The inspiration for this year’s Christmas Gifts Collection actually came to me as I sat outside with a cup of tea. Every year we are privileged to see the arrival of the Whooper (pronounced Hooper) Swans from Iceland, escaping the extreme freezing conditions. They begin to arrive at various points of Lough Neagh and stay here to March/April time. Every evening the Whoopers fly over our house to settle down at the water for the night. This signals that time of the day when the fire is lit, the dinner is on & the house is alive with chatter and delicious aromas. It is a sensory experience, very much like bathing with Danu Products. I wanted to integrate these beautiful birds into the Christmas collection which naturally led to the story of “Oidheadh Chlainne Lir”.
Oidheadh Chlainne Lir which translates to “Children of Lir”
Loch Dairbhreach - where the magic spell was cast
Lir - father to the children
Aoibh - mother to the children
Aoife - stepmother to the children
Fionnuala - the only girl of the siblings & Aodh's twin
Aodh - Fionnghuala's twin, the older set of twins
Fiachra - twin of Conn
Conn - twin of Fiachra
In keeping with the celtic mythological connection of Danu & the Tuatha de Danann, this Christmas Gift’s Collection are all named after the Children of Lir. The legend of the Children of Lir has been ingrained in Irish folklore for centuries. As with all legends, there are variations, contrasting versions of events, names, and places.
Upon coronation of the King Bodb Dearg he decided to offer one of his daughter's hand in marriage. Lir believed he should have been crowned king so Bodb Dearg was of the opinion that this offer would be received as an act of peace and would aid build a relationship between the 2 great men. It was decided that Lir would wed Aoibh who's legend paint a portrait of a true beauty. The happy couple would go on to have 4 children together, 2 sets of twins. The eldest girl was named Fionnuala or ‘fair shouldered’ who was followed by three brothers, Fiachra or ‘Battle King’, Conn known as ‘the wise’ and finally the youngest Aodh meaning, ‘one of fiery spirit’. After giving birth to these four beautiful children, sadly Aobh died, casting Lir into a deep depression. On seeing this situation arise, Bodb Dearg decided to step in again, and offered Lir the hand of one of the other sisters of Aobh. Taking him up on the offer, this time Lir sought the hand of Aoife of the Autumn sun, and together they made their home with the four children.
Their happiness however was short-lived. Aoife unlike her sister had a ferocious temper and became jealous of the attention that Lir poured onto his children. Unable to have children of her own Aoife in her malice decided to punish the ‘Children of Lir’ and spent a whole year learning dark magical arts from a powerful Druid.
After a year and a day of planning and plotting Aoife was finally ready to unleash her nefarious plan and it was this; first she asked her husband Lir if she could take the children on a trip to meet with the King Bodb Dearg. Agreeing to this, Lir let her depart and the children accompanied their step-mother. She asked her aide to take the children's lives but he could not.
Aoife grew angrier still and in her fury drove the carriage onwards to Loch Dairbhreach. There she told the four children that they were to bathe in the waters for a while. The children, happy at the thought of a reprieve from travelling, jumped into the waters. Aoife stood on the side of the lake watching darkly. She approached the children with a sharp blade, however, it was no use, for her sister’s blood fought her within her very veins denying her this end. Aoife frustrated eventually picked up a rod of Rowan and cast a Druidic spell on the children as they played.
As she said these word Aoife then struck the rod of Rowan on the ground and it was done. All four children were turned into white swans upon the lake.
“Why have you done this to us aunt?” they cried, for although their bodies be birds their voices remained those of children.
“What will become of us?” they pleaded again. Aoife laughed in delight and told them of their intended fate;
“For three hundred years you will live upon this lake at Dairbhreach with only your songs and voices to console you. Then after this time has passed you will spend another three hundred years on Sruth na Maoile. Finally you will spend three hundred more off the wicked coast of Iorras Domhnann where the Atlantic beats the coast of Ireland which such barbarity that tempests and gales will tear and rips your feathers from your bodies. After nine hundred years only then will you be free.”
The children looked in horror on their aunt’s deed and begged know, how they would be freed? Their aunt replied,
“Only when a King of Connacht marries a princess of Munster will you be free”.
The children began to wail for their father, singing in chorus,
“Sad are the hearts of the ‘Children of Lir’, breaking for their father who searches the world for them in grief. Through shadows, forest mountain and glen, his lost children have been torn from his bosom to remain on this foamy strange shore.”
Aoife left the children singing their forlorn song and made haste to the palace of the King Bodb Dearg who was expecting her. When she arrived, he greeted his foster daughter kindly and asked, “but where are the children?" Aoife replied, “Lir, my King, stills bears you a grudge, and so did not allow me to bring the children, fearing that you may harm them in my doing so.”
Bodb Dearg was upset at this news and immediately summoned Lir to his court. When the news reached Lir he prepared for the journey and set off for the King’s palace. Whilst travelling Lir stopped for a while to rest next to the waters of Loch Dairbhreach. As he was sleeping by the lake side, he suddenly awoke to the sound of children singing. Listening intently he immediately recognised the voices of his four children, but on searching the area he could not locate them. Finally he saw four beautiful swans upon the lake and went up to them to get a closer look. Realising that the swans were in fact his children he sank to his knees and began to weep,
“What has become of you my sweet children?” he asked,
Fionnuala told her father of what her step-mother had done, and that only after nine hundred years and a marriage would they be free.
When Lir eventually arrived at the palace of Bodb Dearg, he met with the King and explained to him what had happened to his children. On hearing such treacherous news Bodb Dearg could not believe that his own foster daughter Aoife would do such a malicious thing and so confronted her. Unable to hide her shame with her sister’s blood screaming for vengeance within her, Aoife confessed what she had done to all who were gathered there.
Aoife fell to her knees and pleaded with Bodb Dearg to spare her life. Bodb Dearg, being wise and benevolent agreed to spare Aoife’s life but asked her to answer one question first.
“What is it Aoife, that you fear the most in this world?’
Aoife replied, “Baobh the raven. The sister of the war-goddess of death, the Morrigán.
“Very well”, said Bodb Dearg, “your punishment shall be this. From now until the end of days you will take the form of a raven and as men will always kill and be killed, for war is of their nature, you shall forever be imprisoned within this form for murder and war will never cease”.
From that day onwards, Lir and his band of men would visit the lake daily to see his children and to listen to their mellow and enchanting songs. It was said that no songs had more grace and beauty than those of the ‘Children of Lir’.
After three hundred years eventually passed, Fionnuala announced to her father that all four of them had to leave for the Gea commanded it.
And so it came to pass that the ‘Children of Lir’ took flight from the lake shore and headed north east towards the coast of Alba.
Whilst journeying across the north channel that is now called the Irish Sea.
The ‘Children of Lir’ spent three hundred years upon the Sruth na Maoile or Sea of Moyle; both on the rocks and on the sea itself. Until one day, they sailed close to the coast of Éire and sheltered within a shallow cave. It was here that they chanced upon the two sons of the King Bodb Dearg himsellf.
After their three hundred years on the Sruth na Maoile had finally come to an end the ‘Children of Lir’ took flight one last time to the western coast of Éire, to a place known as Iorras Domhnann.
Here at a place known by the people of Éire as the ‘head of the world’ they came to rest with only the ocean between the swans and the ‘Isles of Summer’ far to the west across the ocean.
When the children landed on the Isle of Inis Gluaire, they found that they were not alone. For on the island there lived a hermit by the name of Cháemmog. Now Cháemmog was a kindly and good man and spoke to the children with love and affection, telling them gently, “Children it is time to come ashore for your destiny is now at hand. The King of Connacht, Laidgnén Mac Colmán is soon to be wed to the Princess Diechtine the Sister of King Fíngen of Munster.
Diechtine had agreed to marry the King provided that he bring to her as a wedding gift, four singing swans said to be living within his kingdom.
The King took it upon himself to find the swans. Eventually he found them and immediately placed chains of silver around their neck.
Meanwhile faraway, Princess Diechtine asked her brother the King about her request for the singing swans and whether he thought it fair? The King declared that he did not and chastised his sister for mocking the otherworld and the memory of the Gods of Old Éire who still lived beneath the barrows and mounds of Munster. In her shame Diechtine blushed and sent message to the King of Connacht to release the birds. For she would marry him regardless.
As the message was making its way across Éire by courier, the King continued to drag the birds to the mainland by their chains. But the princesses words having been spoken aloud had already begun to take their effect, for as the children were dragged by chains to the shore, their feathers began to wilt away and fall to the ground.
When the King turned back to look upon his catch, he now saw not swans, but four ancient beings all nine hundred years of age afore him. The King perplexed and confused over what he had done pleaded ignorance to the four and asked for forgiveness.
As Cháemmog approached the scene he too saw the four old men and women and asked what their dying wishes were? They replied all at once, that they wanted to be buried together on the islands in the tradition of their people, long since gone.
They would be buried standing up facing one another in a circle with arms entwined. Cháemmog did as he was bid and dug the grave whilst the children sang their last final song.
It was after they had finished this final lullaby that Cháemmog turned around and to his surprise and amazement he saw not four ancients standing afore him, but instead four beautiful children holding hands and smiling.
Then as all four died their bodies lay again as ancient ones on the floor of the beach. Cháemmog did as he was bid burying them in the manner of their ancestors. Wrapping them first in Racholl. He placed Fionnuala next to her brother Conn who was on her right, Fiachra to her left and Aobh in front of her. Over their heads he then laid broom. Once all this was done, he raised a Leacht on the spot where they were buried and on it engraved the names, Fionnuala, Conn, Fiachra and Aobh.