The Children of Lir part 2

Messengers were sent north with this offer. Lir, overwhelmed by the kindness of the man he had insulted, accepted, and made haste to Lough Derg, arriving the following day with a retinue of fifty chariots. There, in front of Bodhbh Dearg's palace, he made his submission and asked for forgiveness from his king. That night they feasted heartily before Lir was asked to choose between the three girls. They sat at the feast on the same seat as their foster-mother, Bodhbh Dearg's wife. Lir chose Aebh, because she was the eldest, and they slept together that night.

Lir 2 The festivities and celebration continued for a fortnight and then Lir took her back home with him to Co. Armagh, where they had another wedding feast to mark their return.

Time went by and Lir and the young girl lived in joy and content. She bore him twins, Fionnuala and Aodh, and then she conceived again and gave birth to another set of twins, Fiachra and Conn. But misfortune struck once more and the young mother died giving birth the second time. This calamity would have driven the life out of Lir but for the comfort and solace he took from his four children.

Once again Lir's sad story came to the ears of Bodhbh Dearg and once again he took pity on him and offered him Aoife, Aebh's sister. Lir came south to take her; they slept in Bodhbh Dearg's palace; and then he took her back with him to the Fews. At first Aoife was delighted with her sister's children, and took pleasure in the joy they gave not only to Lir, but to anyone who met them. Bodhbh Dearg himself loved them and often came to visit the family, and would bring the children back to Lough Derg to stay with him in his own palace. So dearly did their father love these four that he got them to sleep on couches in front of his own, and every morning he would wake up early to go and embrace them.

His devotion, however, awoke a fire of envy in Aoife, their stepmother. She started to hate them and resented the admiration they won from everyone. To draw attention to herself she pretended to be sick for a whole year, but even though great care and concern was shown towards her she still wasn't satisfied. She decided to get rid of them.

One day she had her chariot prepared for her and told the children to climb into it and go along with her. Fionnuala knew in her own mind that her stepmother had planned something evil against them but she could not refuse what seemed an ordinary command even though she could feel the malice in Aoife. When she got the children some way from Lir's house she pulled a sword from its scabbard in the chariot intending to kill them but a womanly instinct combined with fear of physical violence stopped her. In fury and panic she drove the chariot on to Lough Derravaragh in Co. Westmeath. She loosened the horses on the strand and told the children to climb down from the chariot, take off their clothes, and to wash themselves in the lake, saying that they were covered in dirt from the long drive.

Once again Fionnuala knew that evil was afoot, but she found it impossible to disobey a sensible request. They all did as they were told, and entered the cold water of the lake. When they were swimming around, Aoife, who was trained in the arts of magic, struck the water's surface with an enchanted rod, and immediately the four lovely bodies before her changed their shapes into four swans as white as snow. Their bodies changed as they were swimming and when the transformation was complete the four shapes all turned in unison, as swans do, and then Fionnuala spoke strangely through her new throat:

> > > Read part 3 of this article.