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Literature / The Children of Lir

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The Children of Lir by Jim Fitzpatrick

"The Children of Lir" is an Irish fairytale that is one of the more well known and beloved of the country's mythology. Different versions of the tale exist, including a full length novelization by Michael Scott but in a nutshell the tale is as follows:

Lir of the title is a King in Ancient Ireland and a member of the Tuatha De Danann - a race of immortal fairies - and is married to a beautiful woman called Eve/Eva with four children Fionnuala, Aedh/Aodh and twins Fiachra and Conn. While the children are still young they lose their mother. In some versions she dies, others she goes into a long lasting sleep. After her death Lir marries her sister Aoife/Aife who initially loves the children but grows to hate them as she fears Lir loves them more than her.

One day Aoife takes the children to Lake Deravaragh (a real lake in Ireland) and casts an enchantment on them, transforming them into swans and forcing them to remain that way for 900 years. Per the terms of the spell they must spend 300 years on the lake (where they have their father to tend to them), 300 on the Sea of Moyle (which, while calm, they spend with no one but themselves), and a final 300 on the Bay of Inish Glora (which is constantly battered by brutal storms). Then they can be turned back by hearing the sound of the Bell of New God. They live out the years of the enchantment and in the final years they cross paths with a Christian monk (in some versions St Patrick himself) who agrees to build a church and bell for them. The swans become famous for their beautiful singing voices and on the day they are to hear the bell the Princess of Munster demands to have them as a present. As they are taken away they hear the sounds of the bell and turn back into their human forms. Some versions have them turn into withering old people who die quickly. Others have them keep their youth since they are immortal.


This fairytale provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Michael Scott's novel really adds a lot to the tale.
  • Adult Fear: Lir loses four of his five children.
  • All Myths Are True: In the novel it states that the likes of dragons, unicorns and other mythical creatures lived in Ireland in the old days.
  • Arc Number: Three. Aoife curses the children to nine hundred years - which is three hundred times three. Every three hundred years they must move to a new location. There are four children but the twins are usually counted as one entity.
  • Badass Preacher: In the Michael Scott version, the swans' priest friend defies the King of Connacht and tries to stop the swans being taken. Even when they are, he still rings his bell to release them from their enchantment.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Aoife transforms the children into swans.
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  • Call-Back: It's said that Fionnuala holds her siblings in a certain way while they sleep on the Sea of Moyle - the twins on either side and Aodh against her breast. When they die, they are buried in the same positions.
  • Cruel Mercy: Aoife tries to kill the children herself, but cannot bring herself to. So the enchantment is her solution instead.
  • Death by Adaptation: Michael Scott's novelization has Aoife turned into a lizard which is then eaten by a bird.
  • Dub Name Change: The father's name is actually Ler. The story is called "Clann Lir" in Irish (Lir is the genitive case of Ler), so the translators just decided to roll with "Children of Lir".
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: Aoife's punishment for cursing the children.
  • Fiery Redhead: Aoife and Eve's father, Bobh Dearg named so because of his flaming red hair and beard that go along with his temper.
  • Good Shepherd: In the final third of the story, the swans' ally is a priest building his church.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: The children are commonly portrayed as blonde, perhaps because of their Incorruptible Pure Pureness.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: The children being turned into swans. This also happens to Aoife as punishment. What she gets turned into varies with each version.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Aoife of course. It Runs in the Family though, as her father was a sorcerer.
  • Made a Slave: The swans' are captured to be used as a wedding present for a princess when the bell turns them back.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Only Aoife can remove the enchantment she cast on the children.
  • Most Wonderful Sound: In-universe the sound of the swans singing.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Lir doesn't find out that only Aoife can reverse the spell until after she's been transformed.
  • Offing the Offspring: Aoife attempts to kill her stepchildren. Bobh likewises curses his own daughter.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Aoife is transformed into a hideous creature as punishment for her spell.
  • Promotion to Parent: Fionnuala and Aodh have to act as parents to their younger siblings.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • The swans being transformed back to their true forms coincides with the arrival of Christianity to Ireland.
    • The Sea of Moyle being rough and wild also symbolises the children having to leave their home behind.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: Some versions have the children bound with silver chains so that they stay together forever. And the chains being broken is what removes the enchantment.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Is it Aedh or Aodh? Eve or Aoibh? Aoife or Aife?
  • Team Mom: Fionnuala is this to her brothers.
  • Together in Death: The version where the children die has them reunited with their parents in the afterlife.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Aoife.


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