A sad, beautiful legend from Irish mythology, it is thought amongst scholars that the Tragic Story of the Children of Lir was first written in the 14th Century in north-west Connaught in Ireland.
It is a rich tale that weaves elements from Ireland's ancient Celtic Pagan past, such as druidic wands and spells, with a Christian message of Christian faith bringing freedom from suffering.
The legend begins a long time ago, about 400 years BC, when Celtic Ireland was Pagan and ruled by competing warlords. It concludes 900 years later, in 500 AD, with the adoption of Christianity in Ireland.
Long ago there was a king in Ireland called Lir who was the father of four beautiful children: a son, a daughter and twin sons. Their names were Aodh, Fionnula, Fiachra and Conn. Their mother Aoibh, daughter of the High King of Ireland, died when they were very young. And so it came about that King Lir, who dearly loved his four children and wanted them to have a new mother, married his wife's sister, Aoife, and gave them into her care.
But Aoife, seeing King Lir playing with the chidren and giving them so much of his time, became jealous of them and thought how she might have the King all to herself and the children out of the way. One night she secretly bargained with a druid for the use of his magic wand and made her plans while the children were asleep. By next morning, when they woke to a beautiful summer's day, Aoife had perfected her plan. "Come with me," she said to the children, "Today I am going to take you to the lake and when the sun gets hot you can all go into the cool water for a swim."
When midday came and the sun was at it's highest in the sky Aoife saw a dark cloud coming from the North and, fearing her plan would be spoiled, shouted "Quickly now, into the water with you all!" Then using the druid's magic wand Aoife cast a spell on the four children, turning them one by one into swans. The great dark cloud from the North turned black, shut out the sun, burst into thunder and with a scream Aoife disappeared into the cloud and was never seen again. But Aoife, with her druid's wand, had not taken away the children's human voices; she had told them they would be set free from the spell in 900 years time when St. Patrick would come to Ireland and ring the first Christian bells.
And so the four cursed children had no choice but to live the next 900 years in the form of swans which could talk and sing. Then, after they had spent 300 years on lake Davra, 300 years on the sea of Moyle and another 300 years on the lake isle of Glora in Mayo, the day finally came when they heard the distant sound of one of the first Christian bells to ring in Ireland. They immediately followed the sound until they came to the house of a Christian called Caomhog and told him what had happened to them so long ago.
They were lovingly cared for by the people of the house and people came from far and near to see the swans who could talk and sing. Then one day a princess sent her servants to try and steal the swans. But just as the servants laid hands on them the time had come for the swans to become humans again and the servants ran away terrified.
The Children of Lir were children no more, they were 900 years old and withered. Caomhog had them quickly baptized and the bells rang out at their Christening. They died soon afterwards, and on that same night Caomhog dreamt that he saw four beautiful children - a boy, his sister and two twin brothers flying out over the lake then straight up to heaven and he knew they really were the children of Lir.
A wonderful story which has given rise to some beautiful artwork and jewellery design around the swan motif.
You can find more like those below on our Children of Lir page. Or you can simply click on the images to go to those product pages directly.