According to the Irish mythology, Lir was a fierce warrior and one of the gods of the Tuatha de Danann. He was a powerful god of the sea, although his son, Manannán mac Lir, seems to have taken over his position as sea god and so features more prominently in stories. It is probable that more legends referring to Lir existed and that his importance was greater than what was recorded.
When An Tuatha dé Danann were forced underground by the Milesians, Lir was assigned Sidhe Fionnachaidh or ‘Hill of the White Field’ in County Armagh, as his residence.
At the same time, it was decided that An Tuatha needed their own king to rule them rather than a Milesian one, so Lir put himself forward to become the new king. Unfortunately, Bobh Dearg was chosen instead of Lir, so he retreated to the Hill of the White field.
Although he was angry at not becoming king, Lir proved to be caring, considerate person and a very loving father. Shortly after his failed attempt at kingship, Lir’s first wife died. Bobh Dearg, as an act of goodwill, offered him one of his foster daughters, Eve, to be his wife. Lir gladly accepted and married Eve. They lived happily together and had four children: a daughter, Fionnuala, a son, Aodh, and twin boys Fiachra and Conn. From here came the story of the Children of Lir.
The Children of Lir is one of the most popular legends in Irish mythology and the one for which the sea god Lir is most famed for.
Unfortunately, Eve died suddenly from a mysterious illness. Lir and the children were devastated. Bobh Dearg, who also loved the family, wanted to help them so he suggested that Lir marry another one of his foster daughters, Aoife, Eve’s sister. Lir agreed to marry Aoife as he felt she would be a good mother for his children. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
Lir continued to shower his children with affection constantly – much to the annoyance of Aoife. She became extremely jealous of the children and plotted with an evil druid to get rid of them. Instead of killing them, she took them on a trip where they went for a swim on Lough Derravaragh. As soon as they were in the water, she struck them with the druid’s wand and turned them into swans. The spell that Aoife cast ensured that the children would live nine hundred years as swans – three hundred on Lough Derravaragh, three hundred on the Straits of Moyle, and three hundred more on the Isle of Inish Glora. The spell would end when a queen from the south married a king from the north.
Lir was devastated when he discovered what Aoife did and in a fit of rage, he cursed her to spend eternity as an air demon. She was never seen again.
In spite of his heartbreak, Lir wanted to stay close to his children, so he set up camp and lived on the shores of Lough Derravaragh until such time that the swans had to leave to fulfil the remainder of their curse. They never saw each other again. By the time the curse ended, Lir and An Tuatha de Danann had left the mortal realm.