The Four White Swans
: STORIES FROM IRELAND
: Boys And Girls Bookshelf
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."
rom 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 prince.
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 home.
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 motherless children.
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
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
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 of Lir.
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 her train.
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 be yours."
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 the
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 of Lir."
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 white swans.
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 speed.
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 lake.
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
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
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
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 its shores.
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
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 farewell song.
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
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
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
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 friends?"
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 happy
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 Lir.
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 trust."
And Finola also put her trust in God, and they all fell into a deep
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 home.
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 and sea?
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 their souls.
Then, when the last chime died, Finola said, "Let us sing to the great
King of Heaven and Earth."
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 own children.
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 Largnen.
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 go.
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 south.
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
"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
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
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 breast."
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 heaven.
But, when he looked downward, four worn bodies lay at the church door,
and Kemoc wept sore.
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 Aed.
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