Aodh, Fionnuala, Fiachra and Conn, the children of the king, are turned into swans by their evil stepmother Aoife and are doomed to live as such for 900 years. They have not lost their children’s voices, however, and are able to sing beautiful songs. They follow pealing bells (a sign that this spell may be coming to an end) to the house of a holy man called Caomhog who cares for them for the last few years of their fate. Captured by the King of Connacht, they’re rescued by a tolling bell and mist from the lake and return to the childish forms they’d had some 900 years before. Unnerved by this sudden change, the King of Connacht flees and the children begin to age rapidly. Caomhog christens the children quickly before their human bodies pass away so that their legend and their names will live on forever.
Last moments: the children of Lir
For just a moment, their childish voices filled the darkening space
before the years unravelled and the centuries took their toll;
in those last seconds, those who heard them knew
their timeless hearts had opened to each other,
for their voices echoed bright and strong and clear
and they knew each other once again.
Then, as sunshine passes, leaving only the briefest memory of light,
their voices faltered, faded to the shadows and were gone.