The Four White Swans, A Story from
In the days of long ago there lived in the Green
Isle of Erin a race of brave men and fair women—the
race of the Dedannans. North, south,
east, and west did this noble people dwell, doing
homage to many chiefs.
But one blue morning after a great battle the
Dedannans met on a wide plain to choose a king.
“Let us,” they said, “have one king over all. Let
us no longer have many rulers.”
Forth from among the princes rose five well
fitted to wield a scepter and to wear a crown, yet
most royal stood Bove Derg and Lir. And forth
did the five chiefs wander, that the Dedannan
folk might freely say to whom they would most
gladly do homage as king.
Not far did they roam, for soon there arose
a great cry, “Bove Derg is King! Bove Derg
is King!” And all were glad, save Lir.
But Lir was angry, and he left the plain where
the Dedannan people were, taking leave of none,
and doing Bove Derg no reverence. For jealousy
filled the heart of Lir.
Then were the Dedannans wroth, and a hundred
swords were unsheathed and flashed in the
sunlight on the plain. “We go to slay Lir who
doeth not homage to our King and regardeth not
the choice of the people.”
But wise and generous was Bove Derg, and
he bade the warriors do no hurt to the offended
For long years did Lir live in discontent, yielding
obedience to none. But at length a great sorrow
fell upon him, for his wife, who was dear
unto him, died, and she had been ill but three
days. Loudly did he lament her death, and
heavy was his heart with sorrow.
When tidings of Lir’s grief reached Bove
Derg, he was surrounded by his mightiest chiefs.
“Go forth,” he said, “in fifty chariots go forth.
Tell Lir I am his friend as ever, and ask that
he come with you hither. Three fair foster-children
are mine, and one may he yet have to wife,
will he but bow to the will of the people, who
have chosen me their King.”
When these words were told to Lir, his heart
was glad. Speedily he called around him his
train, and in fifty chariots set forth. Nor did
they slacken speed until they reached the palace
of Bove Derg by the Great Lake. And there at
the still close of day, as the setting rays of the
sun fell athwart the silver waters, did Lir do
homage to Bove Derg. And Bove Derg kissed
Lir and vowed to be his friend forever.
And when it was known throughout the
Dedannan host that peace reigned between these
mighty chiefs, brave men and fair women and
little children rejoiced, and nowhere were there
happier hearts than in the Green Isle of Erin.
Time passed, and Lir still dwelt with Bove
Derg in his palace by the Great Lake. One
morning the King said: “Full well thou knowest
my three fair foster-daughters, nor have I forgotten
my promise that one thou shouldst have
to wife. Choose her whom thou wilt.”
Then Lir answered: “All are indeed fair, and
choice is hard. But give unto me the eldest, if
it be that she be willing to wed.”
And Eve, the eldest of the fair maidens, was
glad, and that day was she married to Lir, and
after two weeks she left the palace by the Great
Lake and drove with her husband to her new
Happily dwelt Lir’s household and merrily
sped the months. Then were born unto Lir twin
babes. The girl they called Finola, and her
brother did they name Aed.
Yet another year passed and again twins were
born, but before the infant boys knew their
mother, she died. So sorely did Lir grieve for
his beautiful wife that he would have died of
sorrow, but for the great love he bore his
When news of Eve’s death reached the palace
of Bove Derg by the Great Lake all mourned
aloud, for love of Eve and sore pity for Lir and
his four babes. And Bove Derg said to his
mighty chiefs: “Great, indeed is our grief, but
in this dark hour shall Lir know our friendship.
Ride forth, make known to him that Eva, my
second fair foster-child, shall in time become his
wedded wife and shall cherish his lone babies.”
So messengers rode forth to carry these tidings
to Lir, and in time Lir came again to the
palace of Bove Derg by the Great Lake, and
he married the beautiful Eva and took her back
with him to his little daughter, Finola, and to
her three brothers, Aed and Fiacra and Conn.
Four lovely and gentle children they were, and
with tenderness did Eva care for the little ones
who were their father’s joy and the pride of the
As for Lir, so great was the love he bore them,
that at early dawn he would rise, and, pulling
aside the deerskin that separated his
sleeping-room from theirs, would fondle and frolic with
the children until morning broke.
And Bove Derg loved them well-nigh as did
Lir himself. Ofttimes would he come to see them
and ofttimes were they brought to his palace by
the Great Lake.
And through all the Green Isle, where dwelt
the Dedannan people, there also was spread the
fame of the beauty of the children of Lir.
Time crept on, and Finola was a maid of
twelve summers. Then did a wicked jealousy
find root in Eva’s heart, and so did it grow that
it strangled the love which she had borne her
sister’s children. In bitterness she cried: “Lir
careth not for me; to Finola and her brothers
hath he given all his love.”
And for weeks and months Eva lay in bed
planning how she might do hurt to the children
At length, one midsummer morn, she ordered
forth her chariot, that with the four children
she might come to the palace of Bove Derg.
When Finola heard it, her fair face grew pale,
for in a dream had it been revealed unto her
that Eva, her stepmother, should that day do a
dark deed among those of her own household.
Therefore was Finola sore afraid, but only her
large eyes and pale cheeks spake her woe, as
she and her brothers drove along with Eva and
On they drove, the boys laughing merrily,
heedless alike of the black shadow resting on
their stepmother’s brow, and of the pale, trembling
lips of their sister. As they reached a
gloomy pass, Eva whispered to her attendants:
“Kill, I pray you, these children of Lir, for their
father careth not for me, because of his great
love for them. Kill them, and great wealth shall
But the attendants answered in horror: “We
will not kill them. Fearful, O Eva, were the deed,
and great is the evil that will befall thee, for having
it in thine heart to do this thing.”
Then Eva, filled with rage, drew forth her
sword to slay them with her own hand, but too
weak for the monstrous deed, she sank back in
Onward they drove, out of the gloomy pass
into the bright sunlight of the white road.
Daisies with wide-open eyes looked up into the
blue sky overhead. Golden glistened the buttercups
among the shamrock. From the ditches
peeped forget-me-not. Honeysuckle scented the
hedgerows. Around, above, and afar, caroled
the linnet, the lark, and the thrush. All was
color and sunshine, scent and song, as the children
of Lir drove onward to their doom.
Not until they reached a still lake were the
horses unyoked for rest. There Eva bade the
children undress and go bathe in the waters.
And when the children of Lir reached the
water’s edge, Eva was there behind them, holding
in her hand a fairy wand. And with the wand
she touched the shoulder of each. And, lo! as
she touched Finola, the maiden was changed into
a snow-white swan, and behold! as she touched
Aed, Fiacra, and Conn, the three brothers were
as the maid. Four snow-white swans floated on
the blue lake, and to them the wicked Eva
chanted a song of doom.
As she finished, the swans turned toward her,
and Finola spake:
“Evil is the deed thy magic wand hath
wrought, O Eva, on us the children of Lir, but
greater evil shall befall thee, because of the
hardness and jealousy of thine heart.” And
Finola’s white swan-breast heaved as she sang
of their pitiless doom.
The song ended, again spake the swan-maiden:
“Tell us, O Eva, when death shall set us free.”
And Eva made answer: “Three hundred years
shall your home be on the smooth waters of this
lone lake. Three hundred years shall ye pass
on the stormy waters of the sea betwixt Erin
and Alba, and three hundred years shall ye be
tempest-tossed on the wild Western Sea. Until
Decca be the Queen of Largnen, and the good
saint come to Erin, and ye hear the chime of the
Christ-bell, neither your plaints nor prayers,
neither the love of your father Lir, nor the might
of your King, Bove Derg, shall have power to
deliver you from your doom. But lone white
swans though ye be, ye shall keep forever your
own sweet Gaelic speech, and ye shall sing, with
plaintive voices, songs so haunting that your
music will bring peace to the souls of those who
hear. And still beneath your snowy plumage
shall beat the hearts of Finola, Aed, Fiacra and
Conn, and still forever shall ye be the children
four snow-white swans floated on the blue lake
Then did Eva order the horses to be yoked to
the chariot, and away westward did she drive.
And swimming on the lone lake were four
When Eva reached the palace of Bove Derg
alone, greatly was he troubled lest evil had befallen
the children of Lir.
But the attendants, because of their great fear
of Eva, dared not to tell the King of the magic
spell she had wrought by the way. Therefore
Bove Derg asked, “Wherefore, O Eva, come not
Finola and her brothers to the palace this day?”
And Eva answered: “Because, O King, Lir
no longer trusteth thee, therefore would he not
let the children come hither.”
But Bove Derg believed not his foster-daughter,
and that night he secretly sent messengers
across the hills to the dwelling of Lir.
When the messengers came there, and told
their errand, great was the grief of the father.
And in the morning with a heavy heart he summoned
a company of the Dedannans, and together
they set out for the palace of Bove Derg.
And it was not until sunset as they reached the
lone shore of Lake Darvra, that they slackened
Lir alighted from his chariot and stood spellbound.
What was that plaintive sound? The
Gaelic words, his dear daughter’s voice more enchanting
even than of old, and yet, before and
around, only the lone blue lake. The haunting
music rang clearer, and as the last words died
away, four snow-white swans glided from behind
the sedges, and with a wild flap of wings
flew toward the eastern shore. There, stricken
with wonder, stood Lir.
“Know, O Lir,” said Finola, “that we are thy
children, changed by the wicked magic of our
stepmother into four white swans.” When Lir
and the Dedannan people heard these words,
they wept aloud.
Still spake the swan-maiden: “Three hundred
years must we float on this lone lake, three hundred
years shall we be storm-tossed on the
waters between Erin and Alba, and three hundred
years on the wild Western Sea. Not until
Decca be the Queen of Largnen, not until the
good saint come to Erin and the chime of the
Christ-bell be heard in the land, not until then
shall we be saved from our doom.”
Then great cries of sorrow went up from the
Dedannans, and again Lir sobbed aloud. But
at the last silence fell upon his grief, and Finola
told how she and her brothers would keep forever
their own sweet Gaelic speech, how they
would sing songs so haunting that their music
would bring peace to the souls of all who heard.
She told how, beneath their snowy plumage, the
human hearts of Finola, Aed, Fiacra, and Conn
should still beat—the hearts of the children of
Lir. “Stay with us to-night by the lone lake,”
she ended, “and our music will steal to you
across its moonlit waters and lull you into peaceful
slumber. Stay, stay with us.”
And Lir and his people stayed on the shore
that night and until the morning glimmered.
Then, with the dim dawn, silence stole over the
Speedily did Lir rise, and in haste did he bid
farewell to his children, that he might seek Eva
and see her tremble before him.
Swiftly did he drive and straight, until he
came to the palace of Bove Derg, and there by
the waters of the Great Lake did Bove Derg
meet him. “Oh, Lir, wherefore have thy children
come not hither?” And Eva stood by the
Stern and sad rang the answer of Lir: “Alas!
Eva, your foster-child, hath by her wicked magic
changed them into four snow-white swans. On
the blue waters of Lake Darvra dwell Finola,
Aed, Fiacra, and Conn, and thence come I that
I may avenge their doom.”
A silence as the silence of death fell upon the
three, and all was still save that Eva trembled
greatly. But ere long Bove Derg spake. Fierce
and angry did he look, as, high above his foster-daughter,
he held his magic wand. Awful was
his voice as he pronounced her doom: “Wretched
woman, henceforth shalt thou no longer darken
this fair earth, but as a demon of the air shalt
thou dwell in misery till the end of time.” And
of a sudden from out her shoulders grew black,
shadowy wings, and, with a piercing scream, she
swirled upward, until the awe-stricken Dedannans
saw nought save a black speck vanish
among the lowering clouds. And as a demon of
the air do Eva’s black wings swirl her through
space to this day.
But great and good was Bove Derg. He laid
aside his magic wand and so spake: “Let us, my
people, leave the Great Lake, and let us pitch
our tents on the shores of Lake Darvra. Exceeding
dear unto us are the children of Lir, and
I, Bove Derg, and Lir, their father, have vowed
henceforth to make our home forever by the
lone waters where they dwell.”
And when it was told throughout the Green
Island of Erin of the fate of the children of Lir
and of the vow that Bove Derg had vowed, from
north, south, east, and west did the Dedannans
flock to the lake, until a mighty host dwelt by
And by day Finola and her brothers knew not
loneliness, for in the sweet Gaelic speech they
told of their joys and fears; and by night the
mighty Dedannans knew no sorrowful memories,
for by haunting songs were they lulled to sleep,
and the music brought peace to their souls.
Slowly did the years go by, and upon the
shoulders of Bove Derg and Lir fell the long
white hair. Fearful grew the four swans, for
the time was not far off when they must wing
their flight north to the wild sea of Moyle.
And when at length the sad day dawned,
Finola told her brothers how their three hundred
happy years on Lake Darvra were at an end,
and how they must now leave the peace of its
lone waters for evermore.
Then, slowly and sadly, did the four swans
glide to the margin of the lake. Never had the
snowy whiteness of their plumage so dazzled the
beholders, never had music so sweet and sorrowful
floated to Lake Darvra’s sunlit shores. As
the swans reached the water’s edge, silent were
the three brothers, and alone Finola chanted a
With bowed white heads did the Dedannan
host listen to Finola’s chant, and when the music
ceased and only sobs broke the stillness, the four
swans spread their wings, and, soaring high,
paused but for one short moment to gaze on the
kneeling forms of Lir and Bove Derg. Then,
stretching their graceful necks toward the north,
they winged their flight to the waters of the
stormy sea that separates the blue Alba from
the Green Island of Erin.
And when it was known throughout the Green
Isle that the four white swans had flown, so
great was the sorrow of the people that they
made a law that no swan should be killed in Erin
from that day forth.
With hearts that burned with longing for their
father and their friends, did Finola and her
brothers reach the sea of Moyle. Cold were its
wintry waters, black and fearful were the steep
rocks overhanging Alba’s far-stretching coasts.
From hunger, too, the swans suffered. Dark
indeed was all, and darker yet as the children of
Lir remembered the still waters of Lake Darvra
and the fond Dedannan host on its peaceful
shores. Here the sighing of the wind among the
reeds no longer soothed their sorrow, but the
roar of the breaking surf struck fresh terror in
their souls. In misery and terror did their days
pass, until one night the black, lowering clouds
overhead told that a great tempest was nigh.
Then did Finola call to her Aed, Fiacra, and
Conn. “Beloved brothers, a great fear is at my
heart, for, in the fury of the coming gale, we
may be driven the one from the other. Therefore,
let us say where we may hope to meet when
the storm is spent.”
And Aed answered: “Wise art thou, dear, gentle
sister. If we be driven apart, may it be to
meet again on the rocky isle that has ofttimes
been our haven, for well known is it to us all,
and from far can it be seen.”
Darker grew the night, louder raged the wind,
as the four swans dived and rose again on the
giant billows. Yet fiercer blew the gale, until
at midnight loud bursts of thunder mingled with
the roaring wind, but, in the glare of the blue
lightning’s flashes, the children of Lir beheld
each the snowy form of the other. The mad
fury of the hurricane yet increased, and the
force of it lifted one swan from its wild home
on the billows, and swept it through the blackness
of the night. Another blue lightning-flash,
and each swan saw its loneliness, and uttered a
great cry of desolation. Tossed hither and
thither by wind and wave, the white birds were
well-nigh dead when dawn broke. And with the
dawn fell calm.
Swift as her tired wings would bear her,
Finola sailed to the rocky isle, where she hoped
to find her brothers. But alas! no sign was there
of one of them. Then to the highest summit of
the rocks she flew. North, south, east, and west
did she look, yet nought saw she save a watery
wilderness. Now did her heart fail her, and she
sang the saddest song she had yet sung.
As the last notes died Finola raised her eyes,
and lo! Conn came slowly swimming toward her
with drenched plumage and head that drooped.
And as she looked, behold! Fiacra appeared, but
it was as though his strength failed. Then did
Finola swim toward her fainting brother and
lend him her aid, and soon the twins were safe
on the sunlit rock, nestling for warmth beneath
their sister’s wings.
Yet Finola’s heart still beat with alarm as she
sheltered her younger brothers, for Aed came
not, and she feared lest he were lost forever.
But, at noon, sailing he came over the breast of
the blue waters, with head erect and plumage
sunlit. And under the feathers of her breast
did Finola draw him, for Conn and Fiacra still
cradled beneath her wings. “Rest here, while
ye may, dear brothers,” she said.
And she sang to them a lullaby so surpassing
sweet that the sea-birds hushed their cries and
flocked to listen to the sad, slow music. And
when Aed and Fiacra and Conn were lulled to
sleep, Finola’s notes grew more and more faint
and her head drooped, and soon she, too, slept
peacefully in the warm sunlight.
But few were the sunny days on the sea of
Moyle, and many were the tempests that ruffled
its waters. Still keener grew the winter frosts,
and the misery of the four white swans was
greater than ever before. Even their most sorrowful
Gaelic songs told not half their woe.
From the fury of the storm they still sought
shelter on that rocky isle where Finola had despaired
of seeing her dear ones more.
Slowly passed the years of doom, until one
midwinter a frost more keen than any known
before froze the sea into a floor of solid black
ice. By night the swans crouched together on
the rocky isle for warmth, but each morning they
were frozen to the ground and could free themselves
only with sore pain, for they left clinging
to the ice-bound rock the soft down of their
breasts, the quills from their white wings, and
the skin of their poor feet.
And when the sun melted the ice-bound surface
of the waters, and the swans swam once
more in the sea of Moyle, the salt water entered
their wounds, and they well-nigh died of pain.
But in time the down on their breasts and the
feathers on their wings grew, and they were
healed of their wounds.
The years dragged on, and by day Finola and
her brothers would fly toward the shores of the
Green Island of Erin, or to the rocky blue headlands
of Alba, or they would swim far out into
a dim gray wilderness of waters. But ever as
night fell it was their doom to return to the sea
One day, as they looked toward the Green
Isle, they saw coming to the coast a troop of
horsemen mounted on snow-white steeds, and
their armor glittered in the sun.
A cry of great joy went up from the children
of Lir, for they had seen no human form since
they spread their wings above Lake Darvra, and
flew to the stormy sea of Moyle.
“Speak,” said Finola to her brothers, “speak,
and say if these be not our own Dedannan folk.”
And Aed and Fiacra and Conn strained their
eyes, and Aed answered, “It seemeth, dear sister,
to me, that it is indeed our own people.”
As the horsemen drew nearer and saw the
four swans, each man shouted in the Gaelic
tongue, “Behold the children of Lir!”
And when Finola and her brothers heard once
more the sweet Gaelic speech, and saw the faces
of their own people, their happiness was greater
than can be told. For long they were silent, but
at length Finola spake.
Of their life on the sea of Moyle she told, of
the dreary rains and blustering winds, of the
giant waves and the roaring thunder, of the black
frost, and of their own poor battered and
wounded bodies. Of their loneliness of soul, of
that she could not speak. “But tell us,” she went
on, “tell us of our father, Lir. Lives he still,
and Bove Derg, and our dear Dedannan
Scarce could the Dedannans speak for the sorrow
they had for Finola and her brothers, but
they told how Lir and Bove Derg were alive and
well, and were even now celebrating the Feast
of Age at the house of Lir. “But for their longing
for you, your father and friends would be
Glad then and of great comfort were the
hearts of Finola and her brothers. But they
could not hear more, for they must hasten to fly
from the pleasant shores of Erin to the sea-stream
of Moyle, which was their doom. And
as they flew, Finola sang, and faint floated her
voice over the kneeling host.
As the sad song grew fainter and more faint,
the Dedannans wept aloud. Then, as the snow-white
birds faded from sight, the sorrowful company
turned the heads of their white steeds from
the shore, and rode southward to the home of
And when it was told there of the sufferings
of Finola and her brothers, great was the sorrow
of the Dedannans. Yet was Lir glad that
his children were alive, and he thought of the
day when the magic spell would be broken, and
those so dear to him would be freed from their
Once more were ended three hundred years
of doom, and glad were the four white swans to
leave the cruel sea of Moyle. Yet might they
fly only to the wild Western Sea, and tempest-tossed
as before, here they in no way escaped
the pitiless fury of wind and wave. Worse than
aught they had before endured was a frost that
drove the brothers to despair. Well-nigh frozen
to a rock, they one night cried aloud to Finola
that they longed for death. And she, too, would
fain have died.
But that same night did a dream come to the
swan-maiden, and, when she awoke, she cried
to her brothers to take heart. “Believe, dear
brothers, in the great God who hath created the
earth with its fruits and the sea with its terrible
wonders. Trust in him, and he will yet save
you.” And her brothers answered, “We will
And Finola also put her trust in God, and they
all fell into a deep slumber.
When the children of Lir awoke, behold! the
sun shone, and thereafter, until the three hundred
years on the Western Sea were ended,
neither wind nor wave nor rain nor frost did
hurt the four swans.
On a grassy isle they lived and sang their wondrous
songs by day, and by night they nestled
together on their soft couch, and awoke in the
morning to sunshine and to peace. And there
on the grassy island was their home, until the
three hundred years were at an end. Then
Finola called to her brothers, and tremblingly
she told, and tremblingly they heard, that they
might now fly eastward to seek their own old
Lightly did they rise on outstretched wings,
and swiftly did they fly until they reached land.
There they alighted and gazed each at the other,
but too great for speech was their joy. Then
again did they spread their wings and fly above
the green grass on and on, until they reached the
hills and trees that surrounded their old home.
But, alas! only the ruins of Lir’s dwelling were
left. Around was a wilderness overgrown with
rank grass, nettles, and weeds.
Too downhearted to stir, the swans slept that
night within the ruined walls of their old home,
but, when day broke, each could no longer bear
the loneliness, and again they flew westward.
And it was not until they came to Inis Glora
that they alighted. On a small lake in the heart
of the island they made their home, and, by their
enchanting music, they drew to its shores all the
birds of the west, until the lake came to be called
“The Lake of the Bird-flocks.”
Slowly passed the years, but a great longing
filled the hearts of the children of Lir. When
would the good saint come to Erin? When
would the chime of the Christ-bell peal over land
One rosy dawn the swans awoke among the
rushes of the Lake of the Bird-flocks, and
strange and faint was the sound that floated to
them from afar. Trembling, they nestled close
the one to the other, until the brothers stretched
their wings and fluttered hither and thither in
great fear. Yet trembling they flew back to their
sister, who had remained silent among the sedges.
Crouching by her side they asked, “What, dear
sister, can be the strange, faint sound that steals
across our island?”
With quiet, deep joy Finola answered: “Dear
brothers, it is the chime of the Christ-bell that
ye hear, the Christ-bell of which we have
dreamed through thrice three hundred years.
Soon the spell will be broken, soon our sufferings
will end.” Then did Finola glide from the
shelter of the sedges across the rose-lit lake, and
there by the shore of the Western Sea she
chanted a song of hope.
Calm crept into the hearts of the brothers as
Finola sang, and, as she ended, once more the
chime stole across the isle. No longer did it
strike terror into the hearts of the children of
Lir, rather as a note of peace did it sink into
Then, when the last chime died, Finola said,
“Let us sing to the great King of Heaven and
Far stole the sweet strains of the white swans,
far across Inis Glora, until they reached the
good Saint Kemoc, for whose early prayers the
Christ-bell had chimed.
And he, filled with wonder at the surpassing
sweetness of the music, stood mute, but when it
was revealed unto him that the voices he heard
were the voices of Finola and Aed and Fiacra
and Conn, who thanked the High God for the
chime of the Christ-bell, he knelt and also gave
thanks, for it was to seek the children of Lir
that the saint had come to Inis Glora.
In the glory of noon, Kemoc reached the shore
of the little lake, and saw four white swans gliding
on its waters. And no need had the saint to
ask whether these indeed were the children of
Lir. Rather did he give thanks to the High God
who had brought him hither.
Then gravely the good Kemoc said to the
swans: “Come ye now to land, and put your
trust in me, for it is in this place that ye shall
be freed from your enchantment.”
These words the four white swans heard with
great joy, and coming to the shore they placed
themselves under the care of the saint. And he
led them to his cell, and there they dwelt with
him. And Kemoc sent to Erin for a skilful
workman, and ordered that two slender chains
of shining silver be made. Betwixt Finola and
Aed did he clasp one silver chain, and with the
other did he bind Fiacra and Conn.
Then did the children of Lir dwell with the
holy Kemoc, and he taught them the wonderful
story of Christ that he and Saint Patrick had
brought to the Green Isle. And the story so
gladdened their hearts that the misery of their
past sufferings was well-nigh forgotten, and they
lived in great happiness with the saint. Dear to
him were they, dear as though they had been his
Thrice three hundred years had gone since
Eva had chanted the fate of the children of Lir.
“Until Decca be the Queen of Largnen, until
the good saint come to Erin, and ye hear the
chime of the Christ-bell, shall ye not be delivered
from your doom.”
The good saint had indeed come, and the sweet
chimes of the Christ-bell had been heard, and
the fair Decca was now the Queen of King
Soon were tidings brought to Decca of the
swan-maiden and her three swan-brothers.
Strange tales did she hear of their haunting
songs. It was told her, too, of their cruel miseries.
Then begged she her husband, the King,
that he would go to Kemoc and bring to her
these human birds.
But Largnen did not wish to ask Kemoc to
part with the swans, and therefore he did not
Then was Decca angry, and swore she would
live no longer with Largnen, until he brought
the singing swans to the palace. And that same
night she set out for her father’s kingdom in the
Nevertheless Largnen loved Decca, and great
was his grief when he heard that she had fled.
And he commanded messengers to go after her,
saying he would send for the white swans if she
would but come back. Therefore Decca returned
to the palace, and Largnen sent to Kemoc to beg
of him the four white swans. But the messenger
returned without the birds.
Then was Largnen wroth, and set out himself
for the cell of Kemoc. But he found the saint
in the little church, and before the altar were
the four white swans.
“Is it truly told me that you refused these
birds to Queen Decca?” asked the King.
“It is truly told,” replied Kemoc.
Then Largnen was more wroth than before,
and seizing the silver chain of Finola and Aed
in the one hand, and the chain of Fiacra and
Conn in the other, he dragged the birds from
the altar and down the aisle, and it seemed as
though he would leave the church. And in great
fear did the saint follow.
But lo! as they reached the door, the snow-white
feathers of the four swans fell to the
ground, and the children of Lir were delivered
from their doom. For was not Decca the bride
of Largnen, and the good saint had he not come,
and the chime of the Christ-bell was it not heard
in the land?
But aged and feeble were the children of Lir.
Wrinkled were their once fair faces, and bent
their little white bodies.
At the sight Largnen, affrighted, fled from
the church, and the good Kemoc cried aloud,
“Woe to thee, O King!”
Then did the children of Lir turn toward the
saint, and thus Finola spake: “Baptize us now,
we pray thee, for death is nigh. Heavy with
sorrow are our hearts that we must part from
thee, thou holy one, and that in loneliness must
thy days on earth be spent. But such is the will
of the high God. Here let our graves be digged,
and here bury our four bodies, Conn standing at
my right side, Fiacra at my left, and Aed before
my face, for thus did I shelter my dear brothers
for thrice three hundred years ’neath wing and
Then did the good Kemoc baptize the children
of Lir, and thereafter the saint looked up, and
lo! he saw a vision of four lovely children with
silvery wings, and faces radiant as the sun; and
as he gazed they floated ever upward, until they
were lost in a mist of blue. Then was the good
Kemoc glad, for he knew that they had gone to
But, when he looked downward, four worn
bodies lay at the church door, and Kemoc wept
And the saint ordered a wide grave to
be digged close by the little church, and there
were the children of Lir buried, Conn
standing at Finola’s right hand, and Fiacra
at her left, and before her face her twin brother
And the grass grew green above them, and a
white tombstone bore their names, and across
the grave floated morning and evening the chime
of the sweet Christ-bell.