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Oidheadh Chlainne Lir


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Irish title for the late medieval romance (MSS c.1500) usually known in English as The Tragic Story of the Children of Lir, or The Fate of the Children of Lir; it may also be known, with earlier spelling, as Aided Chlainne Lir [The Violent Death of the Children of Lir]. One of the Three Sorrows of Storytelling, along with Longas mac nUislenn [The Exile of the Sons of Uisnech] (see DEIRDRE) and OIDHEADH CHLAINNE TUIREANN [The Tragic Story of the Children of Tuireann].

After their defeat by the Milesians at the battle of Tailtiu, the Tuatha Dé Danann begin to recede into their own world of mystery and imagination, of which they will be masters. At the same time they seek a new king so that they may not be ruled by their conquerors. Of the five candidates, Bodb Derg of Connacht is judged the strongest, which offends Lir of the sídh of Finnachad (near the modern town of Newtownhamilton, Co. Armagh). The magnanimous Bodb is concerned at Lir's disappointment, especially when he is grieved by the death of his wife, and so offers the hand of one of his foster-daughters as bride. Lir chooses the eldest, Áeb (or, in some versions, Niam or Finnguala). She bears him four children, a twin son and daughter, Áed (3) [fire] and Finnguala [fair-shouldered]. She then bears twin sons, Fiachra (1) and Conn, but dies at their birth. When Lir is despondent at his wife's death, Bodb arranges for him to marry Áeb's sister Aífe (2), who honours and loves her sister's children, at least initially.

When Aífe proves childless, her view of the children darkens. Seized with an obsessive jealousy, she takes to her bed, feigning sickness for a year. Then she abruptly pronounces herself cured and declares she will visit Bodb Derg, taking the children with her; Finnguala resists, warned of evil portents in a dream. En route to Bodb's palace at Killaloe in the west, Aífe begins to rage against the children for depriving her of her husband's love, and demands that her retainers slaughter them on the spot-Lough Derravaragh in Co. West-meath. When the servants refuse, Aífe pushes the children into the water and transforms them with a druidical wand (or sword) into four beautiful white swans. Finnguala, who, like the other children, retains the power of speech, protests their blamelessness and asks Aífe how long their cruel punishment will last. The answer: 900 years in three sentences of increasing misery: 300 years in Lough Derravaragh, 300 years in the North Channel, the narrowest passage between Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, sometimes called the Sea of Moyle, and 300 years on the west coast of Ireland between Erris and the small island of Inishglora, Co. Mayo. This will last, Aífe explains further, until a woman from the south, Deoch daughter of Fíngen, king of Munster, shall be joined with a man of the north, Lairgnéan, son of Colmán of Connacht. Because Finnguala has asked for the term of the curse, no power of the Tuatha Dé Danann can lift it, but Aífe allows, in addition to the power of speech, their senses and faculties, and an ability to sing supreme among mortals. Aífe then proceeds to Bodb's palace at Killaloe, where her treachery is soon discovered, and she is punished by being transformed into a demon (sometimes vulture), condemned to wander through the air for ever.

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Subjects: Religion.


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