The Children Of Lir

Children Of Lir - Myths & Legends!

Five rulers of the Tuatha Dé Danann (tribe of the gods) assembled to determine which of them should become their sovereign. They were aware that they needed to unite behind a single leader in order to be powerful enough to face their foes.

King Lir (Lear) was a prominent personage with many talents, and as he prepared for the assembly his spirit was elated in expectation of the recognition that he assumed would be his. To his shock, the other rulers consented on Bodb Derg of Killaloe to be their leader.

King Lir

Bodb (Bov) was the son of Eochaid Garb or The Dagda, the chief deity of Newgrange and he was said to be a wise man. The kings had hopes that he could direct them through the difficult times.

When Lir heard the news, he just couldn't accept it. How could they not have chosen him as their king? In a rage, he left hastily for his home without observing any of the customs or courtesies of the day. Many people regarded this as a severe insult, particularly to Bodb the new king.

King Bodb

Bodb was unwilling to use violence to gain Lir's loyalty, knowing that he was a strong ruler with many devoted followers. He concluded that it would be foolish to start a war with him, so he commanded that nothing be done at the time.

To create harmony between them, Bodb asked Lir to come to his castle in Killaloe, and offered him one of his three daughters of his as a wife.

They were considered the most beautiful and talented women in Ireland, and Lir was taken aback by the offer. He expressed his consent to the proposal and accepted Bodb as his king. A grand feast was held to commemorate Lir's return to the Danann. When he met the three sisters, he was entranced by their grace and beauty, he said he would choose the eldest as it was the proper thing to do.

Tragically, Aoibh passed away during childbirth, leaving Lir in a state of great sorrow, only the love of his kids kept him going. King Bodb had grown to care for Lir and was sorry for his loss so he proposed to offer Aoibh's sister Aoife (ee-fa) to marry him. She looked like a kind and beautiful lady, but no one knew that she had learned the art of magic from the druids in secret. 

Initially Aoife was fond of Lir's children, yet eventually she became envious of his fondness for them. She even attempted to persuade Lir to allow someone else to take care of them, but he refused to consider it. Her envy and hatred became unavoidable, so she concluded she had to take action.

One day, she made known to the four children that she was taking them to Bodb's Castle. Since Bodb had a lot of affection for Lir's children, Lir was pleased to find out that Aoife was taking them to his castle. Generally, they would have been delighted at the thought of a voyage to Bodb's stronghold.

They departed in a great procession of chariots, steeds, helpers and gatekeepers and after some time, they stopped to take a break for the horses. Then Aoife took her most reliable aides aside one by one and offered them a generous award if they would slaughter Lir's children for her. Appalled, they all denied her, saying it was an evil thing she requested.

Aoife was infuriated, so she grabbed her sword and walked toward the children, intending to kill them. However, she was unable to go through with it and tossed the weapon away. The group arrived at Loch Derravaragh, and Aoife asked them to pause so the children could swim.

They hastily took off their garments and jumped into the lake. Aoife then got a druid wand from her cloak and produced a spell that transformed the kids into beautiful swans; there was a tremendous burst of light over the lake and in an instant, there were four swans where the children had been. Aoife declared that they would not be free until a King from the north marries a Queen from the South and you hear the tolling of a bell. They were sentenced to spend 300 years here on Loch Derravaragh, 300 years on the wild Sea of Moyle and a further 300 years in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Aoife had left them with the power of speech and the most beautiful singing voices and then turned and headed back for her carriage, and then commanded her staff to take her onwards to Bodb's castle. 

The swans grouped together, hoping that surely once they're father heard of what had happened, he would come and break the spell. Lir was powerful and also knew the ways of magic, so surely this spell could be broken.

To Bodb's surprise, Aoife arrived at his castle without the children, she explained that Lir was jealous of how much his kids loved Bodh and would not allow them to accompany her. Bodb was not happy with this admission and had charged his servant with sending a message to Lir demanding he join him in Killaloe with his children.

When Lir received the message he was shocked to find that his children were not there and he set off for Bodb's castle immediately. En route, Lir was passing by Lock Derravaragh where he heard some familiar voices calling out to him. Unsure of what he just heard, Lir stopped and searched the lake and saw four swans swimming over to him. Lir got a dreadful fright when he realized that the familiar voices were of his children and they were coming from the swans.

Lir's children had told him what his wife Aoife had done to them, Lir tried his best to revere the spell but it was too strong for him. Lir spent the night at at the shore of the lake before leaving early the next morning to confront Aoife.

When Lir arrived at Bodb's castle,  Aoife wouldn't even look at her husband. Lir explained that his children were not with him and turned to Aoife and shouted "you turned my kids into swans!". Aoife tried to escape but Bodb grabbed her and she was forced to admit what she had done.

Bodb was furious, so he decided to cast a spell of his own. He had turned Aoife into an air demon and condemned her to live in the air forever. Lir had left Bodb's castle and returned to his children on Loch Derravaragh and asked them to go back home with him. His children had said they were unable to leave due to the curse, so Lir not wanting to leave his children, he had built a house for himself by the lake and lived out the rest of his days there with his swan children.

Eventually, 300 years had passed and it was time for the children to leave Loch Derravaragh and make their way to the Sea of Moyle. The people missed the swans dearly, and it was announced that no swan should ever be killed in Ireland.

The Sea of Moyle lays between Ireland and Scotland and is a rough and inhospitable sea, with constant storms. Soon after the swans arrive to their new home a large storm had hit, separating the children over the wild sea. It was several days before they were reunited. The constant storms meant they suffered many injuries and were often left cold and hungry, but Fionnuala helped her siblings get through it by telling them stories and words of comfort.

The 300 years had passed and it was time for them to leave the Sea of Moyle and head to the Atlantic Ocean. The children had to fly over their old home and were sad to see it derelict with the buildings in ruins.

They made their way onto the island of Inis Gluairé near Mayo, here they found some protection from the harsh elements of the Atlantic. 

Eventually, Saint Patrick and Christianity came to Ireland, and one day a holy man Mochaomhóg arrived at Inis Gluairé — the swans heard him ringing a bell calling service, and became frightened at the sound.

Fionnuala, then remembered that a bell meant good news, she knew the bell heralded their freedom and the swans joyfully began to sing. Mochaimhóg heard this wonderful sound and rushed to the island. Eagerly he called out "are you the children of Lir?" 

"We are!" They answered.

The monk was delighted to have found them, saying that he thought that they were the reason he was there. The swans put their trust in the holy man and allowed him to bind them with silver chains. The birds felt no distress  over their situation in the company of the monk.

They lived with him in his monk's hut and this was a happy time for them. They told him stories of their years of adventure, and had the idea of writing them all down so that their tales would live on. Over time, fishermen spread the word of these wondrous talking and singing swans and people began to remember the tale of the children of Lir.

Soon people from all over Ireland travelled to Inis Gluairé to hear the swans sing. At this time, Lairgenn  was King of Connacht and was due to marry Deoch, the young daughter of the King of Munster, this was the event that was foretold to end Aoife's curse. 

Deoch heard about the swan's and said she wouldn't marry Lairgenn until he brought the swans to live with them. At first he refused, but he was afraid of losing his beloved so he had ordered Mochaimhóg to bring the swans to him. Of course, Mochaimhóg refused and Lairgenn was now humiliated in front of his wife-to-be. 

He now had no option but to act and travelled to the island to take the swans himself. After a brief struggle, Lairgenn grabbed the swans by their silver chains and began to drag them to his carriage. The children resisted with all their strength and then Lairgenn watched in horror as their plumage fell away and the beautiful swans turned into four very old people.

Lairgenn immediately felt terribly ashamed by what he had done and fled the island as quickly as he could. The children of Lir were now back in human form, but they were too old to live, as they began to die, Fionnuala asked for them to buried in a single grave on the island she asked that he buried them standing with their arms around each other, supporting each other in death, as they had in life. They died moments later, and Mochaimhóg did as they requested and buried them in a single grave he then raised a small stone over the grave in memory.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Fionnuala, Aobh, Fiachra and Conn

For some, this story is important because it shares that the Christian faith can bring freedom to those who are suffering.

To others it could teach you that it is important to persevere under difficult circumstances.

Some people say that the children of Lir is the basis for Swan Lake, however the ballet is based on a German fairytale called Lake of Swans.

This fairytale has a much happier ending and is your stereotypical prince comes to save a princess story.

The daily giants causeway tour & game of thrones tour from Belfast both travel through the famous glens of antrim.