Irish Myths – The Children of Lir

Ireland is known for its rich heritage of mythological tales and ancient symbols. In Irish mythology, tales are usually put into four periods. The first one is called the Mythological Cycle that mainly comprises pre-Christian stories of the god-like early settlers of Ireland, the Tuatha Dé Danann. The second, the Ulster Cycle, focuses on heroic stories of warriors from parts of Ulster and Leinster, with one of the most prominent heroes,  Cú Chulainn. Tales of the Fenian Cycle are mainly concerned with the band of warriors called the Fianna and the myths of hero Fionn MacCumhaill. The last one is called the Historical Cycle or Cycle of the Kings. This collection centers around legendary Irish kings and traces back their family stories mixing history with mythology.

The Children of Lir
Children of Lir spell
Illustration by P.J. Lynch

A long time ago, there lived a king in Ireland called Lir. He had a wife, Aoibh, and with her four children, daughter Fionnula and the sons Aodh, Fiachra, and Conn. He was very fond of his family and loved them very much. But one day Aoibh died which grieved the king and his children greatly. For them to grow up with a mother, he married Aoibh’s sister Aoife. Initially loving her new family, Aoife soon grew bitter and jealous of their affectionate relationships. So she made a plan to get rid of the children. One day, she brought them to a lake where the children went swimming. Having magical powers, Aoife cast a spell on all four of them turning them into swans. For 900 years they were damned to stay in this shape of which they had to spend 300 years on Lake Derravaragh, 300 on Straits of Moyle, and 300 on Isle of Inish Glora. Only when they hear a Christian bell ring, the spell could be broken. However, the children were allowed to keep their voices so that they could sing beautiful songs. Worried sick, their father searched for them and when he found them on the lake they told him of their fate. Angry with his wife and full of sorrow for his loss, he banished Aoife. As he was not able to break the spell, he would always come to the lake to spend time with his children giving them as much joy as possible. However, as the spell dictated, after 300 years they had to leave the lake for Straits of Moyle. There, they had to endure bad living conditions and terrible weather before they were allowed to move on to their final destination, the Isle of Inish Glora. Meanwhile, their father had long passed away and of his great castle, only ruins were left. After nearly 900 years had passed, one day the swans heard a Church bell ring. When they followed the sound, they met a monk named Caomhog. It was there where the four children of Lir transformed back into their human form. But as 900 years had passed they aged rapidly heralding their prompt death. To prepare the children for heaven, Caomhog baptized them before their passing away. And so goes the story of the four Children of Lir.

For more Irish Myths see:

Oisín and the island of Tír na nÓg

Finn Mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge


Juliane Girl
Juliane Girl

Hey, It's Juliane. I'm from the north of Germany where I study culture, language, and media. At the moment I'm working as an editor with Babylon Radio.

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