More Celtic Fairy Tales: The Fate of the Children of Lir (end)

This story is part of the Celtic Fairy Tales (2) unit. Story source: More Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs with illustrations by John D. Batten (1895).

The Fate of the Children of Lir (end)

The Swans and the Sons of King Dearg

One day, they saw a splendid cavalcade of pure white steeds coming towards them, and when they came near, they were the two sons of Dearg the king who had been seeking for them to give them news of Dearg the king and Lir their father.

"They are well," they said, "and live together, happy in all except that ye are not with them and for not knowing where ye have gone since the day ye left the Lake of the Red Eye."

"Happy are not we," said Fingula, and she sang this song:

Happy this night the household of Lir,
Abundant their meat and their wine.
But the children of Lir — what is their lot?
For bedclothes we have our feathers,
And as for our food and our wine —
The white sand and the bitter brine,
Fiachra's bed and Conn's place
Under the cover of my wings on the Moyle,
Aod has the shelter of my breast,
And so side by side we rest.

So the sons of Dearg the king came to the Hall of Lir and told the king the condition of his children.

The Fate of the Swans

Then the time came for the children of Lir to fulfil their lot, and they flew in the current of the Moyle to the Bay of Erris, and remained there till the time of their fate, and then they flew to the Hill of the White Field and found all desolate and empty, with nothing but unroofed green raths and forests of nettles-no house, no fire, no dwelling-place. The four came close together, and they raised three shouts of lamentation aloud, and Fingula sang this lay:

Uchone! it is bitterness to my heart
To see my father's place forlorn -
No hounds, no packs of dogs,
No women, and no valiant kings
No drinking-horns, no cups of wood,
No drinking in its lightsome halls.

Uchone ! I see the state of this house
That its lord our father lives no more.
Much have we suffered in our wandering years,
By winds buffeted, by cold frozen;
Now has come the greatest of our pain -
There lives no man who knoweth us in the house where we were born.

So the children of Lir flew away to the Glory Isle of Brandan the saint, and they settled upon the Lake of the Birds until the holy Patrick came to Erin and the holy Mac Howg came to Glory Isle.

The Matin Bells

And the first night he came to the island the children of Lir heard the voice of his bell ringing for matins, so that they started and leaped about in terror at hearing it; and her brothers left Fingula alone.

"What is it, beloved brothers?" said she.

"We know not what faint, fearful voice it is we have heard."

Then Fingula recited this lay:

Listen to the Cleric's bell,
Poise your wings and raise
Thanks to God for his coming,
Be grateful that you hear him,

He shall free you from pain,
And bring you from the rocks and stones.
Ye comely children of Lir
Listen to the bell of the Cleric.

And Mac Howg came down to the brink of the shore and said to them "Are ye the children of Lir?"

"We are indeed," said they.

"Thanks be to God!" said the saint; "it is for your sakes I have come to this Isle beyond every other island in Erin. Come ye to land now and put your trust in me."

So they came to land, and he made for them chains of bright white silver, and put a chain between Aod and Fingula and a chain between Conn and Fiachra.

Lairgnen Seeks the Swans

It happened at this time that Lairgnen was prince of Connaught and he was to wed Deoch the daughter of the king of Munster. She had heard the account of the birds, and she became filled with love and affection for them, and she said she would not wed till she had the wondrous birds of Glory Isle. Lairgnen sent for them to the Saint Mac Howg. But the Saint would not give them, and both Lairguen and Deoch went to Glory Isle.

And Lairgnen went to seize the birds from the altar, but as soon as he had laid hands on them their feathery coats fell off, and the three sons of Lir became three withered bony old men, and Fingula, a lean withered old woman without blood or flesh.

Lairguen started at this and left the place hastily, but Fingula chanted this lay:

Come and baptise us, O Cleric,
Clear away our stains
This day I see our grave -
Fiachra and Conn on each side,
And in my lap, between my two arms,
Place Aod, my beauteous brother.

After this lay, the children of Lir were baptised. And they died, and were buried as Fingula had said, Fiachra and Conn on either side, and Aod before her face. A cairn was raised for them, and on it their names were written in runes.

And that is the fate of the children of Lir.

(900 words)

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