Bobh Dearg, King of the Tuatha dé Danann, had three foster daughters – Eve, Aoife and Niamh. They were the daughters of Ailill of Aran but it was common in ancient times for prominent families to foster each other’s children to ensure goodwill between them.
The first was Eve, who was golden, fair, full of beauty and promise like the spring sun. Her sister Aoife ‘the red-haired’ or ‘the bright one’, was said to be the embodiment of autumn in all its glory. Finally, there was Niamh, who was as dark and beautiful as winter.
When Bobh Dearg offered one of his foster daughters for Lir to marry, he chose Eve. They were very happy together and had four children; Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn.
Sadly, Eve died and Aoife was offered by Bobh as a second wife to console Lir. At first, Aoife was happy. She loved her four stepchildren and showered her affections on them. However, Lir was so besotted with his children that he wanted them all to sleep in the same room, so he could see them last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Eventually, Aoife became angry and jealous of Lir’s affection for his children.
As time passed her jealousy got the better of her. She planned a trip that fooled the children into thinking they were going to visit their step-grandfather, Bobh. Aoife had thought about killing them, but she could not bring herself to go through with it. Instead, she cast a spell with her druid’s wand which turned the children of Lir into swans. She left them with their voices and their senses. Fionnuala, the eldest, begged and pleaded for the spell to be reversed. Aoife felt some remorse at this stage, but she did not have the power to break the spell. Instead, she placed a limit of 900 years on it, saying that it would last until a Queen from the south married a King from the north.
When Lir and Bobh discovered Aoife’s terrible deed, they cursed her to spend the rest of her days as an air demon. She was banished to the four winds forever. It is said that you can still hear her cries on a stormy night, sighing and sobbing in the wind.