Many years ago in ancient Ireland, lived a King and ruler of the sea called Lir. It was at the time of the Milesian invasion and An Tuatha Dé Danann were forced underground to the hills, mounds and caves. Lir lived in a place called ‘Sidhe Fionnachaidh’ or ‘Hill of the White Field’ in County Armagh. The chiefs of An Tuatha Dé Danann decided they needed their own king other than the new Milesian King to rule them.
Bodb Dearg, son of the Dagda, was elected King, much to the annoyance of Lir, who felt that he himself should have been chosen. Lir did not swear obedience to Bodb so the other leaders felt Lir should be punished for not accepting the leader they had chosen. Bodb Dearg was a good King and disagreed. He did not want to rule him by force.
After some time, Lir’s first wife died. Bodb pitied his misfortune and offered him one of his foster daughters, Eve, in marriage. Lir gladly agreed and a strong alliance was formed between the two men.
Lir and Eve were blissfully happy on the Hill of the White field. They had four children: one girl, Fionnuala, and three sons, Aodh and twins, Fiachra and Conn.
Unfortunately, after a sudden and mysterious illness, Eve died. Lir was distraught, as was Bobh Dearg who loved his grandchildren as much as Lir. Bodb then sent another foster daughter, Aoife, to marry Lir, which he accepted as he felt that she would be a good mother to his children.
Aoife loved the children and Lir at first, but soon she became very jealous of the affection given to her four stepchildren by Lir. He adored them and spent all his time with them. Aoife wanted to have all of his attention for herself. As time passed, Aoife’s hatred for the children grew and grew until one day, she took them out in her chariot pretending to be going to visit Bodb Dearg. On the way, they stopped at Lough Derravarragh and Aoife told them to go for a swim. Once in the water, she took out a powerful druid’s wand and touched the water with it. Angry waves rose up and engulfed Lir’s children and turned them into four white swans.
Fionnuala begged her to stop the spell, but Aoife said that the spell was too strong that no one could stop it. Out of some remorse, Aoife set a time limit of 900 years for them to live as swans. – three hundred on Lough Derravaragh, three hundred on Straits of Moyle, and three hundred more on Isle of Inish Glora. She also foretold that the spell would end when a queen from the south married a king from the north. Aoife allowed the children to keep their voices so that their singing would bring them comfort while in swan form.
She then continued on to Bodb’s palace. When he asked why the children were not with her, she claimed that Lir did not trust him with them, but Bodb was suspicious and sent messengers to Lir.
On receiving the messenger, Lir knew instinctively that Aoife had hurt his children. He set out and at the shores of Lough Derravarragh, he found the swans with human voices! His dear children! They told him what Aoife had done, and Lir both distraught and angry followed Aoife to Bodb’s palace. Lir reached Bodb and told him of Aoife’s terrible act. Lir and Bodb cursed her with all their powers and turned her into a Demon of the air that would remain in torment forever in the darkest corners of Ireland.
Although saddened by his children’s fate, Lir remained a good father and spent his days faithfully by the lake listening to their singing. Bodb, the people of An Tuatha De Danann and Milesians came too. The singing and the music calmed and delighted all who heard it. Their three hundred years on Lough Derravaragh were filled with joy, but soon the time came for the swans to go north to the cold Straits of Moyle. With heavy hearts, the children said goodbye to their father and their people. In order to keep them safe, a law was introduced that no swan should be killed in Ireland. The four swans flew off alone and frightened of what lay ahead of them.
Their time on the Straits of Moyles was horrendous. The weather was so cold and intense that the waters froze and their feathers froze to the ice. Violent storms separated them frequently but thankfully they always managed to reunite. To keep them safe and warm Fionnuala used to wrap them in her wings, Fiachra to her left, Aodh to her right and Conn to the front of her chest.
They survived these three hundred years and eventually travelled to fulfil the final stage of their spell on the small Island of Inish Glora. The seas were wild, but the island was beautiful. Here, they remained for 300 years and then decided to return home to their father’s house on The Hill of the White field.
When they got there, they were heartbroken once more to find it deserted, derelict and overgrown. Lir and an Tuatha dé Danann were long gone and their once glorious castle was in ruins.
Not knowing what to do and overwhelmed with sadness the Children of Lir went back to Inish Glora as they knew it to be safe. On their return, they heard the ringing of bells. They followed the sound and arrived at the house of a holy man called Caomhog who had just arrived on the island to set up his Church of the new religion. He was a kind man and the swans put their trust in him. They stayed there happily in his care.
Eventually, word of the swans with the beautiful singing voices on Inish Glora spread throughout Ireland. Lairgnen, the King of Connacht arrived on the island, demanding them as a gift for his new Queen. Caomhóg refused which make Lairgnen angry. He attempted to grab the swans, but on his touch, the swans fell off their perch and waters from the sea rose and enveloped them and turned them back into the children they were nine hundred years before.
The frightened King of Connacht fled immediately. The children in their human form started to age rapidly. Caomhog knew that they soon would die, so he quickly baptised them before they passed away. He buried them on Inish Glora in the manner in which they comforted each other on the icy seas – Fionnuala in the centre, Fiachra to her left, Aodh to her right and Conn to the front of her chest. That was the fate of the ‘Children of Lir’, the last of An Tuatha de Danann. Their legend lives on to this day.