Children Of Lír
"Rather let us bind him to us by the bonds of kinship, so that peace may dwell in the land. Send over to him for wife the choice of the three maidens of the fairest form and best repute in Erin, the three daughters of Oilell of Aran, my own three bosom-nurslings."
So the messengers brought word to Lir that Dearg the King would give him a foster-child of his foster-children. Lir thought well of it and set out the next day with fifty chariots from the Hill of the White Field. And he came to the Lake of the Red Eye near Killaloe. When Lir saw the three daughters of Oilell, King Dearg said to him,
"Take thy choice of the maidens."
"I know not," said Lir, "which is the choicest of them all; but the eldest of them is the noblest and she I had best take."
"If so," said King Dearg, "Ove is the eldest and she shall be given to thee, if thou willest."
So Lir and Ove married and went back to the Hill of the White Field.
And after this there came to them twins, a son and a daughter, and they named them Fingula and Aod. And two more sons came to them, Fiachra and Conn. In childbed Ove died, and Lir mourned her bitterly and but for his great love for his children he would have died of his grief. King Dearg grieved for Lir and sent to him and said:
"We grieve for Ove for thy sake; but for our friendship may not be rent asunder, I will give unto thee her sister Oifa for a wife."
Lir agreed and he and Oifa were united, and he took her to his house. At first she felt affection for the children of Lir and her sister, and indeed everyone who saw the children could not help giving them the love of his soul. Lir doted upon the four, and they always slept in beds in front of their father, who used to rise at early dawn each morning to lie down among his children. But thereupon the dart of jealousy passed into Oifa on account of this and she came to regard the children with hatred and enmity. One day her chariot was yoked for her and she took with her the four children of Lir in it. Fingula was not willing to go with her on the journey, for she had dreamt a dream in the night warning her against Oifa, but she was not to avoid her fate. And when the chariot came to the Lake of the Oaks, Oifa said to the people, "Kill the four children of Lir and I will give you your own reward of every kind in the world."
But they refused and told her it was an evil thought she had. Then she would have raised a sword herself to destroy the children, but Oifa's own womanhood and her weakness prevented her, so she drove the four children into the lake to bathe, and they did as Oifa told them. As soon as they were on the lake she struck them with a Druid's wand of spells and wizardry and put them into the forms of four beautiful, perfectly white swans, and she sang this song over them:
And Fingula answered:
And again she spoke, "Assign an end for the ruin and woe which thou hast brought upon us."
Oifa laughed and said, "Never shall ye be free until the woman from the south be united to the man from the north, until Lairgnen of Connaught wed Deoch of Munster; nor shall any have power to bring you out of these forms. Nine hundred years shall you wander over the lakes and streams of Erin. This only I will grant unto you: That you retain your own speech, and there shall be no music in the world equal to the plaintive music you shall sing."
This she said because repentance seized her for the evil she had done. Then she spake this lay:
Then she turned her steeds and went on to the Hall of the King. The nobles of the court asked her where were the children of Lir, and Oifa said, "Lir will not trust them to King Dearg." But Dearg thought in his mind that the woman had played some treachery upon them, and he thus sent messengers to the Hall of the White Field.
Upon learning that the children had not arrived at the King's Hall with their mother, Oifa, Lir was melancholy at heart, for he knew that Oifa had done wrong to his children, and he set out to the Lake of the Red Eye. When the children of Lir saw him coming, Fingula sang the lay:
Now as she said this King Lir had come to the shore and heard the swans speaking with human voices. He spoke to the swans and asked who they were. Fingula answered, "We are thy children, ruined by thy wife, sister of our mother, through her ill mind and jealousy. None can relieve us till the woman from the south and the man from the north come together, till Lairgnen of Connaught wed Deoch of Munster."
Lir and his people raised their shouts of grief and lamentation, and they stayed by the lake listening to the wild music of the swans until the swans flew away, and Lir went on to the Hall of the King. He told Dearg what Oifa had done. Dearg the King put his power upon Oifa and bade her say what shape on earth she would think worst of all. She said it would be the form of an air-demon. "It is into that form that I shall put you," said Dearg the King, and he struck her into the form of an air-demon. And she flew away at once, and she is still an air-demon, and shall be so forever.
The children continued to delight the Milesian clans with the sweet fairy music of their songs, and no sweeter sound was ever heard in Erin to compare with their music until the time came appointed for the leaving the Lake of the Red Eye. Then Fingula sang this parting lay:
And after they took to flight, flying highly, lightly, aerially till they reached the Moyle, between Erin and Albain. The Men of Eric were grieved at their leaving, and it was proclaimed throughout Erin that henceforth no swan should be killed. Then they stayed all solitary, all alone, filled with cold and grief and regret, until a thick tempest came upon them and Fingula said: "Brothers, let us appoint a place to meet if the power of the winds separate us." They said, "Let us appoint to meet, O sister, at the Rock of the Seals." Then the waves rose up and the thunder roared, the lightning flashed, the sweeping tempest passed over the sea, so that the children of Lir were scattered from each other over the great sea. There came, however, a placid calm after the great tempest and Fingula found herself alone.
And she flew to the Lake of the Seals and soon saw Conn coming towards her with heavy step and drenched feathers, and Fiachra also, cold and wet and faint, and no word could they tell, so cold and faint were they, but she nestled them under her wings and said, "If Aod could come to us now our happiness would be complete." But soon they saw Aod coming towards them with dry head and preened feathers. Fingula put him under the feathers of her breast, and Fiachra under her right wing, and conn under her left, and they made this lay:
One day they saw a splendid cavalcade of pure white steeds coming towards them, and when they came near they were the two sons of Dearg the King who had been seeking for them to give news of King Dearg and their father Lir. "They are well," said they, "and live together happy in all except that ye are not with them, and for not knowing where ye have gone since the day he left the Lake of the Red Eye." "Happy are not we," said Fingula, and she sang this song:
So the sons of Dearg the King came to the Hall of Lir and told the King and Lir the condition of the children. Then the time came for the children of Lir to fulfill their lot, and they flew in the current of the Moyle to the Bay of Erris, and remained there til the time of their fate, and then they flew to the Hill of the White Field and found all desolate and empty, with nothing but unroofed green raths and forests of nettles; no house, no fire, no dwelling-place. The four came close together and they raised three shouts of lamentation aloud and Fingula sang this lay:
And the first night he came to the island, the children of Lir heard the voice of his bell ringing for matins, so that they started and leapt about in terror at hearing it; and her brothers left Fingula alone. "What is it, beloved brothers?" said she. "We know not what faint, fearful voice it is we have heard." Then Fingula recited this lay:
And Mac Howg came down to the brink of the shore and said to them: "Are ye the children of Lir?" "We are indeed," said they. "Thanks be to God!" said the saint; "it is for your sakes I have come to this Isle beyond every island in Erin. Come ye to land now and put your trust in me." So they came to land, and he made for them chains of bright white silver, and put a chain between Aod and Fingula and a chain between Conn and Fiachra.
It happened at this time that Lairgnen was prince of Connaught and he was wed to Deoch the daughter of the King of Munster. She had heard the account of the birds and she became filled with love and affection for them, and she said she would not wed till she had the wondrous birds of Glory Isle. Lairgnen sent for them to the Saint Mac Howg. But the Saint would not give them, and both Lairgnen and Deoch went to Glory Isle. And Lairgnen went to seize the birds from the altar; but as soon as he had laid hands on them their feathery coats fell off, and the three sons of Lir became three withered bony old men, and Fingula, a lean withered old woman without blood or flesh. Lairgnen started at this and left hastily, but Fingula chanted this lay:
After this lay, the children of Lir were baptised. And they died, and were buried as Fingula had said, Fiachra and Conn on either side, and Aod before her face. A cairn was raised for them, and on it their names were written in runes. And that is the fate of the children of Lir.
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