The Fate of the Children of Lir
IT happened that the five Kings of Ireland met to determine who should have the head kingship over them, and King Lir of the Hill of the White Field expected surely he would be elected. When the nobles went into council together they chose for head king, Dearg, son of Daghda, because his father had been so great a Druid and he was the eldest of his father's sons. But Lir left the Assembly of the Kings and went home to the Hill of the White Field. The other kings would have followed after Lir to give him wounds of spear and wounds of sword for not yielding obedience to the man to whom they had given the over-lordship. But Dearg the king would not hear of it and said: "Rather let us bind him to us by the bonds of kinship, so that peace may dwell in the land. Send over to him for wife the choice of the three maidens of the fairest form and best repute in Erin, the three daughters of Oilell of Aran, my own three bosom-nurslings."
So the messengers brought word to Lir that Dearg the king would give him a foster-child of his foster-children. Lir thought well of it, and set out next day with fifty chariots from the Hill of the White Field. And he came to the Lake of the Red Eye near Killaloe. And when Lir saw the three daughters of Oilell, Dearg the king said to him:
"Take thy choice of the maidens, Lir." '' I know not," said Lir, "which is the choicest of them all ; but the eldest of them is the noblest, it is she I had best take." " If so," said Dearg the king, "Ove is the eldest, and she shall be given to thee, if thou willest." So Lir and Ove were married and went back to the Hill of the White Field.
And after this there came to them twins, a son and a daughter, and they gave them for names Fingula and Aod. And two more sons came to them, Fiachra and Conn. When they came Ove died, and Lir mourned bitterly for her, and but for his great love for his children he would have died of his grief. And Dearg the king grieved for Lir and sent to him and said: "We grieve for Ove for thy sake; but, that our friendship may not be rent asunder, I will give unto thee her sister, Oifa, for a wife." So Lir agreed, and they were united, and he took her with him to his own house. And at first Oifa felt affection and honour for the children of Lir and her sister, and indeed every one who saw the four children could not help giving them the love of his soul. Lir doted upon the children, and they always slept in beds in front of their father, who used to rise at early dawn every morning and lie down among his children. But thereupon the dart of jealousy passed into Oifa on account of this and she came to regard the children with hatred and enmity. One day her chariot was yoked for her and she took with her the four children of Lir in it. Fingula was not willing to go with her on the journey, for she had dreamed a dream in the night warning her against Oifa : but she was not to avoid her fate. And when the chariot came to the Lake of the Oaks, Oifa said to the people : "Kill the four children of Lir and I will give you your own reward of every kind in the world." But they refused and told her it was an evil thought she had. Then she would have raised a sword herself to kill and destroy the children, but her own womanhood and her weakness prevented her; so she drove the children of Lir into the lake to bathe, and they did as Oifa told them. As soon as they were upon the lake she struck them with a Druid's wand of spells and wizardry and put them into the forms of four beautiful, perfectly white swans, and she sang this song over them:
"Out with you upon the wild waves, children of the king!
Henceforth your cries shall be with the flocks of birds."
And Fingula answered:
"Thou witch ! we know thee by thy right name !
Thou mayest drive us from wave to wave,
But sometimes we shall rest on the headlands
We shall receive relief, but thou punishment.
Though our bodies may be upon the lake,
Our minds at least shall fly homewards."
"Away from me, ye children of Lir,
Henceforth the sport of the wild winds
Until Lairgnen and Deoch come together,
Until ye are on the north-west of Red Erin.
"A sword of treachery is through the heart of Lir,
Of Lir the mighty champion,
Yet though I have driven a sword.
My victory cuts me to the heart."
"Welcome the cavalcade of steeds
Approaching 'the Lake of the Red Eye,
A company dread and magical
Surely seek after us.
"Let us move to the shore, O Aod,
Fiachra and comely Conn,
No host under heaven can those horsemen be
But King Lir with his mighty household."
"Farewell to thee, Dearg the king,
Master of all Druids lore
Farewell to thee, our father dear,
Lir of the Hill of the White Field
"We go to pass the appointed time
Away and apart from the haunts of men
In the current of the Moyle,
Our garb shall be bitter and briny,
"Until Deoch come to Lairgnen.
So come, ye brothers of once ruddy cheeks
Let us depart from this Lake of the Red Eye,
Let us separate in sorrow from the tribe that has loved us."
"Woe upon me that I am alive
My wings are frozen to my sides.
O beloved three, O beloved three,
Who hid under the shelter of my feathers,
Until the dead come back to the living
I and the three shall never meet again!"
"Bad was our stepmother with us,
She played her magic on us,
Sending us north on the sea
In the shapes of magical swans.
"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."
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 bed-clothes 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."
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."
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."
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."
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