The Children of Lir

Don't love too deeply,and be mindful of how you display your affections! Wise advice,for jealousy lies in the heartof many and jealousy's victimsare often the innocent.

In the ancient land of Ireland there lived a local king by the name of Lir. Displeased by the election of Bodb Dearg as High King of Ireland, Lir left the celebrations which followed his election. The remainder were outraged by his action and clamoured for war and destruction against Lir's household. But it was Bodb Dearg who held them back, so saying, "A guest he came and a guest he left, there is no cause for war." And the company's anger cooled.

Time passed and Lir, who greatly loved his wife, met a sad day when she, the woman whom he loved, died on him. Great was his sorrow. His eyes spilled tears enough to fill a lake and he lost his speech from the hurt and the loss. The news of Lir’s great sorrow came to the ears of the High King, who lamented Lir’s pain but saw an opportunity to heal their dispute. “Sad it is to me,” he declared, “to hear of my old friend, alone in his great home and me with three beautiful daughters, unmarried and obedient to their father.” So he sent a messenger to Lir to invite him to his court and Lir came willingly, for his anger had subsided. Having arrived and feasted with the High King, Lir so spoke, “Bodb Dearg, it is an honour you do me, offering me the finest you can offer. I won’t hesitate, for I’m very pleased and have made my choice. Age is a noble thing so I shall take Aobh your eldest.”

And so after much celebration Lir took Aobh home with him and great was their love. The first two children Aobh brought into the world were a son and a daughter, Aodh and Fionnuala. Not long after another two came - two sons, Fiachra and Conn. But this joyful event was mixed with great sadness, as Aobh died. “Death upon me,” cried Lir, “I’ve lost another. All I have are these four precious ones for comfort. Praise be for that.”

And Bodb Dearg heard of the news and was heavy-hearted and could only declare the following, “These heavy tears are all that’s left it seems. But yet there’s comfort to be found in the other two girls that are left to me. Have Lir come and choose another of my girls.” And so Lir came and took the daughter Aoife home with him. And happy were the years that followed. Lir’s children were the apple of their father’s eye and there was great love in Bodb Dearg’s heart for the children also. This situation was not pleasing for Aoife, however, who suffered fury at the sight of this doting father. “How can I command my position,” she cried to the sky, “when the man whom I share my bed with cannot take his eyes off the children he had by my sister? How can I accept him arising from the bed before the sun wakes the world so he can gaze upon his sleeping children? Things must change.” And so she planned their death.

One day, soon after her complaint, she took the four children in her chariot saying she’d bring them to her father’s home. And along the way Aoife declared to the men accompanying her, “Look, men, upon these children. Know this. A reward for the man who kills them.” But all refused. “Your loss,” she cried and drove to the lake. Stopping there she told the children to play on the shore of the lake, and this they did with great enthusiasm. As soon as Aoife saw the children’s feet in the water she struck them with a druid’s stick and changed their form to swans. “Evil deed!” they cried, “and undeserved. We demand some boundaries to this evil deed so we may receive aid from our loved-ones.” “What’s done is done,” responded Aoife, “but to your request I will say this. Three hundred years will ye all spend upon these waters of Loch Dairbhreach. Following this, three hundred years ye will all spend upon the salty waters between Ireland and Albany followed by three hundred years at Irrus Domnann and Inis Gluaire. This is your fate, and help you will not receive. One comfort I’ll leave with ye. You’ll have your speech and your mind and you’ll sing with the beauty of the Sidhe, the people of the other world. Take your course upon the lake and know this - when the nine hundred years is complete a man from the North and a Woman from the South will meet and your forms will be returned.”

Not long after this Lir, filled with worry, made speed to Bodb Dearg’s home to enquire after his children, but weary from his efforts he stopped awhile along the shore of Loch Dairbhreach. And the children upon the water saw his figure and cried out to him, “Father, what you see is what you see, Aoife your wife has done this evil deed.” The sight was too much for the eyes of Lir. Eyes bulging, hair standing on end, weak at the knees, lost between rage and despair, only the children’s speech and soothing song helped him keep his wits. Forced to leave them where they were, Lir set off to consult with the High King. Their counsel had severe consequences for Aoife. Bodb Dearg struck her with a druid’s stick and turned her into an invisible floating thing to be sent around the world by the winds till the end of the world.

A sorrier sight there has never been than father and grandfather crying on the shore of the lake that and every other day that followed. And the days and years passed and people came from the edges of that world to hear the beauty of the song coming from the swans, quietly floating and passing time upon the lake. And three hundred years passed. “It is time,” said Fionnuala to her brothers one evening, “to set off for the salty waters.” And the following morning sad farewells were made to their father and grandfather. “Sad is this day,” cried Fionnuala, “to be winging away from this place. Sad it was to us that our shape and form could not be returned. What is lost is lost and forward steps await.” With that and to the sounds of great lamentation the children of Lir took flight.

Hard were the next three hundred years. Wintry seas laughed at their plight and ice forever threatened to put an end to them. Many were the times when the wind tried to separate them, but determinedly they fought to stay together. The rocks scratched and the salt stung and this hardship they suffered for year following year. “Brothers,” cried Fionnuala, “it is a bad life this, no one could say otherwise. But stay strong for it’s the sight of ye three that keeps me warm enough to bare it.” It was toward the end of their time there that they learned from wanderers of the continuing health and happiness of their father, who was feasting again and comforted by the thought that time would one day restore his children to their old form. “It is well for the world of men,” they cried, “to be drinking ale and eating tasty meat, warming hands by the fire. Another hard three hundred years await us elsewhere.” And they were right. It was more of the same at Irrus Domnann where the cold sea water left them with no comfort and no joy.

But time presses forward, too slow for some and too quick for others. And there came a day when Fionnuala said with relief, “Brothers, it is time to return to our father’s home at Sidhe Fionniachaid.” Bitterness was all that greeted them there, though, when they arrived, for the place was ghostly quiet, the fire unattended and the people long dead. “O grief!” they cried, “We could accept our previous fate, but not this world of emptiness.” It was at this low point that they saw a traveller who had heard their sad song, and he soon informed them of the teachings of Christ and the coming of the Blessed Saint Patrick. “Saint Mochaomhog is nearby and will wish to see ye all.” It was not long before Saint Mochaomhag made his way to the place and befriended the swans. And he brought them to his monastery and celebrated mass in their presence. And time passed.

And one day the son of the king of Connaught arrived at the monastery accompanied by his wife, and they represented the coming together of a Man from the North and a Woman from the South. As husband and wife often do, they quarreled one day in the presence of the swans and before their eyes the feathers and skins fell off them and the children of Lir assumed human form. It was old they were, and looked every day of their life. Fionnuala said these final words: Call the saint here and have him baptise us. Then place us together in a grave with Fiachra and Conn at either side of me and Aodh before my face. And so they were baptised before they died and were buried as instructed.

Such was the life and death of the children of Lir.

- Adapted by Barry Keane


(to) clamour for - (here:) noisily demand (wrzaskliwie domagać się czegoś)
sorrow - sadness, grief, anguish (smutek, żal)
precious - beloved, dear, precious (ukochany, drogi)
(to) dote on/upon sb - adore, love sb and show this openly (nie widzieć świata poza kimś)
druid - ancient Celtic priest before Christianity, Celtic wizard and wise man (druid)
undeserved - unjust, unjustifiable; (also, in reverse:) unmerited e.g. undeserved praise (nie zasłużony)
ye - (here old-fashioned and poetical:) old word meaning "you" especially plural
counsel - (here:) deliberation and discussion about what to do (narada)
(to) wing away - (poetical:) fly away, depart (poszybować)
lamentation - expression of sorrow and sadness with crying, wailing etc. (lament)
determinedly - resolutely, trying really hard (z determinacją)
ale - (old-fashioned:) beer; also: beer made from malt (piwo angielskie)
(to) quarrel - argue (kłócić się)