"The time is come, as I think, for us to part from you, O pleasant
company; my grief
not on a visit we are going to you.
"From this day out, O friends of our heart, our comrades, it is on
the tormented course of the Maoil we will be, without the voice of any person
"Three hundred years there, and three hundred years in the bay of
the men of
it is a pity for the four comely children of Lir, the salt waves of the sea to
"O three brothers, with the ruddy faces gone from you, let them all
leave the lake
the great troop that loved us, it is sorrowful our parting is."
that complaint they took to flight, lightly, airily, till they came to Sruth na
between Ireland and Alban. And that was a grief to the men of Ireland, and they
an order no swan was to be killed from that out, whatever chance might be of
It was a bad dwelling-place for the children of Lir they to be on Sruth
they saw the wide coast about them, they were filled with cold and with sorrow,
thought nothing of all they had gone through before, in comparison to what they
through on that sea.
Now one night while they were there a great storm came on them, and it is
said: "My dear brothers," she said, "it is a pity for us not to
be making ready for
night, for it is certain the storm will separate us from one another. And let
us," she said,
on some place where we can meet afterwards, if we are driven from one another in
"Let us settle," said the others, "we meet one another at
Carraig na Ron, the Rock of
Seals, for we all have knowledge of it"
And when midnight came, the wind came on them with it, and the noise of
and the lightning was flashing, and a rough storm came sweeping down, the way
children of Lir were scattered over the great sea, and the wideness of it set
them astray, so
no one of them could know what way the others went But after that storm a great
on the sea, and Fionnuala was alone on Sruth na Maoile; and when she took notice
brothers were wanting she was lamenting after them greatly, and she made this
"It is a pity for me to be alive in the state I am; it is frozen to
my sides my wings are;
little that the wind has not broken my heart in my body, with the loss of Aodh.
"To be three hundred years on Loch Dairbhreach without going into my
own shape, it
worse to me the time I am on Sruth na Maoile.
"The three I loved, Och! the three I loved, that slept under the
shelter of my feathers;
the dead come back to the living I will see them no more for ever.
"It is a pity I to stay after Fiachra, and after Aodh, and after
comely Conn, and with
account of them; my grief I to be here to face every hardship this night"
She stopped all night there upon the Rock of the Seals until the rising
of the sun,
out over the sea on every side till at last she saw Conn coming to her, his
through and his head hanging, and her heart gave him a great welcome; and then
wet and perished and worn out, and he could not say a word they could understand
dint of the cold and the hardship he had gone through. And Fionnuala put him
and she said: "We would be well off now if Aodh would but come to us."
It was not long after that, they saw Aodh coming, his head dry and his
and Fionnuala gave him a great welcome, and she put him in under the feathers of
breast, and Fiachra under her right wing and Conn under her left wing, the way
her feathers over them all. "And Och! my brothers," she said,
"this was a bad night to us,
it is many of its like are before us from this out."
They stayed there a long time after that, suffering cold and misery on
the Maoil, till at
a night came on them they had never known the like of before, for frost and snow
and cold. And they were crying and lamenting the hardship of their life, and the
night and the greatness of the snow and the hardness of the wind. And after they
cold to the end of a year, a worse night again came on them, in the middle of
they were on Carraig na Ron, and the water froze about them, and as they rested
their feet and their wings and their feathers froze to the rock, the way they
to move from it. And they made such a hard struggle to get away, that they left
their feet and their feathers and the tops of their wings on the rock after
"My grief, children of Lir," said Fionnuala, "it is bad
our state is now, for we cannot
the salt water to touch us, and there are bonds on us not to leave it; and if
the salt water
into our sores," she said, "we will get our death." And she made
"It is keening we are to-night; without feathers to cover our
bodies; it is cold the
uneven rocks are under our bare feet.
"It is bad our stepmother was to us the time she played enchantments
on us, sending
out like swans upon the sea.
"Our washing place is on the ridge of the bay, in the foam of flying
manes of the sea;
share of the ale feast is the salt water of the blue tide.
"One daughter and three sons; it is in the clefts of the rocks we
are; it is on the hard
we are, it is a pity the way we are."
However, they came on to the course of the Maoil
again, and the salt water was sharp
rough and bitter to them, but if it was itself, they were not able to avoid it
or to get
from it. And they were there by the
shore under that hardship till such time as their
grew again, and their wings, and till their sores were entirely healed. And then
to go every day to the shore of Ireland or of Alban, but they had to come back
Maoile every night.
Now they came one day to the mouth of the Banna, to the north of Ireland,
troop of riders, beautiful, of the one colour, with well-trained pure white
and they travelling the road straight from the south-west
"Do you know who those riders are, sons of Lir?" said
"We do not," they said; "but it is likely they might be
some troops of the Sons of
or of the Tuatha de Danaan."
They moved over closer to the shore then, that they might know who they
the riders saw them they came to meet them until they were able to hold talk
And the chief men among them were two sons of Bodb Dearg, Aodh
quick wits, and Fergus Fithchiollach, of the chess, and a third part of the
Riders of the
along with them, and it was for the swans they had been looking for a long while
that, and when they came together they wished one another a kind and loving
And the children of Lir asked for news of all the Men of Dea, and above
all of Lir,
Bodb Dearg and their people.
"They are well, and they are in the one place together," said
they, "in your father's
at Sidhe Fionnachaidh, using the Feast of Age pleasantly and happily, and with
on them, only for being without yourselves, and without knowledge of what
you from the day you left Loch Dairbhreach."
"That has not been the way with us," said Fionnuala, "for
we have gone through great
and uneasiness and misery on the tides of the sea until this day."
And she made this complaint:
"There is delight to-night with the household of Lir! Plenty of ale
with them and of wine, although it is in a cold dwelling-place this night are
the four children of the king.
"It is without a spot our bedclothes are, our bodies covered over
with curved feathers;
it is often we were dressed in purple, and we drinking pleasant mead.
"It is what our food is and our drink, the white sand and
the bitter water of the sea; it
often we drank mead of hazel-nuts from round four-lipped drinking cups.
"It is what our beds are, bare rocks out of the power of the waves;
it is often there
to be spread out for us beds of the breast-feathers of birds.
"Though it is our work now to be swimming through the frost and
through the noise
the waves, it is often a company of the sons of kings were riding after us to
the Hill of
"It is what wasted my strength, to be going and coming over the
current of the Maoil
way I never was used to, and never to be in the sunshine on the soft grass.
"Fiachra's bed and Conn's bed is to come under the cover of my wings
on the sea.
has his place under the feathers of my breast, the four of us side by side.
"The teaching of Manannan without deceit, the talk of Bodb Dearg on
the voice of Angus, his sweet kisses; it is by their side I used to be without
After that the riders went on to Lir's house, and they told the chief men
of the Tuatha
Danaan all the birds had gone through, and the state they were in. "We have
them," the chief men said, "but we are glad they are living yet, for
they will get help in
end of time.
As to the children of Lir, they went back towards their old place in the
stopped there till the time they had to spend in it was spent. And then
time is come for us to leave this place. And it is to Irrus Domnann we must go
said, "after our three hundred years here. And indeed there will be no rest
for us there, or
standing ground, or any shelter from the storms. But since it is time for us to
go, let us
out on the cold wind, the way we will not go astray."
So they set out in that way, and left Sruth na Maoile behind them, and
went to the
of Irrus Domnann, and there they stopped, and it is a life of misery and a cold
there. And one time the sea froze about them that they could not move at all,
were lamenting, and Fionnuala was comforting them, for she knew there would be
come to them in the end.
And they stayed at Irrus Domnann till the time they had to spend there
was spent. And
Fionnuala said: "The time is come for us to go back to Sidhe Fionnachaidh,
is with his household and with all our own people."
"It pleases us well to hear that," they said.
So they set out flying through the air lightly till they came to Sidhe
how they found the place, empty before them, and nothing in it but green
of nettles, without a house, without a fire, without a hearthstone. And the four
close to one another then, and they gave out three sorrowful cries, and
"It is a wonder to me this place is, and it without a house, without
see it the way it is now, Ochone! it is bitterness to my heart.
"Without dogs, without hounds for hunting, without women, without
great kings; we
knew it to be like this when our father was in it.
"Without horns, without cups, without drinking in the lighted house;
without riders; the way it is to-night is a foretelling of sorrow.
"The people of the place to be as they are now, Ochone! it is grief
to my heart! It is
to my mind to-night the lord of the house is not living.
"Och, house where we used to see music and playing and the gathering
of people! I
it a great change to see it lonely the way it is to-night
"The greatness of the hardships we have gone through going from one
wave to another
the sea, we never heard of the like of them coming on any other person.
"It is seldom this place had its part with grass and bushes; the man
is not living that
know us, it would be a wonder to him to see us here."
However, the children of Lir stopped that night in their father's place
where they had been reared, and they were singing very sweet music of the
And they rose up early on the morning of the morrow and went to the Inis
all the birds of the country gathered near them on Loch na-n Ean, the Lake of
they used to go out to feed every day to the far parts of the country, to Inis
Accuill, the place Donn, son of
Miled, and his people that were drowned were
all the western islands of Connacht, and they used to go back to Inis Gluaire
It was about that time it happened them to meet with a young man of good
name was Aibric; and he often took notice of the birds, and their singing was
and he loved them greatly, and they loved him. And it is this young man that
story of all that had happened them, and put it in order.
Lady Gregory - Gods and Fighting Men, Colin Smythe 1970. London.
Note: I have cut out the
christianised ending to this story as presented in Lady Gregory's account as I
believe many of the pagan myths were deliberately christianised by the christian
chroniclers in order to cash in on their popularity with the people and were
then used as propaganda. (H. T.)
Children of Lir, by John Duncan, 19th century Scottish artist.