The faith of the children of Lir
By: Paul Gibney
This haunting story has inspired Celtic jewelry makers for many years now as the swan theme embodies traditional Celtic designs and Celtic symbols.
A long time ago in ancient Ireland lived an Irish Chieftain named Lir. He was married to Aobh daughter of King Bodhbh (also called Bov the Red) of Lough Dergh. They had four beautiful children; Fionnula, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn. Unfortunately Aobh died giving birth and Lir was devastated with grief.
When King Bodhbh heard of Lir’s loss he offered another one of his daughters to Lir in marriage. Lir choose Aoife as his new wife and stepmother to his children. At first, all when well with the marriage, Lir doted on his four children. Soon Aoife became intensely jealous of her stepchildren. She even pretended to be sick for a whole year in order to look for special attention. One day Aoife told the children that they we going with her to visit there Grandfather King Bodhbh, as they had done many times before. Along the way they stopped at Lough Dairbhreach (lake of the oaks) and Aoife ordered the children to wash themselves in the lough. Once they were in the water, Aoife cast a magic spell turning the four children of Lir into beautiful white swans. Fionnuala cursed her but implored her to put some limits on the spell. Aoife regretting what she had done agreed to allow them keep their beautiful singing voices. But the spell still imposed a harsh sentence on the swan children. They were to spend 300 years on Lough Dairbhreach, 300 years in the Straits of Moyle and the final 300 years at Erris. They spell would only be broken when they heard the first bells of Christianity and when a King from the north marries a Princess from the south.
When King Bodhbh found out what Aoife had done to the children of Lir, using a Druids rod he turned her into a “Witch of the air”. As the legend goes Aoife still blows in the howling wind and her screams can be heard when a storm blows.
Over the years Lir and many others continued to visit the swan children. They listened to their enchanting, magical singing that was said to calm even the most savage beast.
Over the 900 years of the spell they faced extremely harsh weather conditions. Near the end they traveled to Inish Gluaire where they first heard the Christian bells and met a Christian missionary called St. Mochaomhog. They told him of their plight and that they were the children of Lir. At this time a King from the north King Lairgnean was due to wed Deach, a daughter of the southern Muster King. King Lairgnean had heard of the swan’s lovely singing voices and wanted to give them to his wife as a wedding present. But while King Lairgnean was trying to capture the swans he touched one of them and the spell was broken. The swans turned back into their human form, but they were very old and
Withered looking. Fionnula the oldest asked St. Mochaomhog to baptize them and soon after they died. They were buried the same way they lived, together. Later that night St. Mochaomhog dreamed that he saw four beautiful white swans flying over the sea straight up to heaven.
This beautiful Celtic myth has inspired Irish gifts makers over the years to create wonderful works of art. Many Irish jewelry manufactures have incorporated the 4 swan theme into many stunning pieces of children of Lir jewelry.
About the Author
Paul Gibney is a co-founder of http://www.claddaghstore.com one of Ireland largest online Celtic Jewelry Stores.
Return to Index