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Swans - the Children of Lir

Guest Author - Lisa Shea

In Irish legend, Lir was a great man, a sea god. Lir's third wife turned her stepchildren into swans out of jealousy.

Life was very harsh for women in ancient days, and the wives of Lir were no exception. Lir's first wife died, and Lir chose a new wife, Aebh. He loved Aebh dearly and together they had four children - Fionuala, Aed, and the twins Fiarch and Conn. Unfortunately for Aebh, she died in childbirth while bearing the twins.

Lir wanted his children to have a mother to love, and married yet again, this time to Aeife. Aeife was barren, which Lir didn't mind since they already had four children to love and care for. However, Aeife became insanely jealous over Lir's children and began to plot their deaths. She took the children to West Meath, to Lake Derryvaragh. When her servants refused to kill the kids, Aeife used magic to turn the four into swans.

In addition, she cursed them - they would live 300 years in Lake Derryvaragh, another 300 in the Straits of Moyle, and then 300 in Irros Domnann. Only then, when a Southern Woman married a Northern Man, would their spell be broken.

The servants revealed what happened to Aeife's father, Bodb. In a rage, he turned Aeife into a wind demon. Bodb and Lir then went to Lake Derryvaragh to spend time with the swan-children and keep them company, for they found no way to break the curse. Lir made a law that no swans may be killed in Ireland, a law which remains to this day.

The swans saw their father grow old and die, and when 300 years had passed, they migrated to the Straights of Moyle. This is in the cold, northern part of Ireland. They were tortured here for 300 years by the harsh conditions. Finally in another 300 years they moved to Mayo, for Irros Domnann.

When at last their time was over, they returnd home and found nothing but grass and hills - all traces of their father's home had long since fallen away. Shortly thereafter a wedding took place between a Southern Woman and Northern Man. The four swans indeed turned back into humans - but into incredibly ancient, withered humans. They were buried together.

Leda and the Swan - History
Leda and the Swan - WB Yeats Poem
Leda and the Swan - Spenser
Swan Lake - a History


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Content copyright © 2014 by Lisa Shea. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Lisa Shea. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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