Long, long ago in ancient Ireland, when magic was an everyday thing, and the first tribe, the Tuatha De Danann had settled in Ireland. The time soon came for them to select a new king, Bodb Dhearg and Lir were the candidates. Bodb Dhearg was selected and this made Lir angry, as he felt he deserved it more. Bodb Dhearg had no wish to make an enemy of Lir, and so offered him the choice of any one of his three daughters as a wife. Lir chose the eldest daughter Aobh.

Lir and Aobh fell deeply in love, and in time Aobh gave birth to a daughter and a son, called Fionnuala and Aodh. All who saw the children couldn’t help but fall in love with them. A few years later, Aobh gave birth to twin sons, Fiachra and Conn, who were as much loved by all as their older sister and brother were. But Aobh never got to see her youngest children grow, as she died in childbirth, and Lir was heartbroken.

It was only the love he had for his children and them for him that helped them survive the death of Aobh. But Lir felt guilty over the fact that the children didn’t have a mother to care for them. He thought it would be better for them to have one. Bodb Dhearg once again offered Lir one of his daughters as his wife. Lir chose Bodb Dhearg’s daughter Aoife.

For a time, all was well and the family flourished. As the children grew, they continued to be loved by all, but no more so than by Lir himself. This awoke a resentment in Aoife, as she couldn’t compete with a love that great.

So dark with jealously did Aoife’s heart become, that she planned to cast a dark and terrible spell upon the children, eliminating them from her life with Lir. She spirited the children away from their home early one morning, taking them to the nearby Lake Derravaragh in Co.Westmeath. Fionnuala, having sensed the growing darkness within Aoife, tried desperately to escape with her brothers, hiding with them in the rushes along the lakeshore, but Aoife found them, and, using her wand, unleashed the spell upon them.

“NO!!!” screamed Fionnuala, spreading her arms around her brothers in a vain attempt to protect and save them. But it was no good. The spell had been cast.

As the morning mist cleared, there, on the water, where only moments ago the four children had huddled, were four graceful white swans.

One beautiful large swan with wings spread wide protecting three smaller ones.

Aoife’s spell had worked, and the children had been turned into swans, left with their voices and condemned to spend 900 years as swans. 300 years to be spent on Lake Derravaragh, 300 years on the Sea of Moyle and 300 years on the waters of Erris near to Inish Glora Island. The spell could only be broken at the tolling of a bell from a new God.

Lir was enchanted by the sweet, sad song of the swans on the lake that he stopped to listen. The swans had been waiting for their father to stop, and, having been left their voices, Fionnuala was able to tell her father the truth of what happened. Lir spent all night listening to the swan’s song, and once again his heart broke, and he grew angry. So great was Lir’s rage at Aoifes deception, that he turned her into a gust of the air, to spend forever more in that form.

Lir faithfully visited his children daily for the next 300 years, as did many of the Tuatha De Danann to listen to their song, and so the first 300 years passed quite quickly. But the time came for them to move on to the Sea of Moyle, to spend the next 300 years, and it was with a heavy heart that they flew away, knowing they would never see their father again. Lir did indeed soon after die of a broken heart. The children suffered greatly on the Sea of Moyle being separated frequently by storms, but they survived together. Once again, they took to the air, and flew west towards Inish Glora. On their journey they flew over Lake Derravaragh, and saw their father’s home in ruins, and now knew all that they had known was lost and gone forever, and they only had each other. It was with a heavy heart that they landed on a small, salt water lake, where the next lonely 300 years passed slowly.

One day, an old man visited the lake, and the children asked if he was a follower of the new God. He told them all about how St. Patrick had brought the faith of a new God to the country, and the children grew hopeful that their enchantment might be coming to an end. On learning that they were indeed the Children of Lir, the old man took them to a nearby church.

At the tolling of the bell a white mist blew in from the lake, surrounding the four swans, and, as the mist once again cleared, they had been transformed into their human form. But they were no longer children; instead they were old, and had not long left to live. The old man baptized the children and they died soon after, happy to be once again in human form.

And just as they had been for the last 900 years, the Children of Lir, last of their race, were buried together forever.

“Empty needles are the pen with which I create my story, yarn is my ink.” – Ruth