Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Tales /märchen

The Children of Lir

I mean I don’t remember who told me honestly. It was probably my mum or dad. They might have told us in school as well. There are two of the endings that are familiar to me, but I couldn’t say for certain which I’m supposed to know. There are a lot of parts of the story that…well I don’t know… it’s very Irish in itself. So more or less once upon a time there was a king in Ireland called Lir. Erm…anyway the king is given from someone else… a guy called Bodb… given a daughter to marry called Aoibh (pronounced Eve) and they have four children… a girl and three sons…erm…and the mother died. So to keep Lir …basically Lir was devastated and missed his wife. So to keep Lir happy, that guy Bodb gave him another woman called Aoife and Aoife married Lir and this is literally Irish version of the wicked stepmother in Cinderella. She was jealous of Lir’s love for his children. So one day she said, “Let’s go swimming in the lake” to the four children. But there are different versions of this ending as well but this is my version…the version I have been told. I’m not really sure which one I’m supposed to know or even which one is the correct ending. Anyways…erm…so she took them off swimming, and when they were in the lake, she used a spell to turn them into swans, and they were supposed to have to roam three different lakes for three hundred years as swans… and to end the spell, the children (now swans) would have to be blessed by a monk… so anyway they were blessed by a monk after nine hundred years and became humans again, but they were super old by that time and died. This is a pretty scary story to be told when you’re young. That’s my version but, again, there are several different ending to that tale, and I’m not sure anyone really knows what the correct ending to this story is. Another one of the endings is that the children were each tied together with invisible silver chains to keep them together, but the children were able to break free of the chains when they transformed into the old withered people. Also there is another version that talks about hearing a bell… and the bell being a sort of a moment for the swans/children to become human again. Another version is that the priest found them and another that they just withered and died. No one really knows what the right ending is. But anyways yeah a lot of these old Irish stories are kind of depressing…it’s a sad, scary story, especially to be told from such a young age, like I was, but yeah… that’s mostly all I know.

This legend has also been published in A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKillop and titled “Oidheadh Chlainne Lir,” which can be found at http://www.oxfordreference.com.libproxy2.usc.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780198609674.001.0001/acref-9780198609674-e-3323#

 

Background information: My aunt, Lynda Redington, was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and she is married to my father’s brother, and they now reside in London. She stated this was fairly prominent legend that, as she already mentioned, was even told to them in schools. It is so prominent that she is not even sure where she first heard it – from her parents or in school. For her, it is just one of many intense and dark stories that make up Irish folklore in general, as she mentioned above that most Irish legends are fairly depressing. This story itself does not have very happy ending, as these children are kidnapped and are trapped on a lake for hundreds of years, only to die as old people just as they are brought back to their original human form. I think this story is incredibly interesting and it represents the main idea of folklore well in its multiple endings, and how most people are unsure of how it really ends. This really exemplifies the idea of multiplicity and variation to a point where people are unsure of which end to tell. The context of the performance was via FaceTime as my aunt is very far away. However, it was a good means of getting the story, and I was able to record her very well and word for word.

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