CELT document T300014

The Fate of the Cildren of Lir


Oidhe Chloinne Lir

Edited by Eugene O'Curry

The Fate of the Children of Lir


Of the history of the Tuatha Dé Danann from the battle of Taillten down:


They congregated from all parts of the five provinces of Erinn until they were in one assembly, and in one place of council. And the chiefs of the Tuatha Dé Danann said: “It is better for us,” said they, “to have one king over us, than to be divided as we are, serving various kings throughout Erinn.”


Among the chiefs of these bodies who expected to obtain sovereignty for themselves, over the Tuatha Dé Danann, were Bodhbh Dearg, son of the Daghdha; and Ilbhreach of Eas-Ruaidh; and Lir of Sidh Fionnachaidh; and Midhir the Proud of Bri Leith; and Aenghus  p.40 Og, the son of the Daghdha, — but he did not covet to seek the sovereignty of the Tuatha Dé Danann, for he preferred being in his own condition [i. e., remaining as he was], than in that of king over the Tuatha Dé Danann. All these nobles went into council together, except these five who expected to obtain the sovereignty. And the conclusion to which they came was, to give the sovereignty to Bodhbh Dearg, son of the Daghdha, for three reasons, namely: for the sake of his father; for his own sake; and on account of his being the eldest son among the Daghdha's children.


When Lir heard that the sovereignty had been given to Bodhbh Dearg, he did not like it; and he left the assembly without taking leave, without a farewell to any one; for he thought that it was to himself that the sovereignty and lordship should have been given; and although he did leave the assembly, yet [it was not the less] Bodhbh Dearg was proclaimed king; for no man of the five took umbrage at not having obtained the sovereignty but Lir alone. And they resolved to pursue Lir, and to burn his house, and to expose himself to [i. e., to inflict on him Lir] wounds of spear and  p.41 sword, for not having yielded obedience to to him to whom they had given sovereignty and lordship. “We shall not act upon that counsel,” said Bodhbh Dearg; “for that man [Lir] would defend the territory in which he is; and I am not the less king over the Tuatha Dé Danann because he is not submissive to me.”


Matters continued thus between them a long time. But at last a great misfortune happened Lir, for his wife died after an illness of three nights. And this preyed greatly upon Lir, so that he felt his spirit depressed after her. And the death of this woman was a great event in her own time.


And this event was heard of throughout all Erinn; and it reached the mansion of the son of the Daghdha, where the nobles of the Tuatha Dé Danann were assembled together. Bodhbh Dearg said: “If Lir chose,” said he, “my assistance and my friendship would be useful to him, since his wife does not live (to him); for I have here the three maidens of the fairest form and of make and best repute that are in Erinn, namely, Aobh, Aoifé, and Ailbhé, the three daughters of Oilioll Arann, and my own three bosom-nurslings.” The  p.42 Tuatha Dé Danann answered to him that this was good language, and that it was true.


Then messages and messengers were sent from Bodhbh Dearg to the place at which Lir was, to say that if he were willing to yield [the] lordship to the son of the Daghdha, and make alliance with him, that he would give him a foster-child of his foster-children. Now, Lir thought well of making this alliance; and he set forward accordingly on the next day with fifty chariots, from Sioth Fionnachaidh; and he took the shortest way, till he reached the Sioth of Bodhbh Dearg, which was over Loch Deirgdeirc, and he was bade welcome there; and all the people were merry and cheerful before him; and they were well attended to and supplied that night.


And the three daughters of Oilioll Arann were on the same couch with the queen of the Tuatha Dé Danann, for the wife of Bodhbh Dearg was their foster-mother. Then Bodhbh Dearg said: “Take thy choice of the maidens, O Lir.” “I do not know,” said Lir, “which is the choicest of them, but the eldest of them is the noblest, and it is she that I had best take.” “If so,” said Bodhbh Dearg, “Aobh the daughter of Oilioll is the eldest, and she shall  p.43 be given to thee if thou willest.” “I do so will,” said he. And Aobh was united to Lir that night.


Lir was a fortnight in that mansion, and then he took Aobh away with him to his own house, that he might celebrate a great and royal wedding feast.


And in due time after this his wife became pregnant, and she brought forth two children at a birth, a daughter and a son; Fionnghuala and Aodh were their names. And she became pregnant again, and brought forth two sons; Fiachra and Conn were their names; and she herself died at their birth. And that preyed greatly upon Lir; and were it not for the greatness [of love] with which his mind rested upon his four children, he would almost have died of grief.


That news [soon] reached the Sioth of Bodhbh Dearg; and the people of the Sioth raised three shouts loudly lamenting their nurseling. And Bodhbh Dearg said: “We grieve for that girl, on account of the good man to whom we gave her, because we are grateful for his friendship and his constancy; however, our friendship for each other shall not be rent asunder, for I shall give him her other sister as a wife, namely, Aoifé.”



When Lir heard that, he repaired immediately to espouse her; and they were united together; and he took her with him to his house. And Aoifé felt honour and affection for the children of Lir and of her own sister; and [indeed] every one who should see these four children could not help giving them the love of his soul.


And Bodhbh Dearg used often to come to Sioth Lir, for love of these children; and he used to take them with him to his own house for a long while, and then to let them return to their own home again. And the Tuatha Dé Danann were at that time consuming the Feast of Age in each Sioth in turn; and when they went to Sioth Lir, these four were their joy and their delight, for the beauty and symmetry of their form; and where they constantly slept was in beds in front of their father; and he used to rise at early dawn of every morning, and lie down among his children.


But the consequence of all this was, that a dart of jealousy passed into Aoifé on account of this, and she regarded the children of her sister with hatred and thorough enmity. Then she assumed a feigned illness, under the influence of which she continued the greater part of a year. And it is after that she perpetrated  p.45 an act of hateful treachery, as well as of unfaithful jealousy, against the children of Lir.


And one day her chariot was yoked for her, and she took with her the four children of Lir in the chariot; and she went forward in that way towards the house of Bodhbh Dearg and Fionnghula was not willing to go with her on the journey; for she knew by her that she had some intention of ruining, or of killing them; for, she dreamed of a design of treachery and fratricide in the mind of Aoifé. But, however, she was not able to avoid the misfortune and fate that were in destiny for her.


And so, Aoifé set out from Sioth Fionnachaidh; and (on the way) Aoifé said to her people: “Kill,” said she, “the four children of Lir, for whom my love has been abandoned by their father, and I shall give you your own reward of every kind in the world.” “Not so, indeed,” said they; “they shall not be killed by us; and it is an evil deed you have thought of, and evil will it be to you to have mentioned it.”


And when they did not consent to do this, she herself drew forth a sword to kill and destroy the children of Lir; but her womanhood,  p.46 and her natural cowardice, and the weakness of her mind prevented her. And so they went westward to the shore of Loch Dairbhreach; and their horses were halted there. And she [Aoifé] desired the children of Lir to bathe, and go out to swim upon the lake; and they did as Aoifé told them. And as soon Aoifé found them upon the lake, she struck them with a metamorphosing druidical wand, and so put them into the forms of four beautiful perfectly white swans; and she made this lay there:

  1. Out with you [on the water] O children of the king!
    I have deprived your descendants of [all] good luck;
    To your friends your story will be a sad one;
    Your shouts shall be with flocks of birds.
  2. Fionnghuala
  3. Thou witch! we know thy name.
    Thou hast struck us down without a vessel; [but]
    Though thou mayest us send from wave to wave,
    We shall be sometimes from cape to cape [i. e. on the dry land].
  4.  p.47
  5. We shall receive relief, — without concealment;
    We shall receive warning and grace;
    Even though we light upon the lake;
    Our minds [at least] shall be early [i. e. range] abroad.


After that lay, the four children of Lir turned their faces together towards the woman [Aoifé]; and Fionnghuala spoke to her, and this was what she said: “Evil is the deed which thou hast done, O Aoifé, and moreover an ill act of friendship it is for thee to ruin us without cause; and it shall be manifestly avenged upon thee; and thou shalt fall in revenge for it; for thy powder for our destruction is not greater than the druidism [druidic power] of our friends to avenge it upon thee; therefore, assign us some period and termination to the ruin which thou hast brought upon us.”


“I shall, indeed,” said Aoifé, “and it is worse for you to ask it of me; namely [the period I assign to you shall be this] until the woman from the South and the man from the North are united: that is, Lairgnen, the son of Colman, the son of Cobhthach, that is the son of the king of Connacht; and Deoch, the daughter of Finghin,  p.48 the son of Aodh Alainn, king of Munster; and no friends [are able], nor any power that ye have is able to bring you out of these forms, since ye have sought it [i. e. since ye have called on me to declare it], during your lives, until ye shall have been three hundred years upon Loch Dairbreach; and three hundred years upon Sruth na Maoilé, between Erinn and Albain; and three hundred years at Iorrus Domnann, and Inis Gluairé of Brendainn; and these shall be your adventures henceforth.”


And then repentance seized upon Aoifé, and she said: “Since I am not able to afford you any other relief henceforth, ye shall retain your own speech; and ye shall sing plaintive music, at which the men of the Earth would sleep, and there shall be no music in the world its equal; and ye shall have [retain] your own direction [reason] and dignity [of nature]; and ye shall not be distressed by being in [shapes of] birds;” and she spoke this lay: —

  1. Depart from me, O children of Lir,
    [Ye] with the white faces, with the stammering Gaedhilg [i. e. but half articulate].
    It is a great disgrace to soft youths
    To be driven by the rough wind [i. e. as birds].
  2.  p.49
  3. Nine hundred years for you upon the tide, —
    It was I that sent ye through treachery, —
    Until ye shall be upon Inis Gluairé,
    Upon the north-west side of red [i. e. red flowering] Erinn.
  4. Advance ye out upon the Maoil,
    (It were best for you to be obedient to me;)
    Until Lairgnen and Deoch are united;
    It is a long time for one to be in pain!
  5. Lir's heart is a husk of gore,
    Through many a victorious throw has he cast;
    Sickness [i. e. bitterly sad] to me is the groan of the active champion, —
    Though it is I that have deserved his anger.


After this lay, her steeds were caught for Aoifé, and her chariot was yoked, and she went on to the Sioth of Bodhbh Dearg; and the nobles of the court bade her welcome. And the son of the Daghdha asked why she had not brought the children of Lir with her to him.


“I say unto thee,” said she [in answer], “that you are not beloved by Lir, and that he does not trust to send his children to thee, for fear that thou wouldst capture them.”



“I wonder at that,” said Bodhbh Dearg, “because these children are dearer to me than my own children.” And Bodhbh thought in his own mind that it was treachery the woman had played upon them; and he accordingly sent messengers to the North to Sioth Fionnachaidh. Lir asked what they came for. “For your children,” said they. “Is it that they have not reached you with Aoifé?” said Lir. “They have not,” said the messengers; “and Aoifé said that it was you that did not let them go with her.”


Melancholy and sorrowful was Lir at these tidings; for he understood that it was Aoifé that ruined or killed his children. And his steeds were caught at early morning of the next day for Lir; and he set upon the road, directly south-west, until he reached to the shore of Loch Dairbhreach. And the children of Lir saw the cavalcade coming towards them, and Fionnghuala spoke the lay: —

  1. Welcome the cavalcade of steeds
    Which I see hard by Loch Dairbhreach; —
    A company, indeed, powerful and mysterious,
    Seeking us, following after us.
  2.  p.51
  3. Let us move to the shore, O Aodh!
    O Fiachra, and O comely Conn!
    No host under heaven can those horsemen be
    But only Lir and his household.


After this poem, Lir came to the verge of the shore; and he noticed that the birds had human voices; and he asked what caused them to have human voices.


“Understand thou, O Lir, son of Lughaidh,” said Fionnghuala, “that we are thy four children who have been ruined by thy wife and by the sister of our own mother, through the malignity of her jealousy.” “Is it possible to put you into your own forms again?” said Lir. “It is not possible,” said Fionnghuala, “for the men of Earth could not relieve us, until the woman from the South and the man from the North are united, that is, Lairgnen, the son of Colman, and Deoch, the daughter of Finghin, son of Aodh Dubh, in the time of the Tailginn, and of the coming of Faith and Devotion into Erinn.”


When Lir and his people heard this, they raised three shouts of grief, crying, and lamentation, on high.



“Do ye wish,” said Lir, “to come ashore to us, since ye have your own senses and your memory?” “We have not the power,” said Fionnghuala, “to associate with any person henceforth; but we have our own language, the Gaedhilge; and we have the power to chant plaintive music, and it is quite sufficient to satisfy the whole human race to be listening to that music; and so remain ye with us to-night, and we shall chant music for you.”


So Lir and his people remained listening to the music of the swans, upon the brink of Loch Dairbhreach; and they slept composedly by it that night; and Lir arose at early morning of the next day and he made this lay: —

  1. It is time to depart from this place;
    I sleep not, though I lie down to sleep. —
    To part from my beloved children
    Is what embitters my heart!
  2. Evil was the fate by which I brought over you
    Aoifé the daughter of Oilioll Arann.
    Had I known what you have got by it,
    I would never have followed that advice.
  3.  p.53
  4. O Fionnghuala, and O Conn the comely!
    O Aodh, and O Fiachra of the beautiful weapons!
    From the verge of the shore upon which ye are,
    It is not yet time for me to depart from you.


So Lir went on from that place to the Sioth of Bodhbh Dearg; and a welcome was made for him there; and a rebuke was given to him from Bodhbh Dearg for not having brought his children along with him. “Alas!” said Lir, “it was not I that would not bring my children to you; it was Aoifé, yonder, your own nursling and the sister of their mother, who has put them into the forms of four pure-white swans upon Loch Dairbhreach, in the presence of the men of Erinn; and [there they are swans, though] they preserve their own sense and their reason, their voice, and their Gaedhilg.”


Bodhbh Dearg started at this news; and he understood that what Lir spoke was true; and he gave a very fierce rebuke to Aoifé, and said: “This treachery will be worse for thee, Aoifé, than for the children of Lir; for they shall obtain relief towards the end of time, and their souls will be in heaven at last.”


Bodhbh Dearg then asked Aoifé what  p.54 shape on earth she would think the worst of being in. She said that it would be in the form of a demon of the air. “I shall put you into that form then,” said Bodhbh Dearg. And, as he spoke, he struck her with a metamorphosing druidical wand, and put her into the form of a demon of the air; and she flew away at once; and she is still a demon of the air, and shall be so for ever.


As for Bodhbh Dearg and the Tuatha Dé Danann they came to the shore of Loch Dairbhreach, and they took up an encampment there, listening to the music of the swans. And as for the Milesian Clanns, too, no less did they come from every point of Erinn that they might take up an encampment at Loch Dairbhreach in like manner; for historians do not count any music or delight that ever was heard in Erinn in comparison to the music of these swans; and they used to be telling stories and conversing with the men of Erinn each day, and discoursing with their tutors and their fellow-pupils, and with all their friends in like manner; and they used to chant very sweet, fairy music every night and every one who used to hear that music slept soundly and easily, no matter what  p.55 disease or long illness might be upon him; for, happy and delighted after the music the birds chanted was every one who heard it.


Well, then, these two encampments of the sons of Milesius and the Tuatha Dé Danann continued to be around Loch Dairbhreach for the space of three hundred years. And it is then Fionnghuala said to her brothers: “Do ye know, youths!” said she, “that ye have come to the end of your term here, all but this night only?” And distress and very great sorrow seized upon the sons [of Lir] when they heard that news; for they thought it the same as being human beings, to be upon Loch Dairbhreach discoursing with their friends and their companions, in comparison with going upon the angry, quarrelsome sea of the Maoil in the North.


And they came early on the next day to speak to their foster-father and their father; and they bade them adieu; and Fionnghuala made the lay: —

  1. Adieu to thee, O Bodhbh Dearg!
    Thou man to whom all science has done homage,
    [Adieu] to thee, together with our father,
    Lir of the famous Sioth Fionnachaidh.
  2.  p.56
  3. The time has come for us, methinks,
    To separate — after which we shall not meet
    Till the judgment come — pleasant company!
    It is not on a visit that we are going to you.
  4. From this day of our age we shall be, —
    O ye heart-loved friends, our contemporaries, —
    Without human voice near us,
    Upon the raging Sruth na Maoilé.
  5. We shall go from that to be punished,
    At the end of three hundred proper [i. e. full] years;
    (Greater knowledge of our punishment we shall have there),
    Westwards to the point of Iorrus Domhnann;
  6. Three hundred years, without fail [we must be],
    In the west at the point of Iorrus Domhnann;
    From lake to lake — alas! the condition —
    Until Deoch and Lairgnen unite.
  7.  p.57
  8. Our beautiful garments shall be [but the]
    Waves of the salt-water, bitter, briny;
    As the four comely children of Lir,
    Without a night for us without it.
  9. Ye three brothers of once ruddy cheeks!
    Let [them] depart from us, from Loch Dairbhreach,
    This powerful tribe which has loved us;
    Sorrowful now is our separation.


After that lay, they took to flight; [flying] highly, lightly, aerially, until they reached Sruth na Maoilé between Erinn and Albain; and the men of Erinn were grieved at this, and it was proclaimed by them throughout Erinn, that no swan should be killed, however great the power which they might have to do it from that out.


It was a bad residence for the children of Lir, to live upon Sruth na Maoilé. When they saw the shore of the extensive coast around them, they became filled with cold, and grief, and regret; and they thought nothing of any evil which they had before suffered, compared with that which they suffered upon that current.



And they remained there upon Sruth na Maoilé, until one night a thick tempest came upon them, and Fionnghuala said: “My beloved brothers,” said she, “bad is the preparation we make, for it is certain that the tempest of this night will separate us from one another; therefore let us appoint a particular place of meeting to which we shall repair, if God shall cause us to separate from each other.” “Let us settle, O sister,” said they, “an appointed place of meeting at Carraig na Ron, for we are all equally acquainted with it.”


However, when the midnight came to them, the wind descended with it, and the waves increased their violence and their thunder; and the lightnings flashed; and a rough sweeping tempest passed all over the sea, so that the children of Lir were scattered from each other over the great sea; and they were set astray from the extensive shore, so that not one of them knew what way or what path the rest went. There came, however, a placid-calm upon the sea after that great tempest; and Fionnghuala was alone upon the current; and she observed that her brothers were absent [separated from her];  p.59 and she lamented them greatly; and she spoke this lay: —

  1. In my condition it is woe to be alive;
    My wings have frozen to my sides;
    It is little that the furious wind has not shattered
    My heart in my body after [i. e. away from] Aodh.
  2. Three hundred years upon Loch Dairbhreach
    Without going into human forms, —
    It distresses me more, and not alike [i. e. not merely as much]
    My time upon Sruth na Maoilé.
  3. O beloved three, — oh, beloved three!
    Who slept under the shelter of my feathers,
    Until the dead return to the living
    I and the three shall never meet.
  4. After Fiachra and Aodh,
    And Conn the comely, — with no account of them, —
    It is a pity my remaining for every evil.
    Woe to be this night in my condition.



As for Fionnghuala she was that night upon the rock, until the rising of the day upon the morrow, watching the sea in all directions around her, until she saw Conn coming towards her, with heavy head, and drenched feathers; and the heart of the daughter greatly welcomed him; and Fiachra came also, cold, wet, and quite faint; and neither word nor speech of his was understood, such was the excess of cold and hardship which he had suffered; and she put him under her wings, and said: “If Aodh would but come to us now, how happy should we be!”


It was not long after that, when they saw Aodh coming towards them, with dry head and beautiful feathers; and Fionnghuala welcomed him greatly; and she put him under the feathers of her breast and chest; and Fiachra under her right wing; and Conn under her left wing; and she disposed her feathers over them in that way. “O youths,” said Fionnghuala, “though evil ye may think this last night, many of its like shall ye find from this time forwards.”


The children of Lir after that continued a long time there, suffering cold and wretchedness upon the current of the Maoilé;  p.61 until at last a night came upon them so cold that never before did they experience anything like the frost, and the cold, the snow and the wind of that night; and Fionnghuala made the lay: —

  1. Evil is this existence! —
    The cold of this night, —
    The greatness of this snow, —
    The hardness of this wind.
  2. Where they have lain together, is
    Under my graceful wings, —
    The wave beating violently upon us, —
    Conn and comely Fiachra.
  3. Our stepmother has put
    Us, these four of us,
    This night, into this misery; —
    Evil is this existence!


Thus were the Children of Lir for a long time suffering a life of extreme cold to the end of a year, upon the current of the Maoilé, until at last a night came upon them, upon the pinnacle of the Seal Rock; and the time was in the Calends of January; and the waters congealed, and each of them became chilled in his place; and as they lay upon the  p.62 rock, their feet, and their feathers, and their wings adhered to the rock, so that they were not able to move them from where they were; and they made such vehement efforts with their bodies [to move away], that they left there the skin of their feet, and the feathers of their breasts, and the tips of their wings attached to the rock.


“Alas! O Children of Lir,” said Fionnghuala, “evil indeed is our condition now, for we cannot support the salt-water, and yet it is prohibited to us to be absent from it; and if the salt-water enters into our sores, we shall die;” and she made this lay: —

  1. Moanful are we this night,
    Without feathers covering our bodies,
    And it is cold for our delicate soles
    On the rough, uneven rocks.
  2. Bad was our stepmother to us,
    When she played druidism upon us,
    Sending us out upon the sea,
    In the shapes of wonderful swans.
  3. Our bath upon the shore's ridge is
    The foam of the brine-crested tide;
    Our share of the ale-feast is
    The brine of the blue-crested sea.
  4.  p.63
  5. One daughter and three sons,
    We are wont to be in the clefts of rocks;
    Upon the rocks, so hard for one,
    Our existence is moanful.


However, they came again upon the current of the Maoil; and though the sea- water was extremely distressing, and sharp, and bitter to them, they were not able to avoid it, or to shelter themselves effectually from it. And so they were in that misery by the shore until their feathers grew (anew), and their wings, and until their sores were perfectly healed; and (then) they used to go every day to the shore of Erinn and of Albain; and they used to go to the current of the Maoil each night, for it was their original [i. e. they were obliged to return to it as their] place of abode.


They came one day to the mouth of the Banna in the north; and they saw a splendid one-coloured cavalcade, with trained pure-white steeds under them, constantly walking upon the road directly from the south-west. “Do ye know yonder cavalcade, O Children of Lir?” said Fionnghuala. “We do not know them,” said they; “but it is most probable that they are some party of the sons of Miledh [Milesius],  p.64 or of the Tuatha Dé Danann that are there.”


They moved then to the border of the shore, that they might be able to recognize them; and when the cavalcade [on their side] saw them, they moved towards them also to meet them, until they reached the place of mutual converse to each other.


The chief men of those who were in that cavalcade were, Aodh Aithfhiosach, and Fergus Fithchiollach, that is, the two sons of Bodhbh Dearg, and a third division of the Fairy cavalcade along wúth them; and that cavalcade had been seeking [the swans] for a long time before that; and when they reached each other, lovingly and friendly did they bid each other a truly affable welcome; and the Children of Lir inquired how the Tuatha Dé Danann were, and particularly Lir, and Bodhbh Dearg, and their people besides.


“They are well; in one place [i. e. assembled together],” said they, “in the house of your father, in Sioth Fionnachaidh, and the Tuatha Dé Danann along with them there, consuming the Feast of Age, merrily and happily, without fatigue and without  p.65 uneasiness, except for being without you, and not having known where ye had gone to from them, from the day upon which ye left Loch Dairbhreach.” “That is not the record of our lives,” says Fionnghuala, “for much indeed of evil and suffering and misery have we endured on the tide of the current of the Maoil to this day;” and she recited the lay: —

  1. Happy this night the household of Lir!
    Abundant their mead and their wine;
    Though there be this night in a cold home,
    A company of the king's pure-born children.
  2. Our faultless bed-clothes are [but]
    The covering of our bodies of wreathed feathers; —
    [Though] often ere now have we been clad
    In purple, while drinking the cheerful mead.
  3. There is our food and our wine, they are
    The white sand and bitter brine; —
    [Yet] often drank we hazel mead.
    From round cups with four lips [i. e. corners.]
  4. hese are our beds, and bare [beds] they are, [but]
    Rocks above the violent waves; —
    [Yet] often have been spread for us,
    Beds of the breast-feathers of birds.
  5.  p.66
  6. Though it be now our work [though now we have] to swim in the frost,
    Upon the current of the heavy resounding Maoil, —
    Often a cavalcade of the sons of kings
    Was following us to Sioth Buidhbh.
  7. It is this that has wasted my strength, —
    To be going and coming over the Maoil,
    As I was never accustomed to be;
    And that no more I enjoy the sun in a soft plain.
  8. Fiachra's bed, and Conn's place,
    Is to nestle under the cover of my wings upon the Maoil.
    A place under the shelter of my breast hath Aodh;
    The four of us side by side.
  9. The teaching of Manannan without guile,
    The conversation of Bodhbh Dearg over Drom Caoin,
    The voice of Aongus, the sweetness of his kisses, —
    I was wont to be without grief by their side.


After that the cavalcade came to Sioth Lir, and they related to the nobles of the  p.67 Tuatha Dé Danann the adventures of the birds, and their condition. “We have no power over them,” the nobles say, “but we are glad they are alive; for they shall obtain relief in the end of time.”


As to the Children of Lir, they went towards their original home in the north upon the current of the Maoil; and they were there until the time they had to spend there expired; and then Fionnghuala said: “It is time for us to leave this place, for our time here has come;” and she sang this lay: —

  1. Our time has come here, indeed,
    It is time to depart,
    From this shore which we have frequented
    Three hundred years of lasting light.
  2. To the point of Western Iorrus,
    It will not be easy to bear it,
    Let us depart now without wandering.
    Upon the support of the cold wind.
  3. Without rest, without standing,
    Without any shelter from the thick tempests; —
    Unwelcome to us is what we have heard, —
    Our term has come here indeed.



The Children of Lir then, accordingly, left the current of the Maoil in that manner, and they passed on to the point of Iorrus Domhnann; and there they were for a long period of time, suffering cold and a life of chilling, until [at last it happened to them that] they met a young man, of a good family, [one of the occupants of the lands whose name was Aibhric], and his attention was often attracted to the birds, and their singing was sweet to him, so that he loved them greatly, and they loved him; and this is the young man who arranged in order and narrated all their adventures.


But at last it happened that the Children of Lir, one night that they were there, [at Iorrus], experienced a night such as they never experienced any night before or after it, for the intensity of its frost and its snow; for a flag of ice grew upon the whole of the current between Iorrus and Acaill, and their feet adhered to the ice flag, so that they were not able to stir, and the brothers fell to moaning greatly, and to lamenting greatly, and to grieving intensely; and Fionnghuala was checking them, and she could not, and she recited the lay: —

  1. Pitiful the lament of the swans this night, — p.69
    It is the ebb that has caused it, or it is a drought —
    Without cold-flowing water under their breasts,
    Their bodies will be short-lived from thirst.
  2. Without thin water, firm, and strong, —
    Without a sea wave coming against their sides;
    The merry great sea has congealed,
    So that it is a beautiful damp-wet plain.
  3. O King who hast formed Heaven and Earth,
    And who broughtest safe the six hosts,
    By thee be relieved the tribe of birds.
    Let the strong be pursued till they become pitiful.


“My brethren,” said Fionnghuala, “believe ye the truly splendid God of truth, who made Heaven with its clouds, and Earth with its fruits, and the sea with its wonders; and ye shall receive help and full relief from the Lord.” “We do believe,” said they. “And I believe with you,” says Fionnghuala, “in the true God, perfect, truly intelligent.” And they believed at the proper hour; and they received help and protection from the Lord  p.70 after that; and neither tempest nor bad weather affected them from that time out.


And they were in the point of Iorrus Domhnann until the time they had to spend there expired. And then Fionnghuala said: “It is time for us to go to Sioth Fionnachaidh, where Lir is with his household, and all our people.” “We like that,” said they.


And they set out forward, lightly and airily, until they reached Sioth Fionnachaidh; and they found the place deserted and empty before them, with nothing but unroofed green raths, and forests of nettles there; without a house, without a fire, without a residence. And the four came close together, and they raised three shouts of lamentation aloud; and Fionnghuala spoke the poem: —

  1. A wonder to me this place, —
    How it is without house, without dwellings —
    As I see this place —
    Uchone, it is bitterness to my heart.
  2. Without hounds, and without packs of dogs,
    Without women, and without prosperous kings,
    We have never heard of it as now it is,
    This place — with our father.
  3.  p.71
  4. Without drinking horns, without cups,
    Without drinking in its lightsome halls,
    Without cavalcades, without youths,
    As it is to-night it is an omen of grief.
  5. As the people of this place are (now),
    Uchone, it is bitterness to my heart!
    It is clear this night to my perception,
    That the lord of the house does not live.
  6. O place, in which we have seen
    Music and playing, and the assembly;
    To me it seems a sad reverse,
    As it is this night deserted.
  7. The greatness of our misfortunes, we have found,
    From the one ocean wave to the other,
    The like of which we have not heard
    To have happened to any other persons.
  8. Seldom has been this place
    Trusting to grass and to wood.
    The man to recognize us liveth not,
    To find us here, though to him it were a wonder.


However, the Children of Lir were  p.72 that night in the place of their father and their grandfather, where they had been nursed; and they chanted very sweet, fairy music; and they arose at early morning next day, and they set out forward to Inis Gluairé of Brendainn; and the birds of the country in general congregated near them upon the Lake of the birds in Inis Gluairé of Brendainn. And they used to go forth to feed each day to the remote points of the country, namely, to Inis Geadh' and to Acaill, and to Teach Duinn, and to the other western islands in like manner; and they used to go to Inis Gluairé of Brendainn each night.


And they were in that state for a long period of time, till the time of the faith of Christ, and until holy Patrick came into Erinn; and until holy Mochaomhóg came to Inis Gluairé of Brendainn. And the first night he came to the island, the Children of Lir heard the voice of his bell, ringing at matins, near them; so that they started, and leaped about in terror at hearing it; and her brothers left Fionnghuala alone.


“What is that, O beloved brothers?” she says. “We know not,” say they, “what faint fearful voice it is we have heard.” “That  p.73 is the voice of the Bell of Mochaomhóg,” Fionnghuala says; “and it is that [bell that] shall liberate you from suffering and from pain, and shall relieve you according to the will of God;” and she recited the lay: —

  1. Listen to the Cleric's bell;
    Elevate your wings and arise;
    Give thanks to God for his coming,
    And be grateful for having heard him.
  2. It is more proper for ye to be ruled by him,
    It is he that shall liberate you from pain,
    Shall bring you away from the rocks and stones,
    And shall bring you away from the furious currents.
  3. I say unto you, therefore,
    Make you a confession of proper accurate faith;
    Ye comely four [three?] Children of Lir,
    Listen to the bell of the Cleric.


The Children of Lir, therefore, were listening to that music which the cleric performed, until he had finished his matins.  p.74 “Let us chant our music now,” said Fionnghuala, “to the High King of Heaven and Earth.” And they immediately chanted a plaintive, slow-sweet, fairy music, praising the Lord, and adoring the High King.


And Mochaomhóg was listening to them, and he prayed God fervently to reveal to him who chanted that music; and it was revealed unto him that it was the Children of Lir who performed it. And upon the coming of the morning of the next day, Mochaomhóg went forward to the Lake of the Birds; and he saw the birds from him upon the lake; and he went to the brink of the shore where he saw them, and he inquired of them: “Are ye the Children of Lir?” he says. “We are, indeed,” they say. “I return thanks to God for it,” Mochaomhóg says, “for it is for your sakes that I have come to this island beyond every other island in Erinn; and come ye to land now, and put your trust in me, for it is here it is in destiny for you to perform good works, and separate from your sins.”


They came to land after that, and they put trust in the Cleric; and he took them with him to his own abode, and they were keeping the canonical hours there, and hearing  p.75 mass along with the Cleric. And Mochaomhóg took a good artificer to him, and he ordered him to make chains of bright white silver for them; and he put a chain between Aodh and Fionnghuala, and a chain between Conn and Fiachra; and the four of them were rejoicing the mind and increasing the spirits of the Cleric; and no danger nor distress in which the birds had been hitherto, caused them any fatigue or distress now.


He who was King of Connacht at that time was Lairgnen, the son of Colman, son of Cobthach, and Deoch, the daughter of Finghin, son of Aodh Allainn, that is, the daughter of the King of Munster, was his wife.


And the woman heard the account of the birds, and she became filled with affection and fast love for them; and she entreated of Lairgnen to procure the birds for her. And Lairgnen said that he would not ask them of Mochaomhóg. And Deoch pledged her word that she would not be one night longer with Lairgnen if she did not obtain the birds; and she set out from her residence. And Lairgnen sent messengers quickly to pursue her, and she was not overtaken till she reached  p.76 Cill Dalua. And she went back to the residence then; and Lairgnen sent messengers to ask the birds from Mochaomhóg; and he did not get them.


Great anger seized upon Lairgnen on that account, and he came himself to the place where Mochaomhóg was, and he asked him if it was true that he had refused him the birds. “It is true, indeed,” said Mochaomhóg. Then Lairgnen arose, and grasped at the birds, and snatched them to him off the altar, namely, two birds in each hand; and he went forth towards the place in which Deoch was; and Mochaomhóg followed him; but as soon as he had laid hands on the birds their feathery coats fell off them, and of the sons were made three withered, bony old men, and of the daughter a lean, withered old woman, without blood or flesh.


And Lairgnen started at this, and he went out of the place.


It was then that Fionnghuala said: “Come to baptize us, O Cleric, for our death is near; and it is certain that you do not think worse of parting with us than we do at parting with you; therefore make our grave afterwards, and place Conn at my right side, and Fiachra  p.77 on my left side, and Aodh before my face;” and she spoke the poem: —

  1. Come to baptize us, Cleric;
    Take upon thee and arise;
    Clear away from us our many stains,
    And all our faults, O companion!
  2. Pray thou the God who formed heaven,
    That thou mayest succeed in baptizing us;
    Let our grave be capacious,
    And our feet at once to the altar.
  3. Thus do I order the grave:
    Fiachra and Conn by me on either side,
    And in my lap, between my two arms,
    Thou chaste Cleric, place Aodh.
  4. O Mochaomhóg of the subtle speech,
    Though grievous to me to part from thee,
    Prepare thou hastily the grave;
    Depart quickly, and come in time.


After this lay, the Children of Lir were baptized; and they died, and were buried; and Fiachra and Conn were placed at either side [of Fionnghuala], and Aodh before her face, as Fionnghuala ordered; and their tombstone was raised over their tomb, and their Oghaim names were written; and their  p.78 lamentation rites were performed; and heaven was obtained for their souls.


And Mochaomhóg was sorrowful and distressed after them.


And that is the fate of the Children of Lir, so far.

Document details

The TEI Header

File description

Title statement

Title (uniform): The Fate of the Cildren of Lir

Title (original, Irish): Oidhe Chloinne Lir

Author: unknown

Editor: Eugene O'Curry

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 8500 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of the Department of History, University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2016

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T300014

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT project for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description

Manuscript sources

  1. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 72.1.38 (Gaelic XXXVIII) (17th century) pp. 155–170. [The scribe of this story was Charles O'Conor of Belanagare]. Digital Images of this ms are available on the ISOS website.
  2. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 72.2.6 (Gaelic LVI) (18th century) pp. 410–431. Digital Images of this ms are available on the ISOS website.
  3. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 24 A 13 (19th century).
  4. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS E vi 4 (19th century).
  5. London, British Library, MS Egerton 164. ["A collection of tales and Ossianic verse in Irish. 205 ff. 6 x 3 1/2 ins. Scribes Pádraig Ó Doibhlin, co. Meath, 1726-1727, with additions by James Mac Quigge, c. 1816."]

Editions and translations

  1. Eugene O'Curry (ed and tr), "The 'Trí thruaighe na scéalaigheachta' of Erinn: II. "The fate of the children of Lir", The Atlantis 4 (1863) 113–157.
  2. Richard J. O'Duffy (ed), Oidhe chloinne Lir: The fate of the children of Lir (Dublin, Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language 1883). ["Text, translation and notes taken, with some revision, from Eugene O'Curry's edition".]
  3. P.W. Joyce (tr.), Old Celtic romances (London 1879, second revised edition 1894, third expanded edition 1907, many later reprint editions).
  4. Isabella Augusta Lady Gregory, Gods and fighting men: the story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland (London 1904, repr. 1905) 140–158.
  5. Seán Ua Ceallaigh, Trí Truagha na Scéaluigheachta (Dublin, 1927) 42–64. [Modern Irish].


  1. Rudolf Thurneysen, Die irische Helden- und Königsage bis zum siebzehnten Jahrhundert (Halle 1921) [Thurneysen only mentions the tale in passing.]
  2. Gerard Murphy, Fianaíocht agus rómánsaíocht: The Ossianic lore and romantic tales of medieval Ireland. Irish Life and Culture 11 (Dublin 1955) 32–33.
  3. James Carney, Studies in Irish literature and history (Dublin: DIAS 1955) 60ff.
  4. Caoimhín Breatnach, "The religious significance of Oidheadh Chloinne Lir", Ériu 50 (1999) 1–40.
  5. Aisling Byrne, "The earls of Kildare and their books at the end of the middle ages", The Library, 7th series, vol. 14 no. 2 (Oxford, June 2013) 129–153.
  6. Lisa van der Zanden, A cultural interpretation of Oidheadh Cloinne Lir through the ages: the 19th, 20st and 21st centuries (Bachelor Thesis in Celtic Studies, University of Utrecht, 2015).

The edition used in the digital edition

O’Duffy, Richard J., ed. (1883). Oidhe Chloinne Lir‍. 1st ed. xvi+147 pages; v–xii Preface; xiv–xvi Argument; 1–36 Oidhe Cloinne Lir; 39–78 The Fate of the Children of Lir; 81–89 Notes; 93–132 Foclóir; 135 to end Appendix (National Schools: Programme of Examination in the Irish Language for Pupils of 5th and 6th Classes in National Schools). Dublin: Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {Oidhe Chloinne Lir},
  editor 	 = {Richard J. O'Duffy},
  edition 	 = {1},
  note 	 = {xvi+147 pages; v–xii Preface; xiv–xvi Argument; 1–36 Oidhe Cloinne Lir; 39–78 The Fate of the Children of Lir; 81–89 Notes; 93–132 Foclóir; 135 to end Appendix (National Schools: Programme of Examination in the Irish Language for Pupils of 5th and 6th Classes in National Schools)},
  publisher 	 = {Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language },
  address 	 = {Dublin },
  date 	 = {1883}


Encoding description

Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

Editorial declarations

Correction: Text has been proof-read twice.

Normalization: The electronic text represents the edited text. Explanatory footnotes are omitted. Text supplied by the editor is marked by square brackets.

Quotation: Direct speech has been tagged q.

Hyphenation: Soft hyphens are silently removed. When a hyphenated word (hard or soft) crosses a page-break, line-break or milestone (such as a line number or ms page number), this break is marked after the completion of the hyphenated word.

Segmentation: div0=the text; div1=the section; poems are treated as embedded texts, with verses marked lg. Paragraphs are marked p.

Interpretation: Personal names are not tagged, nor are terms for cultural and social roles.

Reference declaration

A canonical reference to a location in this text should be made using “section”, eg section 1.

Profile description

Creation: By various Irish scribe(s). The title of the tale is listed in a catalogue dating from 1526 in the earl of Kildare's library (Carney). 18th to 19th century.

Language usage

  • The text is in 19th-century-English. (en)
  • The original tile is in Irish. (ga)

Keywords: saga; prose; medieval; mythology; three sorrows of story-telling; children of Lir; swans; translation

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2016-12-06: File parsed. SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2016-11-14: File proofed (2), TEI header constructed. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2016-11-12: File proofed (1); structural and basic content markup applied. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2016-11-12: Data capture. (capture Beatrix Färber)

Index to all documents

CELT Project Contacts



For details of the markup, see the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)

page of the print edition

folio of the manuscript

numbered division

 999 line number of the print edition (in grey: interpolated)

underlining: text supplied, added, or expanded editorially

italics: foreign words; corrections (hover to view); document titles

bold: lemmata (hover for readings)

wavy underlining: scribal additions in another hand; hand shifts flagged with (hover to view)

TEI markup for which a representation has not yet been decided is shown in red: comments and suggestions are welcome.

Other languages

G300014: The Fate of the Cildren of Lir (in Irish)

Source document


Search CELT


    2 Carrigside, College Road, Cork