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1001 Stories Collection

The Children of Lir

Added on 26th June 2020

Oral tradition Irish legend

A moving legend involving love, jealousy and magic set in mystical Ireland.

Story

Long ago, a king and his four children lived in Ireland. When the king’s wife died, he decided that his children needed a mother and he married again. His new wife found it difficult that the king gave so much attention to his children and not enough to her so she cast a spell and turned the children into swans.

Why we chose it

A haunting legend which is one of the best known stories from Ireland.

Where it came from

The story is part of the Mythological Cycles, one of the four main cycles of stories in Ireland. The stories of the Mythological Cycle were all spoken oral stories before being written down by monks in the 11th and 12th century.

Where it went next

It remains a well-known tale in Ireland and there are physical reminders among the landscape. There is a stone in Beara which marks the place where the swans finally came to rest and a statue of the children in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

The story has inspired a number of songs, classical, folk and rock.

Associated stories

The Children of Lir is one of the stories included in the Three Sorrows of Storytelling, a 15th century retelling of three traditional stories. The other two are The Fate of the Sons of Tuirenn and Deirdre of the Sorrows.

Other swans in Irish legend include the maiden Caer in The Dream of Oenghus who spends part of her time as a woman and part as a swan.

Swans - and people being turned into swans - also feature in a number of European tales such as The Twelve Brothers and The Six Swans, recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

Added on 26th June 2020

Oral tradition Irish legend