Shauna O’Halloran retells story of ancient Irish myth that forms basis of ballet classic, Swan Lake.
Many years ago in ancient Ireland lived a King and ruler of sea called Lir. He had a beautiful wife, called Eva, who gave him four children – eldest son Aodh, a daughter called Fionnula and twin boys, Fiachra and Conn. When children were young, their mother Eva died. Lir and children were very sad, and King wanted a new mother for his young sons and daughter, so he married Eva’s sister Aoife who, it was said, possessed magical powers.
Aoife loved children and Lir at first, but soon she became very jealous of time that King spent with Aodh, Fionnula, Fiachra and Conn. She wanted to have all of his attention for herself. One day, she took children to swim in a lake while sun was hot in sky. When they got there and children took to water, Aoife used her powers to cast a spell over children, which would turn them all into beautiful swans.
She knew that if she killed children, their ghosts would haunt her forever, so instead she cast this spell, forcing them to live as swans for 900 years; three hundred on Lake Derravaragh, three hundred on Straits of Moyle, and three hundred more on Isle of Inish Glora. The spell would only be broken when children heard ringing of a bell, and arrival of St Patrick in Ireland.
But Aoife’s spell had not taken away children’s voices, and so it was that these four beautiful swans could sing beautiful songs, and were able to tell their father what had happened to them. Lir, who had been searching for his children, came down to lake and saw Fionnuala, now a swan, who told him of spell cast on them by Aoife. Enraged, he banished Aoife into mist, and she was never seen again.
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Although saddened by his children’s fate, Lir remained a good father, and spent his days faithfully by lake listening to their singing. Their three hundred years on Lake Derravaragh were filled with joy, but at end of this first part of their spell, children had to say goodbye to their father forever. They travelled to Straits of Moyle, where they spent three hundred years enduring fierce storms, and spent much time separated from each other. But they survived these three hundred years, and eventually traveled, together again, to fulfil final stage of their spell, on a small saltwater lake on Isle of Inish Glora.
The King by now had passed, and of his once glorious castle nothing but ruins remained. One day, they heard distant ringing of a bell – one of first Christian bells in all of Ireland – and swans followed sound, knowing that end of their spell was near. They followed bells to house of a holy man called Caomhog, who cared for them for last years of their fate.
One day though, disaster struck again, when a man appeared at house dressed in armor, saying he was King of Connacht, and he had come for now legendary and mystical swans with beautiful singing voices. He threatened to tear down and ruin Caomhog’s house if swans did not come with him, but just as he was laying his hands on them, bell tolled again, and mist of lake came and enveloped swans, turning them back into children they were nine hundred years before. The frightened King of Connacht fled immediately, and children in their human form started to age rapidly. Caomhog knew that they soon would die, so he quickly christened them before their human bodies passed away, so that their legend and their names could live on forever, for these were Children of Lir.