The Children of Lir

Once upon a time there lived a King called Lir who had four children: a daughter called Fionnuala and three sons called Aodh, Fiachra and Con.Their mother the Queen was dead, and the children were sad because they missed her terribly. They missed the stories she used to tell them, the games she used to play, and the songs she sang at bedtime as she hugged them to sleep.

The king saw that his children were sad and needed a mother, so he decided to marry again. His new bride was called Aoife (pronounced nearly like Eva). She was beautiful, but she was not the kind-hearted person the King thought she was.

Aoife grew jealous of the four children because their father loved them so much. She wanted the king all to herself, so she planned to get rid of the children. She asked a druid to help her, and together they thought up a terrible spell.

In the castle grounds there was a lovely lake which the children spent most of their time playing beside. One day Aoife went with the children to the lakeside. As they played she pulled out a magic wand and waved it over them. There was a flash of light, and the children vanished. In their place were four beautiful white swans.

One of the swans opened its beak and spoke with Fionnuala's voice: "Oh, what have you done to us?" she asked in a frightened voice."I have put a spell on you," replied Aoife. "Now everything you have will be mine. You will be swans for nine hundred years. You will spend three hundred years on this lake, three hundred years on the Sea of Moyle and three hundred years on the Island of Glora. Only the sound of a church bell can break the spell."

(painting by Jim Fitzpatrick)

When the children did not come home that evening, the king went to look for them. As he came near to the lake they swam up to him. He was amazed when they began to call out.

"Father, father," they cried, "we are your children. Aoife has placed a terrible magic spell on us."

The King raced back to the castle and pleaded with Aoife to change the swans back into children, but she refused. Now he saw how selfish she was and banished her from the kingdom. Lir promised a reward to anyone who could break the spell, but nobody knew how.

Lir spent the rest of his life talking to his children, until he grew too old and died. The swans were heartbroken. they no longer sang or talked, and nobody came to see them.

Three hundred years passed and it was time for the swans to move on to the cold and stormy Sea of Moyle between Ireland and Scotland. It was a wild place and there was little food. The years passed slowly.

When it was time for them to fly to the Isle of Glora the swans were old and tired. Although it was warmer on the island and there was lots of food they were still very lonely.

Then one day they heard the sound they had waited nine hundred years for. It was the sound of a church bell.

The bell was ringing in the tower of a little church. An old man called Caomhog, stood outside. He was amazed to hear the swans talking and listened to their sad story in astonishment. Then he went inside his church and brought out some holy water which he sprinkled on the swans while he prayed. As soon as the water touched them the swans began to change into old, old people.

Lir's children were frightened. Caomhog told them about God and his love for all people. They no longer felt scared. Fionnuala put her arms around her brothers and they all fell to the ground dead.

Caomhog buried them in one grave. That night he dreamed that he saw four swans flying up through the clouds and he knew that the children of Lir were at last on their way to Heaven to be with their Mother and Father again.

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